In a lot of ways, it's really frustrating to be a San Antonio Spurs fan right now.
Kawhi Leonard missed the start of the season. And what people thought would be an absence of a few games has turned into 18 games and counting with no sign of a pending return, essentially tanking what was supposed to be an MVP season.
At this point, Tony Parker could be back with the Spurs before Kawhi is.
But you know what? The Spurs are still 11-7 to start the season and have some impressive wins over good teams despite missing two starters.
So on this holiday weekend, we're looking on the bright side and thinking about why Spurs fans should be thankful. And we'll start with...
1. No separation at the top in the West
As we just said, the Spurs are 11-7 to start the year, which is pretty mediocre given expectations for a healthy Spurs squad. But for one missing Parker and Leonard, that's pretty great, especially because they're only three games back of the Western Conference leader right now.
The Houston Rockets have four losses as Chris Paul has dealt with an injury to start the season and the Golden State Warriors, who have no excuses, have five. The Minnesota Timberwolves have made the leap to a conference contender as they're tied with the Spurs at 11-7.
So just imagine how quickly the Spurs can make up ground once Kawhi and Tony get back in the swing of things.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge is playing out of his mind
Just because Kawhi's out was no guarantee that LaMarcus Aldridge would be able to carry the team. That pre-season talk that he and Greg Popovich had must have lit a fire under him because Aldridge is playing his best ball in years.
It's not just the raw numbers, it's how efficient he is on the floor and how well he's making everyone around him better and fitting into the system that Pop wants to run.
This season, Aldridge's turnaround fadeaway is mesmerizing, he's solid as a spot-up from the perimeter, and his three-point shooting is getting better. It explains why his true shooting percentage this season is the second-highest it's ever been in his career.
Also, the Spurs are playing great when he's on the floor. LA's player efficiency rating (PER) is also the highest it's been in his career, his assist numbers are some of the best of his career, his win shares per 48 minutes are a near-career high and his box plus-minus leads the team.
We'll see how Aldridge's role in the offense changes as Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker return from their injuries but if he's going to continue to play like this the rest of the season, this team could be really dangerous going into the playoffs.
3. Manu Ginobili bringing the "Grandpa Juice"
In the offseason, I took some flack for saying that the Spurs made a smart decision in letting Jonathon Simmons go and re-signing Manu Ginobili. But that move seems to be playing out in the franchise's favor.
Without Parker and Leonard, there's a lot more on Ginobili's shoulders. So he can't carry the bench the way he used to but he's still got a lot of explosiveness left in him. He's already got five double-digit games at this point in the season and he's still capable of being a disruptor on the defensive side of the ball.
4. Rudy Gay fitting right in
No one was sure what the Spurs were going to get out of Rudy Gay coming into the season as he was coming off an Achilles injury. But he came in healthy and he's fitting right in.
Gay's individual numbers and advanced stats don't really tell the whole story. He and the rest of the team are being put in a position that wasn't part of the plan coming into the season. But Pop's system and Rudy Gay are a great match as he's playing solid on both sides of the ball and the Spurs are taking advantage of his dynamic game where he can seamlessly switch between playing a ball-handling scorer and banging underneath and grabbing rebounds.
It's going to be really fun watching him and Kawhi play together when he comes back.
5. Pau Gasol's resurgence
Another big question that lots of Spurs fans were asking in the offseason was why the Spurs paid Pau Gasol so much money to stay. A three-year contract with $32 million guaranteed over the first two seasons of the deal isn't what anyone expected.
But he's earning it.
Gasol's true shooting percentage, total rebound percentage, assist percentage, and block percentage are either the highest or among the highest of his career this season.
He's also got the highest box plus-minus on the team, meaning the Spurs are playing their best when he's on the floor.
So without two starters, the Spurs are still accomplishing a lot this season. The No. 1 seed is still in play when Kawhi and Tony come back, and if the team's ceiling without those two is the third-best record in the West, just imagine what it will be if they're full strength going into the playoffs.
We can't wait.
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