SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs have started the season 2-2, and there's already plenty for Tom Petrini, Evan Closky and Jackson Floyd to break down.
This episode of the Big Fundamental Spurs Podcast explores what's working and what isn't for San Antonio in the young season, from the struggles of LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles to the effectiveness of DeMar DeRozan and the young core.
The Spurs are playing faster and shooting more, and the players aren't the only ones making an impact.
Hammon makes history
After Coach Gregg Popovich got tossed from Wednesday's Lakers game in the second quarter, he pointed to assistant coach Becky Hammon and said "you got 'em."
As the Spurs regrouped from a classic Pop ejection, the acting head coach and her players were focused on making the next play and getting back in the game. Players are used to hearing Hammon in practice, and fans have seen her on the bench for years, so it may not have even registered in the moment that she was breaking ground as the first woman to lead an NBA team in a regular season game.
"I'm just in the moment with the guys," Hammon said. "The moment for me was just trying to come up with stuff to win the game."
Shattering a glass ceiling like that can make it hard to focus on game-plan details, but Hammon and her players did just that and fought hard for a win. She acknowledged after the game that it was a huge deal and said she hadn't checked her phone yet. When she did, she likely saw a congratulatory message from Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, among others.
One of the coolest parts of her historic achievement was how normal it felt.
"I didn't even notice what was going on last night, it was just Becky doing Becky," Rudy Gay said. "That's what you want, that's the best part about her, is she's a coach, she's a basketball mind, and she goes out there and treats it as such. We don't think of gender when we see Becky."
Gay used some colorful language to say that he looks forward to the day when firsts like these are no longer a big deal, and people can all be measured only on the things that they do.
San Antonio has fully bought into the faster style they played in the bubble, and some are keeping up with the pace better than others. Here are some statistics and notes on the Spurs' 11 most important players so far this season.
1.5 points,1.5 rebounds, 5 minutes
1-2 FG / 1-2 3PT / 0-0 FT
Lyles hasn't played much at all after starting at the 4 for most of last season before missing the bubble due to an emergency appendectomy. Lyles hadn't played a competitive game in about 9 months, and perhaps his body isn't quite in basketball shape yet. If he regains a spot in the rotation, he could eat into Rudy Gay's minutes.
4.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2 blocks, 24.0 minutes
2-8 FG / 0-0 3PT / 0-0 FT
Eubanks only played in the Lakers game with Aldridge out, and that's the role he'll probably fill as the third-string center on this team. He shot a bit too much for his level of offensive game, but he recorded monster blocks of both LeBron James and Montrezl Harrell.
3.3 points, 2.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 14.3 minutes
31.3% FG / 3-7 3PT / 0-0 FT
After a dominant preseason, Vassell is seeing fewer minutes and less success so far in the games that matter. His defense is mesmerizing to watch, especially off the ball, and he's hit a good percentage of a limited number of threes. He should continue to grow and get consistent playing time.
12.0 points, 2.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 26.0 minutes
42.1% FG / 2-11 3PT / 2-3 FT
The Good: Aldridge has completely changed his game to suit the young guys, essentially abandoning his bread-and-butter post play for a complimentary pick-and-pop role, attempting threes about four times per game and slowing down the offense less frequently than that.
The Bad: Those shots are not falling yet. Aldridge has hit just 2-11 from deep, some of which can be attributed to the fact that these are the first games he's played in since March. That should improve a bit, as he shot 39% from deep last year.
The Ugly: The defense has been hard to watch for the 35-year-old big, who sports a team-worst defensive rating of 125 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court. Teams attack him in space and pick and rolls, and if he manages to stay in front, his shot contests are more performative than functional.
12.0 points, 1.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 25.5 minutes
40% FG / 6-24 3PT / 6-8 FT
Gay has brought an interesting mix of decent rim protection, clunky perimeter defense, and volume scoring for the Spurs. He's leading San Antonio with six attempts from three per game, but only hitting 25%. His minutes will probably come down a bit as the year goes on, hopefully with an increase in efficiency.
6.0 points, 1.8 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 21.3 minutes
57.1% FG / 0-0 3PT / 0-3 FT
Big Jak is still doing his thing for San Antonio, protecting the rim and finishing around it, though sometimes not forcefully enough. He got into foul trouble that limited him against Anthony Davis and the Lakers, the same problem that plagued him as a starter in the bubble.
Despite his modest box score totals, he's a meaningful contributor. When he's on the court, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 21.3 points per 100 possessions, by far the best on the team. While Aldridge struggles to defend, Poeltl has proven himself to be a legitimate anchor.
14.0 points, 3.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 23.5 minutes
57.6% FG / 11-19 3PT / 7-7 FT
Patty has so far delivered on his promise to be his best self, as he's scoring from all areas of the court with precision and ease. He hit his first eight shots from the floor in the Raptors game, and has played well as a traditional point guard. His minutes will probably have to take a hit when Derrick White comes back.
This obscene efficiency probably won't last, but Mills has serious impact off the bench.
12.3 points, 2.8 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 29.0 minutes
40.9% FG / 4-12 3PT / 9-11 FT
Not reflected in the numbers above: Keldon Johnson guarded Pascal Siakam and Zion Williamson on back-to-back-nights, then he got LeBron. His numbers as a primary defender on those three studs were impressive, and the 20-year-old wing has played just 21 games in his career.
Johnson's relentless attack on the rim has been an entertaining spectacle, but not the most efficient. He needs to work on getting foul calls, but his power and body control in traffic is already top notch.
Lonnie Walker IV
14.3 points, 2.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 31.5 minutes
44.9% FG / 10-23 3PT / 3-6 FT
Walker has played consistently on both ends of the court to start the year, selecting high-efficiency shots and hitting a solid clip. San Antonio should probably feed him more looks for three as he's one of the best shooters on the team, and he's shown some improvement finishing around the basket as well.
With Derrick White returning against the Lakers, either he or Walker will likely be moved to a featured role off the bench. In any case, Walker has proven himself to be a reliable two-way guy in the early going.
18.5 points, 7.3 assists, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 3.8 turnovers, 31.8 minutes
55.2% FG / 4-12 3PT / 6-6 FT
Murray notched his first NBA triple double in a win over the Raptors, and in a loss to the Lakers he led San Antonio with a career-best 29 points to go with 7 assists and 7 rebounds. In both cases, he declined to dwell on his individual achievement and focused on the team goal.
Murray started his NBA career as an elite defender, grew into a three-level scorer, and this year is poised to take another leap as a player, point guard and leader.
21.5 points, 8.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 steal, 0.8 blocks, 34.5 minutes
49.1% FG / 4-9 3PT / 28-32 FT
DeRozan has carried his passing over from the bubble, initiating offense and finding open teammates with a high rate of success. New this year is DeMar's willingness to shoot a few threes per game, never before seen in a Spurs uniform.
It's still too soon to tell if this is sustainable, but if he continues to score and distribute this efficiently while shooting more threes and playing improved defense, he stands to earn a nice payday in the offseason. He might even convince skeptical Spurs fans that he can continue to be a solid veteran to pair with the young guys, but that still seems like a long shot.