Season 51, Game 01
San Antonio 107, Minnesota 99
After an active and tumultuous NBA offseason, the beginning of the regular season (aka, actual basketball) seems almost anti-climactic. You mean we have to actually play basketball?
The Spurs seemingly had the most disappointing season of any contender, real or supposed. In many ways, this season might be the truest referendum on the Spurs’ culture, as pretty much every team in the West continued to load up to take down the Warriors, while the Spurs did (almost) nothing.
Factor in the mysterious Kawhi Leonard injury, and the Spurs are right back where they want to be: under the radar and completely dismissed.
True, taking down Golden State seems almost Sisyphean at this point. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.
Setting aside Kawhi, the story of the offseason was LaMarcus Aldridge. Will he stay or will he go? Is he happy or not? Did he really perpetrate these acts of Durant/Westbrook-level pettiness?
It seems almost unfathomable that it took two full seasons for Pop and Aldridge to have a heart-to-heart, but they did. Both sides are all saying the right things, everybody seems happy, and the money seems to indicate this is real. With a fresh new contract extension and a chance to be the top option, the stage is set for a LaMarcus renaissance.
The truth is this: LaMarcus is neither the savior we hoped he’d be two years ago nor the scapegoat we made him out to be two months ago. The season may well come down to which pole of that spectrum is closer to the truth.
If Wednesday night is any indication, we may finally have the star we had hoped for in the summer of 2015.
25 points and 10 rebounds is a good game; but what is more interesting to watch in these first few weeks is Aldridge’s body language. He seems more engaged, happier, and more comfortable in the system. He was clearly the focus of the offense, but not to the detriment of the offense. He took the double teams and passed out of them. His shot looked a bit smoother, perhaps owing to his confidence and lack of hesitation. And he continued to be a solidly underrated defender.
The real question is: how will this all play out when Kawhi comes back?
We can’t know until he does, so let’s set that aside for now and look at some of our new additions.
The most striking thing about this Spurs team is just how long they are. Aldridge and Pau Gasol, while not athletic marvels, are both super long. Kawhi, Rudy Gay, and even Kyle Anderson are all long for 3s (and can also play small-ball 4 because of it). Manu Ginobili and Danny Green are even tall and long for 2-guard. Dejounte Murray is freakishly long for a PG.
Joffrey Lauvergne is like a stretched out David Lee. (Hopefully with better defense.) His instinct around the rim and offensive playmaking could make him the next offseason gem for the Spurs. He missed a bunch of easy short hooks in this first game, but his activity and intelligence were obvious. If he can be a stout defender, his offensive abilities will make him a natural fit with the second unit.
The real intriguing new piece, though, is Rudy Gay. I’ve never been a big fan of his game. He has all the talent in the world, but never seemed to be able to put it all together in a team concept to produce winning basketball. Coming off an achilles injury (which can often take over a year to fully recover from), his signing seemed insignificant at best, foolish and wasteful at worst.
But he clearly turned a few heads in preseason. And he seems way ahead of schedule for recovery from his injury. If he can figure out the Spurs system and play real team basketball, his talent has a chance to really shine in San Antonio. He’s long, athletic, with a great stroke. Imagine his and Kawhi on the wings together.
One game in, and I can’t believe I went almost five months without Spurs basketball.
Up next, the team heads to Chicago to face the Bulls on Saturday night.
Go Spurs Go.
Round the Horn: