In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few things San Antonio Spurs fans might say they’re thankful for at the dinner table tonight, in regards to the team.
- Kawhi Leonard Pick and Rolls
Leonard has very quietly become one of the league’s best pick-and-roll scorers. After the preseason it was clear that Leonard worked on this part of his game over the summer, and he has continued to dominate with this style of attack through the first 15 games.
He leads all players with more than 60 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball handler with 1.08 points per possession, a stat mostly dominated by guards like DeMar DeRozan and James Harden. In fact, Leonard is the only non-guard in the top 10, with Gordon Hayward at 15. Leonard only goes to the pick-and-roll 25% of the time, showing a more well-rounded attacking style than other leaders like Kemba Walker (51%) and Damian Lillard (43%).
Efficiency has always been the name of Kawhi’s offensive game, and his stellar play as the pick and roll ball handler is no different. He keeps turnovers low, shoots 49%, and gets to the free throw line 20% of the time.
Leonard’s patience and passing out of the pick and roll is impressive, especially for a small forward. He has shown a keen ability to read the defense and find the best scoring option, taking advantage of one on one opportunities and hitting the open man when he occupies multiple defenders. Sometimes he freezes the big with a pump fake and bounces it to the diving roll man, or sometimes he hits an open shooter for a spot up 3.
With Tony Parker back, Kawhi doesn’t have to run the offense quite as much as he did in the first few games of the season. It will be interesting to watch how that dynamic works as the season progresses.
- Fiesta colors
The Spurs’ fiesta colors have been relegated to throwback hats and starter jackets, which is criminal. Silver and black is great and all, but how cool (and profitable) would a fiesta inspired alternate jersey be? What if they brought back the Alamodome court? What if Leonard got teal, orange and pink cornrows? The world might be a better place.
- The Kawhi Steal & Slam™
Stephen Curry has the pull-up 3 in transition. LeBron has the chasedown block. DeAndre Jordan has the missed free throw. Leonard’s signature play is turning a steal on one end into a tomahawk dunk at the other. He does so many things well, but this is the one play that perfectly displays what makes him a dominant player.
🖐🏾🏀💥 Signature Kawhi 🖐🏾🏀💥 pic.twitter.com/rfWnatDqVL
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) November 22, 2016
A few factors make the Kawhi Steal & Slam™ special, the first being raw power. When Leonard decides that he’s going to take a guy’s cookies and dunk, the ball handler is completely helpless. They can be holding it with two hands like a running back at the goal line, but the so-called “system player” imposes his will.
“Please Mr. Leonard, don’t take my ball away!” they plead as Kawhi stares back at them stone-faced, and silently yells, “GIVE ME THAT!” with his massive hands. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best ball handler in the world; when number 2 in silver and black wants your ball, he’s taking it, and taking it to the house.
The other reason it’s special is the frequency with which Leonard does it. It seems that every game Kawhi victimizes somebody on his signature play, often multiple times per game. Just look what he did to poor Ben McLemore on consecutive possessions earlier this season. Neither resulted in a dunk, but he still got his points.
i kinda feel bad for mclemore. this is two consecutive possessions pic.twitter.com/u4Hdkw9J8r
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) October 28, 2016
I doubt Leonard has actually trademarked Kawhi Steal & Slam, but he should. Nobody else should be allowed to do it. Maybe he doesn’t have to because he knows that nobody can do it like he does.
- Rim Protection
Yes, you read that right. Contrary to popular belief, the Spurs have actually been excellent at defending the paint despite the replacement of an all-time great rim protector with, err, Pau Gasol. San Antonio is ranked third in the league in rim protection percentage, behind only Dwight Howard’s Hawks and Hassan Whiteside’s Heat. San Antonio has also held opponents to lowest number of contested makes at the rim, and they rank 5th in blocks per game.
How is this possible? Dewayne Dedmon has certainly helped the cause, as the athletic 7-footer has limited opponents to 32% at the rim, good enough for the 5th best individual percentage in the NBA. Boban leads the league at 12%, but let’s not go there. LaMarcus Aldridge has more than held his own as well, limiting opponents to 36%.
Gasol has been the weak link giving up 54%, and opponents have attacked him more than any other Spur. On the bright side, he has a team high 18 blocks. A lot of Gasol’s defense is positional, and as he gets more comfortable playing with Aldridge in the system, his numbers should improve a bit.
- Coach Popovich
Just watch and enjoy.
- The Juice
The Spurs’ bench has been solid this season. Contract Year Edition Patty Mills has been scoring very effectively, David Lee’s solid start has been a pleasant surprise, and Dedmon is proving himself to be a great rim protector and roll man. The young guns – Davis Bertans, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Nicolas Laprovittola are promising. However, the most exciting member of that bench unit is undeniably Jonathon “Juice” Simmons.
Shea Serrano recently wrote a beautiful one act play about Zach LaVine breaking up with gravity, and Simmons plays with a similar disregard for that nerd Isaac Newton. He jumps like he has Moon Shoes on, and when he reaches his apex, he attempts to throw the ball through the floor underneath the basket.
Juice isn’t your typical fundamentals-only Spur, and that’s what makes him so much fun to watch. He flies high, no lie, you know this. He punctuated the season opening win over Golden State by dousing JaVale McGee in gasoline and setting him on fire. He brings the juice every night, and when he steps on the court, it’s appointment television.
- Sustained Success
The Spurs have arguably been the most consistent and successful professional sports franchise in North America over the past two decades. In all likelihood, this will be the team’s 20th straight year in the playoffs, and the only team across the four major sports with a longer streak is the Detroit Red Wings. The Spurs have them beat 5-4 on championships, though.
This level of sustained success is incredibly rare, and attributable to a few factors. Tim Duncan was obviously a huge part of the team’s on the court success over the past two decades, as were Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, David Robinson, Kawhi Leonard, and the countless other players who got it done on the court for the Spurs.
The biggest factor is probably the brain trust of Coach Popovich and General Manager R.C. Buford, who together have built championship teams and developed players from raw talent into polished NBA players. Most importantly, they provided stability and created an organizational focus on winning.
Spurs fans have not felt the pain of missing the playoffs since Bill Clinton was president, and that’s something they may take for granted. It’s important to remember that not all fanbases are so lucky, as some haven’t won a single playoff game in the Popovich Era. This list is obviously incomplete, so tell us what you’re thankful for on Twitter @projectspurs and we’ll retweet our favorites. From all of us here at Project Spurs, happy Thanksgiving.