The Spurs are on their first winning streak of the season, coach Gregg Popovich is getting political again, and Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan were recently brought up in a conversation with Keldon Johnson. Feels like the good old days in Spurs land! Welcome to this week’s Spurs newsletter.
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OK, well it’s not 2014 or even close to 2019, the last time San Antonio made the playoffs, but there has been some, albeit small progress from this young San Antonio squad nearly a quarter of the way into the season.
The Spurs snapped a six-game losing streak last Friday with a good win over Boston and then followed that up with a better win over Washington. The Spurs now hit the road for a brutal three-game road trip that starts Thursday night in Portland. Let’s break down what’s changed for San Antonio and some other news and notes from the week.
Dejounte’s stellar start
The Spurs have been wildly inconsistent this season, but Murray has been rock solid. Through 19 games, DJ is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Impressive. His usage rate and player efficiency rating also career highs. He’s currently one of the top-rated players on FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR rating. Steph Curry is the only other point guard in the West who rates above Murray overall and has played similar minutes.
DJ’s numbers are great, so why are the Spurs 6-13? Much of the Spurs struggles have stemmed from late game execution and mistakes. The Spurs are currently 2-8 in “clutch game situations,” defined as a 5-point differential in the last five minutes of a game.
Murray is definitely not to fully blame for this, but as the point guard and now primary closer option, the responsibility will naturally fall on him. He was great in Spurs wins against Boston and Washington and will continue to get better in the role. The Spurs need him to.
Derrick White back?
While DJ is having a career year, the same can not be said for Derrick White. We’ve chronicled White’s early season struggles, but hopefully he’s turned the corner. White had his best game of the season in the Spurs win over the Wizards, scoring 18 of 24 points in the third quarter. He scored 17 points in the Boston victory. I’ve argued that while he’s not their MVP, he’s oddly their most important player.
White is averaging 14.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5 assists in Spurs wins compared to 11.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in losses. And even though he’s not shooting great overall, the Spurs need him to take some of the playmaking and decision-making burden off Murray. When the pair are clicking on both ends of the court, the Spurs can be tough to beat.
Spurs nearly lost out on Keldon on draft night
KJ has been an interesting player for the Spurs this season. Expectations were probably too high for Johnson to start the year. Let’s not forget he’s played in just over 100 regular season games in his NBA career! He’s 22 years old and already the second leading scorer on the team averaging 15 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. But what’s stood out so far this season has been his 3-point shooting. KJ is shooting 40% from deep, making him one of the Spurs’ top 3-point shooters at the moment.
And he’s continuing to learn from Spurs greats and embrace the culture. In a recent interview with NBA Insider Shams Charania, Johnson said he’s constantly asking Manu Ginobili questions and using him as a resource when he may not understand some direction from coach Pop. He also noted that Tim Duncan still frequents the practice facility and helps the squad.
In the interview, Johnson also spoke about nearly going to Cleveland with the No. 26 selection in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Cavs passed on KJ at the last second for Dylan Windler, (who!) and KJ fell to San Antonio at No. 29. Johnson said he thought he was going to Cleveland and was a bit disappointed in the moment, but going to the Spurs ultimately has been a blessing in disguise.
Pop gets political...again!
Pop, for the most part, has been quiet on the political front, but he was recently asked about Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter speaking out against human rights abuse in China.
Pop said it’s important for people in any arena to speak out against something that is important to them and they feel strongly about. He gave the example of the recent controversy involving Rep. Lauren Boebert’s anti-Muslim slur against Rep. Ilhan Omar.
“Pointing things out, calling them out when you need to is important. Just like the congresswoman who went after Omar as far as being a terrorist. If you just ignore that, it continues. It becomes normal. But it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of consequences for people who act like that,” Popovich said.
Time to check in on the most interesting Spurs player in the world, the one and only Manu Ginobili! Manu recently tweeted a photo of what appeared to be some type of banking card. After some research, it turned out to be a prepaid card for a financial company called Uala. Manu just continues to do his thing post retirement, investing into tech companies and helping run the Spurs front office. MANU. FOREVER.