Lost in all the talk about the Golden State Warriors 24-0 start to the season is just how good the second best team in the Western Conference has been. The San Antonio Spurs are 22-5 and outscoring their opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game.
That number is impressive and seems to point towards an even better Spurs team than the one that won 55 games last year.
“They’re improved and particularly defensively, they’re right now playing the best defense in the NBA by a large stretch,” said ProBasketballTalk.com’s Kurt Helin when he joined After Hours with Amy Lawrence on CBS Sports Radio. “Tim Duncan is exactly what you want now out of an older player. He is saying “I’m not doing as much as I used to, but the things I’m doing I’m doing very efficiently.” He’s scoring less, he’s taking less shots because they can give them to LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, but defensively he’s been fantastic.”
While Golden State has gotten seemingly all the headlines this season, the Spurs are more than happy to sit back and go unnoticed as they quietly dominate in their own way.
“They are really happy to fly under the radar,” said Helin. “Hey go chase your 72 and draw the big spotlight and get all the national television games, we’re good with that. You go do that Golden State, and by the way, we’re just as good as you.”
A large part of the reason the Spurs have not only sustained their success, but now taken it to a new level is the emergence of small forward Kawhi Leonard. Leonard leads the team in points per game averaging 21 a night, yet he’s almost a reluctant superstar.
“He’s reluctant with the media and he’s reluctant with the trappings of superstardom, but he’s got everything else,” said Helin. “He’s got the work ethic. He’s the guy who puts in the time and is just dedicated to the game. Gregg Popovich couldn’t have found a better clone, of who he was as a player. “I don’t like the trappings, I want to be about the game and about the purity of it.” He’s perfect for them but he’s also developed into legitimately a top 10 NBA player right now easily. They’ve got a few of those and they all fit together beautifully in that system.”
On the flip side of things, the Sacramento Kings have struggled out of the gate to a 10-15 record and have had as many problems off the floor as on it. Most recently, guard Rajon Rondo was suspended for using a gay slur towards an official. With a number of volatile personalities on the team, will this be the thing to light the fuse and start to blow up the team?
“I don’t think it’s going to blow them up internally, too much more in the short term,” said Helin. As you probably know if you’ve talked to anybody up there, there’s nobody in Boston who’s shocked by this. They’re kind of like “Yeah we would’ve told you this was coming.” It’s a set back for Rondo and it’s a setback for him in this sense too: This is a guy who not only worked on his image, but he’s a free agent next summer. How many teams are going to have to now pause? Do that double take, like “Do we want to bring this in? Do we want to bring this into our locker room, deal with the inevitable meltdown, and the PR stuff?”