In a special edition of our round table, we discuss whether the Spurs are living up to preseason expectations, take a look at teams that have exceeded them and offer our predictions for All-Star Saturday events.
The All-Star break provides a rare quiet moment during the season in which to take stock of how things have gone. Have the Spurs overachieved? Which teams have surprised the most so far? With the records set until Feb. 21, we can focus on those questions.
PTR contributors Mark Barrington, Marilyn Dubinski, Bruno Passos and Jesus Gomez and Editor-in-Chief J.R. Wilco talk about that and offer their prediction for Saturday’s All-Star events in a special edition of our round table, In The Bonus.
The Spurs have a 33-26 record at the break, good for seventh in the West. Have they done better, worse or about as well as you thought they would so far?
Mark Barrington: I think they’re about where I though they would be, which is amazing since they’ve had so many problems with injuries. My initial prediction of being a borderline playoff team was based on having an improved Dejounte Murray holding down the point.
Marilyn Dubinski: It’s hard to put into perspective with how much of a roller coaster ride this season has been. The math nerd in me sees that they are on pace for 45 wins, two below last season’s record, and I was big advocate for the fact that there’s no way they could do worse than last season’s 47 wins when replacing nine games of Kawhi Leonard at 50% with a full season of DeMar DeRozan. That being said, no one could have foreseen the injuries to Dejounte Murray and to a lesser extent Derrick White, plus the Spurs have had one of the harder schedules in the league so far, while after the RRT it will turn into one of the easier schedules. All circumstances taken into account, I’d say they’re about where you could reasonably expect them to be, give or take a game or two.
Bruno Passos: It can be tough to look at things in the aggregate given how up and down the season has been, but I think they’re more or less where I thought they’d be. I wrote over the summer about how their throwback offense would be just fine, and I’m sure everyone saw some defensive swoon coming.
Jesus Gomez: They are actually doing a little better than I thought they would. I had them pegged as a 45-47 win team before Dejounte Murray’s injury. The fact that they are on pace to reach that record and make the playoffs without him is a pleasant surprise. The inconsistency they’ve showed has been hard to take at times, but the results have been good so far.
J.R. Wilco: I guess it’s time for look back at the year so far. They played .500 through their first four games before winning the next four straight which sent us all sky high. Then they had that awful slump where they couldn’t win two in a row but the losses came in bunches. Then early December saw the rise of Derrick White and the team reeled off 14 wins in 18 games. Then they’ve been mostly mixed since. So … wile it seems ridiculous to say it, I think after all of that, they’re right about where I thought: in the playoff mix, but not setting the world on fire.
Looking at the standings, which team’s record surprises you the most at this point?
Barrington: The Kings. They’ve been improving since they dumped Boogie Cousins, and they have a ton of young athletic guys that seem to really like playing together. De’Aaron Fox is a really exciting young player, and he’s already figured out the pro game. I thought they’d eventually put it together with all of the talent they have, but it’s happened a lot more quickly that I thought it would.
Dubinski: In the West, either the Nuggets or Kings. The Kings are loaded with young talent, but they had given little reason to expect they would still be fighting for a playoff spot this late in the season. Some of that is thanks to others disappointing, but still kudos to them. As for the Nuggets, I saw them as a candidate for finally breaking through and making the playoffs, but never as a surefire top 2 or 3 seed with legit contender status. In the East, the Nets came out of nowhere and are suddenly good again, although that conference remains weak as ever outside the top five or six teams.
Passos: At 30-27 in a loaded western conference, the young Kings have been great, and the viewing experience probably surpasses what the record and numbers will tell you. They play a fun, effective brand of basketball, and I feel relatively confident that they’ll lock down one of those last two playoff spots that they, the Spurs, Lakers and Clippers are fighting for.
Gomez: I have to go with the Nets. The Kings’ rise has come earlier than predicted, but they had been accumulating lottery talent on their roster, so it’s not that shocking. Brooklyn, meanwhile, has two lottery picks: D’Angelo Russell and 29-year-old Ed Davis. Russell was discarded by the Lakers and Davis is a veteran role player. GM Sean Marks has been finding gems late in the draft and landed a coach that has them maximizing their potential. That they would be making the playoffs f the season were to end now despite their best player, Caris LeVert, missing time is seriously impressive.
Wilco: While I expected the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Timberwolves to play better, I had no expectations at all for Denver. Their rise to the top of the West didn’t just take me by surprise, it has shocked me. And the fact that they haven’t fallen off their pace has made me think they’re likely to make it to the Conference Finals.
Just for fun, who do you think will win the three-point shootout? How about the dunk contest?
Barrington: The three point shootout will be won by Steph Curry, but I’ll be rooting for Kemba Walker. Bertans would have won had he been invited. [That’s the kind of hypothetical that can’t be proven false, so I’m going with it.] I honestly have no idea of who will win the dunk contest. It’s been pretty boring lately, so I won’t be watching it.
Dubinski: Not that I’ll be watching, but I say the Curry brothers will give the league and their hometown of Charlotte what they wanted when the NBA gave Seth a spot over Davis Bertans under false pretenses and have a shootout between each other for the win. I have no clue about the dunk contest since I hardly know a thing about any of those players, so I’ll go with the most interesting name: Hamidou Diallo.
Passos: I’ll go with the sleeper pick (Wardell Curry II) for the three-point contest and Dennis Smith Jr. for the dunk contest.
Gomez: I’m going with Buddy Hield for the three-point shootout. He’s been a flamethrower this season and he’s probably going to take it seriously. As for the dunk contest, my first instinct is to go with John Collins, but big men rarely do well in that setting. So I’m going with Miles Bridges, who can really fly.
Wilco: At the beginning of the contest, there was a stretch from ‘86 to ’03 where 12 of 17 years were won by just five guys. But more recently, it’s been a dark horse candidate as often as not. So I’ll go with Hield for the 3’s. As for the dunk, I think the fresher the legs, the better. And no one’s played less recently than Smith Jr.
Source: Pounding The Rock