Everything went wrong for the San Antonio Spurs last summer. It started when Kawhi Leonard, the team’s heir to the Tim Duncan throne, successfully forced his way out of Texas, leaving Gregg Popovich and Co. stuck accepting a pennies-on-the-dollar trade. San Antonio was only able to field a lower-tier all-star in DeMar DeRozan, a prospect in Jakob Poeltl, and low first-round picks for a superstar and key role player in Danny Green. The Spurs got worse via trade.
Then, their starting point guard, Dejounte Murray, tore his ACL before the season began, and first-round pick Lonnie Walker tore his meniscus in preseason.
The offseason narrative was this season was set up to be a wash for the Spurs. With LeBron James in their conference, the Spurs slipping out of the top eight for the first time since 1997 seemed possible.
Now, after a 118-108 win over the No. 2-seed Denver Nuggets, the seventh-seeded Spurs have a 2-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs. nobody defines their wizardry more than Derrick White, a former Division II basketball player who dropped 36 points, including 28 in the first half. With White filling a hero’s role he could’ve never dreamed, DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge playing well, and the rest of the team coming together, the Down-Year Spurs could feasibly reach the second round of the playoffs.
The Spurs are making the most out of what seemed like limited talent
With Aldridge and DeRozan, the Spurs have two past all-stars with the same fatal modern basketball flaw: neither is a threat from three-point range. As a unit, the Spurs don’t space the floor well because their two best players gravitate towards the mid-range, and the rest of the roster lacks a Ben Simmons-like cyborg to compensate.
Instead, the rest of the rotation is filled with middling athletes who are overachieving expectations. Rudy Gay, at 32 years old, is posting the best shooting percentages of his career, Bryn Forbes is a lights-out deep-ball threat, and White, a year removed from the G League, has become an able starting point guard.
The Spurs’ rotation usually features nine players, and casual fans probably need to Google at least four of them.
Yet it hasn’t mattered.
A playoff series win in 2019 will be one of Pop’s greatest achievements
The aftermath of Duncan’s retirement, Manu Ginobili’s swan song, and Tony Parker’s departure was always going to leave San Antonio in a tough place. Leonard took them to an even weirder place when he left, one with seemingly no good escape.
But somehow, Popovich and Co. found one, even if they “lost” the Leonard trade with Toronto. The Spurs not only comfortably secured a ticket to the postseason, they’re in the driver’s seat to advance.
Will this season end in a title for San Antonio? Probably not. But the Spurs gave their fans plenty to root for, with plenty to build on for the future.