This year’s Spurs are better equipped to defend the Warriors

(Note:  We are expanding our original content at Basketball Intelligence.  Starting today, we will be including a weekly feature from our rotation of outstanding NBA analysts.

Today’s feature is from Eli Horowitz, assistant men’s basketball coach at Caltech & NBA/WNBA analyst):


Barring injury, the Warriors should repeat as NBA champions in 2017-2018. But after an enthralling offseason that saw the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder add future hall of famers in an effort to compete with the Warriors, it’s easy to forget how close the Spurs were to going up 1-0 in the Western Conference Finals, with a chance to put pressure on Golden State. Unlike other teams in the West that added superstars, the Spurs’ offseason was ridiculed as they overpaid Pau Gasol, added injury-prone Rudy Gay and lost Jonathon Simmons, who played a significant role in the playoffs last year. Put it all together, and many feel like the Thunder and Rockets moved ahead of San Antonio with their respective additions of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and several good role players. Although criticism off the offseason has some merit, you can’t win games in the summer. The Spurs won 67 games in 2015-2016 and 61 games in 2016-2017, and may be even better equipped to defend the Warriors this year:

Size across the roster

When people talk about size, they mistakenly think about big men clanking post-ups and an inefficient style of play in the modern NBA. But the Spurs have size throughout their roster, starting in the backcourt. Dejounte Murray is a 6-foot-5 point guard with the length to disrupt opposing lead guards and some wings:

He was unafraid in the playoffs last year, and should breakout in year two as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trusts him more. His shooting mechanics leave a lot to be desired, but his ability to penetrate and finish at difficult angles should offset the loss of Simmons.

The Spurs have the best defensive wing combo in the league in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Both can guard positions one through four, and their ability to take turns on opposing stars is a rarity in the NBA. Rudy Gay presents a third long perimeter defender, albeit nowhere near Leonard or Green, who could shine at the four. Add LaMarcus Aldridge, who is a huge body at the four, and who is still big at the five against the Warriors lineup of death, and the Spurs have big bodies that make it difficult for opponents to move through their offense.

Losing Dewayne Dedmon is notable. But Pau Gasol was key to stopping the Rockets in last year’s playoffs. He’s a liability out in space, but the Spurs have the perimeter defense to fight over, under and through screens and allow the Gasol to hang out by the basket. You know Popovich will somehow turn Joffrey Lauvergne into a competent defender as well, much like he did with David Lee last season.

If the Warriors have shown any weakness it’s to long, athletic teams that can also pound the offensive glass. The Oklahoma City Thunder went up 3-1 playing this style two postseasons ago and the Spurs have shown it to work themselves, until Leonard’s injury in last year’s semifinals. It’s annoying to go up against players who can both pressure up on the ball and have the length and quickness to stay with the play and prevent straight line drives to the rim. It’s probably not enough, but the Spurs positional size will force the Warriors go to plan C.

Versatility at the four

Rudy Gay will be the biggest experiment nobody is talking about this NBA season. There’s too many flashy storylines elsewhere, too many All-Stars who switched teams that will get first billing. But Rudy Gay unleashes a potential lineup of Murray-Green-Leonard-Gay-Aldridge that will be as good as it gets against the Warriors. Aldridge’s defense has been solid for the Spurs, and he can hang with Draymond Green, knowing their are four long defenders who can help at the rim. We’ll see if Murray can stick with Steph Curry, but that would allow Green, Leonard and Gay to rotate on Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. If Murray isn’t ready, Patty Mills will at least scrap on defense and is an offensive upgrade. Better yet, let Murray hang on Iguodala and let Green or Leonard challenge Steph.

If the Spurs want to get really crazy, Gay can even play the five at times:

This would allow the Spurs to play both Mills and Murray, or give Davis Bertans more minutes. Bertans was surprisingly stout defending in the paint last year. Stick him on Iguodala or even Green and he might just hold up. If the Warriors counter by posting him up, that’s a win for San Antonio as it halts the continuous movement of the Warriors and gives the Spurs a break.

The Thunder and Rockets have defensive lineups that might be even more potent, but they sacrifice offense. Carmelo Anthony will struggle on any Warrior defensively, and Andre Roberson is an offensive liability. The Rockets best offensive and defensive lineups are vastly different. The Spurs might be the team with the best defensive lineup that sacrifices the least offense.


Between the draft, free agency, summer league and an onslaught of trades, the NBA world has spent the last five months talking about players. But coaching still matters, especially in the playoffs. After watching the Rockets embarrass his team in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals last year, Popovich pushed all the right buttons to adjust on James Harden. They went over and zoned up pick and rolls to force midrange jumpers. They event went under some screens and personalized their pick and roll coverage depending on who was involved. It was complex, and completely gassed the Rockets, who lost the next four out of five.

Popovich has now had three years to learn the Warriors. He’s had small victories along the way even while balancing the late stage careers of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. His schemes alone won’t be enough to stop Golden State, but he’s a lot closer to figuring it out than his colleagues.

It wasn’t a stellar summer for San Antonio, but the addition of Gay, the sophomore campaigns of Murray and Bertans, a refocused Aldridge and the continued evolution of Leonard are more than enough to keep the Spurs in the mix. They don’t have the sheer talent of Houston or Oklahoma City, but they might have the best defensive lineups to throw at the Warriors.

Today’s Best NBA Reporting And Analysis 2/15/16

–  Andre Drummond’s Rebounding Tricks And Tactics  (from Jared Zwerling, NPBA):
–  Film Study:  Will Barton  (from Jared Zwerling,  NPBA):
–  All-Stars And Their Crafts  (from David Vertsberger,  Hardwood Paroxysm):
–  Bucks:  3 Reasons To Believe In Them; 3 Reasons To Doubt Them  (from Charles F. Gardner,  jsonline.com):
–  The Bank Shot Turns Derrick Rose Into A Good Jump Shooter  (from Mika Honkasalo,  Vantage Sports):
–  Bucks 99,  Wizards 92:  Misconception And Miscommunication In Milwaukee  (from Sean Fagan,  Truth About It):
–  As SVG’s 2nd season unfolds, evidence in favor of Gores’ decision continues to mount  (from Keith Langlois, pistons.com):
–  The “End” And The Evolution Of NBA Big Men  (from Brian Fleurantin, Nets Daily):
–  Pelicans Offense Takes A Big Step Back  (from David Fisher,  The Bird Writes):

–   How Will The NBA Fix The Intentional Foul Problem?  (from Steve Perrin,  Clips Nation):

Additional Player Notes, Updates, Profiles:



(Note:  This time of the year is always “silly season” for NBA-related stories.  We still link to the best but they are in somewhat shorter supply during all-star weekend and when so much energy is wasted on “trade rumor” stories that are not worth the electrons it takes to post them.  Don’t fret, things will return to normal soon.)

Today’s Best NBA Reporting and Analysis 1/5/16

Offensive Rebounding/Transition Defense (from Zach Lowe,  ESPN):

Read and view it here:  http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/14505051/transition-defense-left-offensive-rebounds-cutting-room-floor

–  Bulls Getting Contributions Throughout Roster During Win Streak  (from KC Johnson, Chicago Tribune):

Read it here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/bulls/ct-bulls-rotation-depth-jimmy-butler-spt-0105-20160104-story.html

–  LBJ on Lack of Playing Time for Some  (from Chris Fedor, cleveland.com):

Read it here:  http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2016/01/lebron_james_on_a_lack_of_minu.html

–  Can Heat Go From Good To Great?  (from Jeff Zilgitt,  USA Today):

Read it here:  http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2016/01/04/dwyane-wade-chris-bosh-hassan-whiteside-erik-spoelstra-heat-lebron-james/78271386/

–  How the Clippers Are Doing It Without Blake Griffin;  Elfrid Payton Q & A  (from David Aldridge, NBA.com):

Read it here:  http://www.nba.com/2016/news/features/david_aldridge/01/04/morning-tip-los-angeles-clippers-find-a-better-bench-chris-paul-blake-griffin-j-j-redick-austin-rivers-jamal-crawford-questions-for-2016-qa-with-orlando-magic-elfrid-payton/index.html

–  Brandon Jennings Busts Loose, Hopes to Stay With Pistons  (from Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press):

Read it here:  http://www.freep.com/story/sports/nba/pistons/2016/01/04/detroit-pistons-orlando-magic/78249168/

–  This Season’s Most Improved Jump Shooters  (from Mika Honkasalo, Vantage Sports):

Read it here:  http://www1.vantagesports.com/Articles/article_view/VoquZR8AAPC2SV6Y

–  Kings’ Assistant Vance Walberg on the Dribble Drive Motion Offense  (from Coach Nick, BBall Breakdown):

Watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=ialg8Wq7DO0

–  The Wizards’ Injury Woes  (from Jorge Castillo,  Washington Post):

Read it here:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/wizards/shorthanded-wizards-hope-to-heal-before-time-runs-out-on-their-plans/2016/01/04/5dcdd902-b327-11e5-a842-0feb51d1d124_story.html

–  Bucks’ Future Remains Bright  (from Ian Thomsen,  NBA.com):


–  Rajon Rondo Q & A Re: Days with the Mavs  (from Tim McMahon,  ESPN):


 The Case for Flip Saunders as Executive of the Year  (from Britt Robson,  minnpost.com):

Read it here:  https://www.minnpost.com/sports/2016/01/why-flip-saunders-should-be-nba-executive-year

–  Pelicans Still Working on Picking Up the Pace  (from Brett Dawson, The Advocate):

Read it here:  http://theadvocate.com/sports/pelicans/14476252-128/pelicans-still-work-on-picking-up-the-pace

–  Tyreke Evans Having Difficulty Adjusting to Gentry’s Offensive System  (from John Reid,  NOLA.com):

Read it here:  http://www.nola.com/pelicans/index.ssf/2016/01/tyreke_evans_1.html

–  Recapping Monday’s Games  (from SBNation):

Read it here:  http://www.sbnation.com/2016/1/4/10712540/nba-monday-pacers-hope-to-down-heat

–  Where Are They Now:  Amnestied Players  (from Chuck Myron,  Hoops Rumors):

Read it here:  http://www.hoopsrumors.com/2016/01/where-are-they-now-amnestied-players.html

And for those with access to ESPN insider:

–  What the Warriors are Teaching the Hornets (from Kevin Pelton):

Read it here:  http://espn.go.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/14500756/the-charlotte-hornets-showing-how-teams-learn-golden-state-warriors-nba

Additional Player Notes, Updates, Profiles:

–  Draymond Green  (from Sam Amick, USA Today):  http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2016/01/03/draymond-green-magic-johnson-warriors-draymagic/78237606/

–  DeMar DeRozan  (from Josh Lewenberg,  tsn.ca):   http://www.tsn.ca/derozan-deserves-more-credit-for-career-best-stretch-1.418150

–  TJ Warren/Devin Booker/Alex Len  (from Jonathan Tjarks,  RealGM):  http://basketball.realgm.com/article/240329/Going-Back-To-McDonoughs-Original-Plan-In-The-Suns-Lost-Season

–  Jonathon Simmons  (from Tim McMahon,  Express-News):  http://www.expressnews.com/sports/spurs/article/Simmons-gives-Spurs-juice-to-blow-by-Bucks-6736840.php?t=871d385940927fc3fb&cmpid=twitter-premium

–  DeMarre Carroll  (from Ryan Wolstat,  Toronto Sun):  http://www.torontosun.com/2016/01/04/raptors-lose-carroll-for-game-in-cleveland–and-likely-for-some-time

–  Ish Smith (from Jason Patt,  SBNation):  http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/1/5/10715482/ish-smith-philadelphia-76ers-highlights-stats

–  Montrezl Harrell  (from Jonathan Feigen,  Houston Chronicle):  http://blog.chron.com/ultimaterockets/2016/01/rockets-rookie-montrezl-harrell-ready-to-play-with-donatas-motiejunas-out/

–  John Wall  (from Abdullah Sharif,  hoopdistrict.com):   http://hoopdistrict.net/how-john-wall-destroyed-december-in-spite-of-inadequate-supporting-cast/

–  Larry Nance, Jr  (from Harrison Faigen,  silverscreenandroll.com):  http://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2016/1/5/10712886/la-lakers-larry-nance-jr-nba-draft-2015

Today’s Best NBA Reporting and Analysis

–   Offensive change is both clear and here for Wizards  (from Todd Dybas,  Washington Times):

Read it here:   http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/oct/7/offensive-change-here-for-wizards/

–  Installing their new offense, Wizards heed the need for speed  (from Jorge Castillo,  washingtnpost.com):

Read it here:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/wizards/installing-their-new-offense-wizards-heed-the-need-for-speed/2015/10/07/a11fbe4e-6d29-11e5-b31c-d80d62b53e28_story.html


–  Replacing LaMarcus Aldridge: Trail Blazers will lean on versatile, interchangeable frontcourt to supplant All-Star  (from Joe Freeman, oregonlive.com):

Read and view it here:  http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2015/10/replacing_lamarcus_aldridge_trail_blazers_will_lea.html


–  Mavs Transition D  (form Jonny Auping, scout.com):

Read it here:  http://www.scout.com/nba/mavericks/story/1596610-mavs-transition-d-zaza-vs-a-runaway-train


–  Wesley Matthews Battles Back from Torn Achilles (frm Jonathan Abrams (Grantland):

Read it here:  http://grantland.com/features/wesley-matthews-nba-dallas-mavericks-portland-trail-blazers-achilles-injury-comeback-marquette-university-deandre-jordan-free-agency/


–   Reinventing the New Orleans Pelicans  (from Rob Mahoney,  Sports Illustrated):

Read it here:  http://www.si.com/nba/2015/10/08/anthony-davis-pelicans-alvin-gentry-jrue-holiday-tyreke-evans


–  After struggles on defense, Pistons go back to basics  (from Aaron McMann,  mlive.com):

Read it here:  http://www.mlive.com/pistons/index.ssf/2015/10/after_struggles_on_defense_pis.html


–   LeBron James and the Cavaliers broke their isolationist ways for one night, anyway  (from Joe Vardon,  cleveland.com):   http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2015/10/lebron_james_cavaliers_hawks_b.html


Additional Player Notes, Updates, Profiles:


–  Enes Kanter, Billy Donovan and Questions of Fit  (from Ben Dowsett, Basketball Insiders):  http://www.basketballinsiders.com/enes-kanter-billy-donovan-and-questions-of-fit/


–  How Kenneth Faried can become the impact player the Nuggets need  (from Matt Moore,  CBS Sports):  http://www.cbssports.com/nba/eye-on-basketball/25330621/how-kenneth-faried-can-become-the-impact-player-denver-needs


–  Jonathon Simmons making an impression on Popovich  (from Jabari Young,  mysanantonio.com):  http://blog.mysanantonio.com/spursnation/2015/10/07/its-early-but-jonathon-simmons-making-an-impression-on-popovich/


–   Damian Lillard and Tim Frazier: A friendship that will remain no matter who wins Trail Blazers backup job  (from Jason Quick,  oregonlive.com):  http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2015/10/damian_lillard_and_tim_frazier_a_friendship_that_w.html


–   Grizzlies’ Courtney Lee vows to be more aggressive  (from Ronald Tillery,  commercialappeal.com):

Read it here:   http://stage.www.commercialappeal.com/sports/grizzlies/grizzlies-courtney-lee-vows-to-be-more-aggressive-216232c1-1e7e-1eb6-e053-0100007ff006-331161001.html


–  Rudy Gobert (from Andrew Bailey, BBall breakdown):  http://bballbreakdown.com/2015/10/07/rudy-gobert-2016-defensive-player-of-the-year/


–   Blake Griffin wants to take his defense — and the Clippers — to another level  (from J.A. Adande (ESPN):   http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/13831271/nba-blake-griffin-wants-take-defense-clippers-another-level


–  Pacers’ Joe Young pesters coach, veterans to learn  (from Candace Buckner,  indystar.com):

Read it here:  http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/nba/pacers/2015/10/07/pacers-joe-young-pesters-coach-veterans-learn/73526064/


–  Brett Brown wants to help Jahlil Okafor’s post presence  (form John Finger,  csnphilly.com):  http://www.csnphilly.com/basketball-philadelphia-76ers/sixers-notes-brett-brown-wants-help-jahlil-okafors-post-presence


–  Utah Jazz: Center Jeff Withey making his case for roster spot  (from Aaron Falk, saltlaketribune):  http://www.sltrib.com/sports/3040162-155/utah-jazz-center-jeff-withey-making


–  A closer look at Julius Randle’s impressive preseason performance  (from Drew Garrison, silverscreenandroll.com):  http://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2015/10/7/9473781/la-lakers-julius-randle-analysis-breakdown-film


–   2015 Pistons preview: Key season for Spencer Dinwiddie  (from Steve Hinson,  detroitbadboys):  http://www.detroitbadboys.com/2015/10/7/9294917/2015-pistons-preview-key-season-for-dinwiddie


–   Solomon Hill Looks to Find Niche  (from Matt Andreason,  indycornrows.com):  http://www.indycornrows.com/2015/10/7/9471807/solomon-hill-looks-to-find-niche-in-uncertain-season


–   Bullock’s bid to win Pistons roster berth boosted by preseason debut – and SVG’s faith in his D  (from Pistons.com):  http://www.nba.com/pistons/features/bullocks-bid-win-pistons-roster-berth-boosted-preseason-debut-and-svgs-faith-his-d

–   Bullock’s defense could earn him a Pistons roster spot  (from Aaron McMann, mlive.com):  http://www.mlive.com/pistons/index.ssf/2015/10/reggie_bullocks_defense_could.html


–  Kris Humphries is adapting to his new role with the Wizards  (from Jorge Castillo,  Washington Post):  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wizards-insider/wp/2015/10/08/kris-humphries-is-adapting-to-his-new-stretch-four/


–   Marco Belinelli’s play elevates his Kings teammates (from Jason Jones, Sacramento Bee):  http://www.sacbee.com/sports/nba/sacramento-kings/kings-blog/article38162652.html


–  Jrue Holiday on minute restriction but showing encouraging early signs  (from Jim Eichenhofer,  pelicans.com):  http://www.nba.com/pelicans/news/jrue-holiday-minute-restriction-showing-encouraging-early-signs


–  Heat’s Tre Kelley Trying to Become 30-Year-Old NBA Rookie (from Jessica Camerato,  Basketball Insiders):  http://www.basketballinsiders.com/nba-a-m-heats-kelley-trying-to-become-30-year-old-nba-rookie/


–  Bradley Beal  (from J. Michael, csnmidatlantic.com):  http://www.csnmidatlantic.com/basketball-washington-wizards/talk/morning-tip-small-glitches-fix-bradley-beal


–   Jonas Valanciunas:

– from William Lou, williamlounba:  https://williamlounba.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/adapt-or-die-the-next-step-for-jonas-valanciunas-is-flexibility/

– from Tim Chishom, raptorsrepublic.com:  http://www.raptorsrepublic.com/2015/10/08/valanciunas-deserves-a-better-fit-than-patterson/