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 12/14/16

–  Footwork Can Be The Difference Between Good And Great  (from Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer):

Read and watch it here:  https://theringer.com/nba-footwork-demar-derozan-giannis-antetokounmpo-jj-redick-c7819c1289b9#.sgsnlcw3g

–  Week 7 In Review: Giannis And Much More  (from Justin Willard, Nylon Calculus):

Read it here:  https://fansided.com/2016/12/13/nylon-calculus-shooting-fouls-60-points-giannis-mvp/

Is Kawhi’s Defense So Great That It Hurts The Spurs? (from Matt Moore, CBS Sports):

Read and watch it here:  http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/kawhi-leonard-is-so-great-at-defense-hes-actually-hurting-the-spurs/

Hornacek’s ATOs  (from Zach Diluzio, Poasting And Toasting):

Read and watch it here:  http://www.postingandtoasting.com/2016/12/13/13930510/jeff-hornacek-s-after-timeout-plays-have-been-wonderful

Fizdale:  LBJ Values Perfection Too Much To Be A Coach  (from Dave McMenamin, ESPN):

Read it here:  http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18273241/david-fizdale-memphis-grizzlies-see-cleveland-cavaliers-star-lebron-james-future-coach

Steven Adams: On Track To Becoming OKC’s Next Star (from Susan Bible, Basketball Insiders):

Read it here:  http://www.basketballinsiders.com/steven-adams-on-track-to-become-thunders-next-star/

Jamal Murray: Steal Of The Draft?  (from Jake Fischer, Sports Illustrated):

Read it here:  http://www.si.com/nba/2016/12/14/jamal-murray-denver-nuggets-rookie-kentucky-mike-malone/

–  Durant And Curry Torch Teams Without Even Touching The Ball (from Scott Rafferty, FanSided):

Read and watch it here:  http://fansided.com/2016/12/14/durant-curry-screens-off-ball-warriors/

–  The Raptors’ Points Per Possession: Off The Charts  (from James Herbert, CBS Sports):

Read it here:  http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/if-you-hadnt-noticed-the-raptors-currently-have-the-best-offense-in-nba-history/

From Mike Ganter, Postmedia Network):  http://www.theprovince.com/sports/basketball/toronto+raptors+having+remarkable+success+shooting/12522797/story.html

From Blake Murphy, Raptors Republic:  http://www.raptorsrepublic.com/2016/12/14/raptors-scoring-well-warriors/

–  5 Reasons Why Rockets Could Be Western Conf. Dark Horse  (from Gerald Bourguet, Hoops Habit):

Read it here; http://hoopshabit.com/2016/12/14/houston-rockets-5-reasons-western-dark-horses/

–  Tuesday Recap  (from Tim Cato, SBNation):

Read it here:  http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/12/14/13948352/2016-nba-scores-atlanta-hawks-losing-streak

From Kurt Helin, NBC Sports:  http://nba.nbcsports.com/2016/12/14/three-things-we-learned-tuesday-in-chicago-thibodeaus-minnesota-team-shows-tenacity-finally/

Players Of The Night: Kevin Love/Eric Bledsoe  (from Chris Ryan, The Ringer):

Read and watch it here:  https://theringer.com/kevin-love-grizzlies-cavs-all-star-king-court-808c86649b23#.49wy1meh6

–  The Warriors Are Passing Their Way To History  (from Positive Residual, Nylon Calculus):

Read it here:  https://fansided.com/2016/12/13/nylon-calculus-warriors-passing-history/

Exploring Why The Bulls Beat Good Teams And Then Lose To Bad Ones  (from Chris Herring, fivethirtyeight.com):

Read it here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-the-bulls-beat-the-best-teams-and-then-lose-to-the-worst-ones/

–  The Battered Grizzlies Are As Close To Perfection As They’ve Ever Been (from Colin McGowan, RealGM):

Read it here: http://basketball.realgm.com/article/244271/The-Battered-Grizzlies-Are-As-Close-To-Perfection-As-Theyve-Ever-Been

–  Most Telling Stats From Lakers’ Losing Streak  (from Eric Yee, Lake Show Life):

Read it here:  http://lakeshowlife.com/2016/12/14/lakers-7-game-losing-stream-most-telling-stats-injury-turnovers-defense/

–  Turning The Timberwolves Around  (from Andy Grimsrud, A Wolf Among Wolves):

Read it here;  http://www.awolfamongwolves.com/2016/12/inbox-wolves-transition-d-struggles-rethinking-this-stage-of-development/

George Hill:  Unlocking The Jazz’ Ceiling As Contender  (from Brad Rowland, Dime Magazine);

Read it here;  http://uproxx.com/dimemag/george-hill-utah-jazz/

–  The Effectiveness Of The Different Spurs’ Lineups So Far This Season  (from Dimitrije Curcic, airalamo.com)

Read it here:  http://airalamo.com/2016/12/13/searching-perfect-spurs-lineup/

–  Rodney McGruder: Heat Bright Spot  (from Joshua Saunders,  The Hardwood Nation):

Read it here: https://thehardwoodnation.net/2016/12/13/rodney-mcgruder-the-one-bright-spot-for-the-miami-heat/

–  James Johnson Hopes He’s Found An NBA Home  (from Anthony Chicang, Palm Beach Post):

Read it here:  http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/12/13/james-johnson-hopes-hes-found-an-nba-home-with-the-miami-heat/

How The Rockets’ Survive The Moments Without James Harden  (from Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated):

Read it here:  http://www.si.com/nba/2016/12/14/rockets-james-harden-mike-dantoni-patrick-beverley-eric-gordon

 Porzingis’ Pick-And-Pops Are Unguardable  (from Jeff Siegel, FanSided):

Read and watch it here:  http://fansided.com/2016/12/14/kristaps-porzingis-pick-and-pop/

–  Jae Crowder’s Defense  (from Peter Stringer, celtics.com):

Read it here:  http://www.nba.com/celtics/news/sidebar/prac-121316-jae-crowder-kawhi-leonard-defense

–  Tristan Thompson, Rim Protector  (from Kevin Nye, Hashtag Basketball):

Read it here:  http://www.hashtagbasketball.com/cleveland-cavaliers/content/tristan-thompson-rim-protector

–  How Boston Changed Its Mind And Lost Out On Tony Parker  (from Chris Forsberg, ESPN):

Read it here:  http://www.espn.in/nba/story/_/id/18273391/lamenting-another-super-spur-boston-never-got

 Steve Kerr Wants Extra Ref Focused Solely On Travel Calls (from Connor Letourneau, SFGate):

Read it here:  http://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Steve-Kerr-wants-extra-ref-focused-solely-on-10793776.php

 The Night Billy Kennedy Went Back To Work  (from Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN):

Read it here:  http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/page/12dayschristmas9/the-night-billy-kennedy-went-back-work-nba

–  Zubac Gains Experience In The D-League (from Joey Ramirez, lakers.com):

Read it here:  http://www.nba.com/lakers/news/161213-ivica-zubac-d-fenders


Today’s Best NBA Reporting And Analysis 9/6/16

Mike Malone Paves The Path Forward For The Nuggets (from Matt Moore,  CBS Sports):

Read and listen to it here:  http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/michael-malones-intensity-paves-the-best-path-forward-for-nuggets/

–  Suns’ Lottery Pick Big Men: Bender And Chriss (from IanThomsen, Sports Illustrated):

Read it here:  http://www.nba.com/2016/news/features/ian_thomsen/09/04/phoenix-suns-rookie-frontcourt-marquese-chriss-dragan-bender/index.html

–  SVG: Getting The Rotation Right  (from Keith Langlois,  Pistons.com):

Read it here:  http://www.nba.com/pistons/features/camp-questions-quest-balance-will-svg-tinker-pistons-starters

 Film Study: Isaiah Thomas Without the Ball (from Jared Weiss, celticsblog.com):

Read and view it here:  http://www.celticsblog.com/2016/9/6/12789208/isaiah-thomas-boston-celtics-trade-star-breakdown

 Veterans Scramble To Stay In The Assn  (from Steve Aschburner,  NBA.com):

Read it here:  http://www.nba.com/2016/news/features/steve_aschburner/09/02/nba-veterans-scramble-to-stay-in-league/

Heat Player Updates  (from Barry Jackson, Miami Herald);

Read it here:  http://miamiherald.typepad.com/sports-buzz/2016/09/winslow-making-strides-working-with-specialist-heat-dolphins-canes-marlins-notes.html

–  What Is It Like To Play In The NBA?  (from Jim McIvaine):

Read it here:  http://jimmcilvaine.sportsblog.com/posts/25001945/what-is-it-like-to-play-in-the-nba–part-one.html

–  Evaluating Defense  (from Josh Clement,  canishoopus.com):

Read it here:  http://www.canishoopus.com/2016/9/6/12805948/tuesday-musings-evaluating-defense

Additional Player Notes, Profiles, Updates:

 Lavoy Allen  (from Jake Rauchbach, Basketball Insiders):  http://www.basketballinsiders.com/how-lavoy-allen-carved-out-his-nba-niche/

 Gerald Henderson  (from Alex Brubaker, the Sixer Sense);  http://thesixersense.com/2016/09/05/philadlephia-76ers-gerald-henderson-the-steal-of-the-offseason/

–  Russell Westbrook (from Vincent Askew, skews24-7sports.com):  http://skews24-7sports.com/rumble-young-man-rumble/

 Stanley Johnson  (from Keith Langlois, Pistons.com):  http://www.nba.com/pistons/features/camp-questions-how-big-jump-can-stanley-johnson-take-year-two

–  Willie Reed  (from Wes Goldberg, allucanheat.com):  http://allucanheat.com/2016/09/06/miami-heat-willie-reed-opportunity/

 James Young (from A. Sherrod Blakely, csnne.com):  http://www.csnne.com/boston-celtics/boston-celtics-ceiling-to-floor-profiles-james-young-days-may-be-numbered

Jakob Poeltl  (from Quinn Allen,  Raptors Rapture):  http://raptorsrapture.com/2016/09/05/what-raptors-fans-can-expect-from-first-round-pick-jakob-poeltl/

–  Jeff Teague  (from Ben Gibson,  8points9seconds.com):  http://8points9seconds.com/2016/09/05/jeff-teague-with-paul-george/

Joe Young (from Scott Agness, Vigilant Sports):  http://www.vigilantsports.com/2016/09/01/man-on-a-mission-joe-young-working-out-three-times-a-day/


Today’s Best NBA Reporting And Analysis 8/30/16

–  Warriors’ Asst. Ron Adams Expects A Lot From Durant Defensively  (from Monte Poole, csnbayarea):
–  The Pacers Are Built Around Paul George  (from Zach Harper,  CBS Sports):
–  Five Things To Know About The Pacers  (from Matt Moore, CBS Sports):
 Mudiay And Jokic Set The Nuggets Ceiling  (from BBall Breakdown):
NOTE:  Re: the 2103 playoffs, the Nuggets were significantly hampered by key injuries, most notably to Danilo Gallinari who was unavailable due to a knee injury suffered late in the regular season.
–  Rim Protection: Jokic vs Nurkic  (from Adam Mares, Denver Stiffs):
Interview  With New Lakers’ Asst. Casey Owens  (from Shereen Rayan, Lake Show Life):
–  Offensive Rebounding: Crash vs Transition  (from Mavs Moneyball):
Additional Player Notes, Updates, Profiles:
–  DeAndre’ Bembry/Caris LeVert/Patrick McCaw  (from Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer):  https://theringer.com/meet-the-new-nba-rookie-local-heroes-290bc16a927d#.jiqnm3sdf
–  Kyle O’Quinn  (from Alex Kennedy, Basketball Insiders):  http://www.basketballinsiders.com/get-to-know-knicks-center-kyle-oquinn/
–  Trey Lyles (from Derek Simshauser, purpleandblues.com):  http://purpleandblues.com/2016/08/29/utah-jazz-deep-dives-trey-lyles/
–  Nikola Jokic  (from T.J. McBride, bsndenver.com):
 Gerald Green  (from A. Sherrod Blakely, csnne.com):  http://www.csnne.com/boston-celtics/return-gerald-green-could-fill-vital-bench-role-celtics
–  Henry Ellenson  (from Trevor Magnotti, Upsaide And Motor):  http://upsidemotor.com/2016/08/30/pistons-need-patience-henry-ellenson/
–  Gary Harris  (from Ryan McCabe, Nugg Love):  http://nugglove.com/2016/08/30/image-gary-harris-comparisons/
 Chris Bosh  (from Ira Winderman,  Sun-Semntinel);  http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/miami-heat/sfl-miami-heat-chris-bosh-s082916-story.html


Today’s Best NBA Reporting And Analysis 8/29/16

–  Rim Protection And How Teams Take Away Shots Inside  (from Zach Harper, CBS Sports):

Read it here:  http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-rim-protection-and-how-teams-go-about-taking-away-shots-inside/

D’Antoni’s 7 Seconds Or Less Offense On The Rockets (from Eli Horowitz, Today’s Fastbreak):

Read and view it here:  http://www.todaysfastbreak.com/nba-west/houston-rockets/seven-seconds-less-harden-dantoni-rockets/

–  Fun With Lineups: Impact Of Nerlens Noel And Jahlil Okafor  (from Derek Bodner, phillymag.com):

Read it here:  http://www.phillymag.com/news/2016/08/27/jahlil-okafor-lineups/

Additional Player Notes, Updates, Profiles:

 Tim Frazier/Langston Galloway/E’Twaun Moore  (from Rick Stone, pelicandebrief.com):  http://pelicandebrief.com/2016/08/28/will-new-orleans-pelicans-backup-point-guard/  and from Brendon Kleen:  http://pelicandebrief.com/2016/08/28/etwaun-moore-shines-light-pelicans-backcourt-logjam/

–  Kay Felder  (from Aaron Ferguson, King James Gospel):  http://kingjamesgospel.com/2016/08/28/kay-felder-next-damon-stoudamire/

–  Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan  (from Holly McKenzie, raptors.com):  http://www.nba.com/raptors/holly-blog/lowryderozan-082616

–  Festus Ezeli  (from Steven Dewald/Carlos Murillo, ripcityproject.com):  http://ripcityproject.com/2016/08/28/viewing-festus-ezeli-from-golden-states-side/

–  Willie Cauley-Stein (from David Ramil, Today’s Fastbreak):  http://www.todaysfastbreak.com/nba-west/sacramento-kings/willie-cauley-stein-must-stand-out-in-kings-bloated-front-court/

–  Cole Aldrich  (from elevator music, canishoopus.com):  http://www.canishoopus.com/2016/8/29/12625322/timberwolves-preview-cole-aldrich-fan-favorite

Xavier Henry  (from Marquis Munson, Ridiculous Upside): http://www.ridiculousupside.com/2016/8/28/12624864/could-xavier-henrys-comeback-journey-continue-in-los-angeles

 Shane Larkin (from Jorge Sierra,  Hoops Hype):  http://hoopshype.com/2016/08/28/shane-larkin-it-has-not-been-the-easiest-path-for-me/

 Jason Terry  (from Gery Woelfel, journaltimes.com):  http://journaltimes.com/sports/basketball/bucks-beat-sharpshooter-terry-a-boost-for-bucks/article_015c934e-c968-5b6d-98fa-eed060d73507.html

–  Garrett Temple  (from Ben Mehic, Waizard Of Awes);  http://wizofawes.com/2016/08/28/washington-wizards-garrett-temple-sacramento-kings-culture-change/