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What We Learned About San Antonio Spurs During Season's First Half

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

What We Learned About San Antonio Spurs During Season's First Half

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    Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs have put themselves in excellent playoff position after a great first half of the season.
    Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs have put themselves in excellent playoff position after a great first half of the season.Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    The San Antonio Spurs were expected to be one of the premier teams in the Western Conference, and Gregg Popovich's squad backed it up during the first half of the 2013-14 season.

    From reserves to longtime starters, we learned a handful of things about the Spurs.

    After the quiet offseason with only two notable transactions, the Spurs' core returned to the hard court on a mission. San Antonio suffered some injuries, but the bench is once again a stellar unit and is picking up the slack.

    Most importantly, the Spurs won 32 of their first 41 games, sitting atop the conference standings and nearly holding the best record in the NBA.

     

    Note: Stats taken from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of Jan. 24, 2014, pre-San Antonio vs. Atlanta Hawks.

The New-and-Improved Boris Diaw Was Awesome

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    Boris Diaw wanted to be more aggressive, and he's been superb so far.
    Boris Diaw wanted to be more aggressive, and he's been superb so far.Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Early this season, Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News noted Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was looking for Boris Diaw to be more aggressive.

    Fast-forward three months, and Diaw has succeeded at doing just that.

    Though the rest of his stats are practically mirror images of what he accomplished during the 2012-13 campaign, Diaw has improved his scoring output from 5.8 to 9.0 points per game, shooting 56.0 percent from the field.

    Overall, Diaw has compiled a 111.1 offensive rating to go with an net plus-11.1 clip, per NBA.com, and has filled in admirably for Tiago Splitter, who has been hampered by a couple of injuries.

Marco Belinelli Was a Perfect Addition

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    Marco Belinelli isn't the only one pumping his fists—every Spurs fan is because of him.
    Marco Belinelli isn't the only one pumping his fists—every Spurs fan is because of him.Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Given that he was entering a better situation, many NBA-watchers expected shooting guard Marco Belinelli to improve this season.

    But did they expect this level of play? Belinelli has simply been on fire.

    The sharpshooter boasts a career-high three-point percentage, knocking down 49.3 percent of his trifectas, which, unsurprisingly, also leads the league.

    San Antonio, though, has needed Belinelli's outstanding production, because NBA Finals record-setter Danny Green struggled finding a rhythm behind the arc before injuring a finger.

    And once Green hits his stride, the duo will form a lethal tandem from outside.

San Antonio Felt the Wrath of the Injury Bug

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    Parker and Splitter have been nagged by leg injuries, and Splitter suffered a shoulder sprain, too.
    Parker and Splitter have been nagged by leg injuries, and Splitter suffered a shoulder sprain, too.Associated Press

    Four of the Spurs' five starters have missed action, and the only completely healthy one, Tim Duncan, occasionally receives the lovely "DNP-Old" title.

    Tony Parker has been nagged by a couple injuries—one to his shin and one to his ankle. Splitter missed four games in December after injuring his calf and is closing in on a double-digit absence since spraining his shoulder. 

    Kawhi Leonard fractured a finger and will be sidelined for three to four weeks, which is what currently has Danny Green in street clothes. Per ESPN, Green has a "non-displaced fracture of the index finger on his left hand" and will be out for about four weeks.

    If each player returns fully healed and San Antonio avoids another major injury—especially to Parker—the Spurs will be in good shape for a deep playoff run.

    But if the injury bug continues to bite Pop's squad, the veteran coach must keep inventing new ways to overcome San Antonio's shortcomings.

Tim Duncan Is Still the No. 2 Scorer

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    The ageless wonder Tim Duncan still makes his presence felt in the post on a nightly basis.
    The ageless wonder Tim Duncan still makes his presence felt in the post on a nightly basis.D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

    Consequent to Leonard's emergence during the playoffs, a question about Duncan's role in the offense arose.

    Should Duncan relinquish the No. 2 scoring responsibilities to the budding star Leonard?

    Survey says? No.

    The 37-year-old is years removed from being a dominant interior player, but it hasn't stopped the veteran from being efficient. Duncan is still averaging the second-most points on the team, converting on 47.3 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 52.5 percent within 16 feet of the basket, per NBA.com.

    And really, San Antonio isn't asking for anything more than efficiency from The Big Fundamental.

San Antonio Can Get Much Better

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    Manu Ginobili has played very well, but as a whole, San Antonio can definitely improve.
    Manu Ginobili has played very well, but as a whole, San Antonio can definitely improve.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite injuries, San Antonio won 32 of its first 41 games, dropping just one game to a team with a losing record.

    With that being said, the recurring knock on the Spurs is they have not consistently beaten top NBA teams.

    Ultimately, San Antonio is credited with only two significant wins, beating the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena while shorthanded. The Spurs also topped the Los Angeles Clippers, but Doc Rivers' team was without superstar point guard Chris Paul.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder beat San Antonio three times to none, with the key player beingyou guessed it—Reggie Jackson. Additionally, the Houston Rockets outlasted the Spurs twice, and the Indiana Pacers dropped San Antonio once.

    But the Spurs have multiple opportunities to redeem themselves, squaring off with the Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State and Houston twice, while getting another shot at both OKC and Indiana.

    Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News notes Ginobili "does not have a great feeling about the way we are playing right now."

    And he's not wrong. But that just goes to show how much better the Spurs can get, and some key wins against elite teams would kick-start the improvement.

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