The San Antonio Spurs might have made a big splash by signing LaMarcus Aldridge, but their best and most important player for the second straight season is Kawhi Leonard, and by leading his team to an impressive run by result and by ability, he presents the big hope of this league to somehow meet the Golden State Warriors on a level playing field.
The Spurs and the Warriors don’t meet until January, their first of four games this season. Who know how many wins the Dubs have by then, but the Spurs aren’t exactly rolling over early on. They’re 11-3, with eight wins in the last nine games. Aldridge might be out for now, but it could be still simpler for the Spurs to play without him. They certainly looked extremely comfortable in their 98-84 win over the Phoenix Suns, led by Leonard with 24 points and Tony Parker with 20 points and 8 assists.
Leonard is playing the minutes of a star (just under 35 per game) and providing the numbers, averaging 21.5 points per game, with his best points per minute and per possession numbers yet. His defensive rating is at its lowest (which is a good thing), and the Spurs are winning by 10.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, so far not needing to move to power forward in smaller lineups as much as before, with the Spurs having more options at the position right now.
Leonard isn’t the best small forward in the NBA, but he’s part of the movement the Warriors are thriving through: Perimeter players that are 6’5 to 6’9 that can guard anyone on the floor, post up on anyone on the floor and be deadly from the high post as well. The Spurs’ system varies from that of the Warriors in its more patient ball movement and is less about four or five guys being capable of playing every position on the floor, but their best and most important player would fit in perfectly in Oakland.
But the key to this season success, which means dethroning the Warriors at the end of it, will be how Aldridge fits in when the season reaches its more important phases, when the Spurs usually begin their annual runs to either make up for losses or get away from the rest of the pack. So far it’s been as expected – on and off nights. But at some point, Aldridge is expected to pick up the pace, and look a lot more comfortable in this system.