Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Golden State Warriors currently own the best record in the NBA. Even after some early season struggles, they sit at 31-8 and with Steph Curry back, show no signs of slowing down. Right behind them in the West standings are the Rockets, who lost 5 in a row but still only sit 3 games behind the Warriors at 27-10. A lot of fans might feel like the Western conference is a two-team race at this point, but there is a lot of season left and you should be careful before counting out the squad in San Antonio. Here are a few reasons why.
#1: LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge has played at an all-star level this season, averaging 22.2 PPG and 8.3 RPG. His return to high production has been a huge relief for Spurs fans, as his struggles last season, most notably in the playoffs, nearly led to him leaving San Antonio. Coach Gregg Popovich admitted that he made a mistake in trying to over-coach Aldridge a year ago, and that ultimately led to his problems last season. Aldridge’s jump in production is also due to Kawhi Leonard missing the first part of the season. He did a great job of stepping up and becoming the go-to scorer with Leonard out. Aldridge is currently playing as well as any big man in the league, and his skill around the rim combined with veteran presence continues to be a huge difference maker for the Spurs.
#2: Kawhi Leonard’s return. When he is healthy, Leonard is one of the 5 best players in the NBA. A guy like Leonard is often compared to a queen on a chess board, meaning that he can do almost anything on the floor. Naturally, the Spurs took a major hit when he was unable to take the court for the first 28 games of the season. The team did a great job of finding ways to win games without him, but there’s no doubt his presence was missed in a huge way. Since his return, Leonard has been playing limited minutes in an attempt to ease himself back into normal minutes without rushing his recovery from a quad injury. We still haven’t seen what Leonard is fully capable of this season, but when he returns to 100%, he will likely be putting up all-star type stats on a nightly basis, and will be the factor that helps the Spurs match up with teams like the Rockets and Warriors in the West.
#3: Defense. As a team, the Spurs rank as the second best team in the league in opponent PPG, giving up just 98.3 per game . They also rank in the top 10 for opponent FG% and opponent 3PT FG%. Not to mention Kawhi Leonard is one of the best defenders in the league, and if you need proof, look no further than his back-to-back DPOY awards. Another guy to look out for on defense is Danny Green, who recently became just the fourth Spur ever to record 400+ blocks and 400+ steals. One of the chief attributes of successful teams in San Antonio is defense, and recently they’ve been one of the few teams that have had success limiting the high-powered offenses in the league. If they can put it all together, don’t be surprised to see the Spurs back in the WCF this season, or even in the finals.