Earlier this week, I was listening to Ben Taylor list his top 10 most improved players of the season on his “Thinking Basketball” podcast. As I was listening, I began to wonder who the most improved Spur has been.
I then began to wonder who a ballot of Spurs-only players for the end of season awards would include if the season ended today. I asked the other members of Project Spurs to give their picks as well and included the most mentioned player for that category in the “Project Spurs Staff Pick” (the staff picks don’t include my own pick).
Most Valuable Player
The Spurs’ most valuable player this season has been DeMar DeRozan. His drive game has helped take the Spurs starting unit’s offense to new levels over the past few weeks, aided by LaMarcus Aldridge attempting more 3’s. His points per shot attempt are at a career-high, mostly because he is drawing a career-high percentage of fouls on field goal attempts, shooting a career-high percentage at the rim, and a career-high percentage from mid-range. The Spurs score 4.2 more points per 100 plays in the halfcourt with DeRozan on the court than when he sits. While he could take more of his shots at the rim (31% of his current shots are taken at the rim), his drive-and-kick-or-score game is elite.
DeRozan hasn’t been as good on the other side of the ball, though. Interestingly, the Spurs outscore opponents in the halfcourt with DeRozan on the court and add more points per 100 possessions in transition than opponents do with DeRozan on the court. The biggest reason that the Spurs’ defensive metrics go down when DeRozan is on the court is the opponent’s putback numbers. Spurs’ opponents are scoring 21.6 points per 100 missed shots that they can rebound in putback situations, per Cleaning the Glass. While opponents don’t get a large percentage of potential offensive rebounds when DeRozan is in the game, when they have, they have scored off of those rebounds at a high-level. Defense aside, DeRozan has been having a great season.
The only other Spur to get a vote from the Project Spurs staff was Derrick White. After some thought, White does make sense for his contributions on both sides of the ball, but I think that DeRozan earns this award with the offensive weight he carries for this team.
Project Spurs Staff Pick: DeMar DeRozan
Defensive Player of the Year
The Spurs’ defensive player of the year so far has been Derrick White. White’s combination of his size and basketball IQ makes him a smart, capable defender. He isn’t a perfect perimeter defender, but his defense has been like the rest of his game this season: really solid.
Jakob Poeltl was the other player that I considered for this award, but I think that with White playing 5 more minutes a game than Poeltl and closing games, White has been the most important defender on the team. Murray could make a strong push for this award by the end of this season or next season. It can take a player who tore their ACL a while to return to the level they were at before the injury, and Murray has all the tools to be an All-Defensive player again in the near future.
Project Spurs Staff Pick: Jakob Poeltl
Sixth Man of the Year
The Spurs’ sixth man of the year for the season through the end of January has been Derrick White. The official NBA guidelines for a sixth man is that they come off the bench in more games than they start, and White is meeting that criteria by a pretty wide margin right now. White’s offense is much like his defense. He uses his size and his basketball IQ well on offense as well and has been a high percentage 3 point shooter for the season. He has been, to me, the Spurs’ third-best player this season, and the best bench player.
Patty Mills has had a great season as well and is also very deserving of this award. The combination of him and White together has been great for the Spurs – they have outscored opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possession in the 1319 non-garbage time possessions they have played together. White will play at the end of more close games though, and that versatility to be a backcourt game closer on both sides of the ball is one of the reasons that solidifies him as the pick for me.
Project Spurs Staff Pick: Patty Mills
Most Improved Player
The Spurs’ most improved player of the season has been Jakob Poeltl so far. With his play this season, he has all but solidified himself a spot in the Spurs’ future. He is projecting to be a solid starting center in the post-Aldridge Spurs’ era and has flourished in his bench role. The Spurs have played him less with Aldridge than they did last season, helping Poeltl as well. The Spurs have historically been fairly poor on offense when playing both players, and this season they have been poor on defense with both on the court, as well. This season, however, when Poeltl plays without Aldridge, the Spurs are outscoring opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions. Lineups that included Poeltl but not Aldridge last season also outscored opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possession, some of the credit here goes to the bench unit as a whole, but those lineups are projected to play far more this season than last.
Lonnie Walker IV was a candidate here as well, and if he had consistent minutes from the start of the season, I probably would have given it to him. He hasn’t played 500 minutes yet and has played only 36 minutes more than half of the minutes Poeltl has played. I think there is a strong possibility that Walker earns this award by the end of the season, but at the mid-point, Poeltl has had more of a chance to show his comfort level within the Spurs’ system.
Project Spurs Staff Pick: Jakob Poeltl
All stats from CleaningTheGlass.com