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One week into the NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs were one of two remaining undefeated teams.
Despite missing their leading scorer and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were rolling. They won their first four games by an average of nearly 10 points per game.
However, since then the Spurs have lost four straight games by an average of 16 points per game, to drop their season record to 4-4.
LaMarcus Aldridge has done an admirable job filling in as the team’s number one option, averaging a career-high 23.6 points to go along with 8.4 rebounds per game. However, judging by the team’s sudden fall after their hot start, Leonard’s absence is really starting to impact the team.
The Spurs didn’t have the flashy offseason many other teams did. Whereas other Western Conference teams added perennial All-Stars (Rockets added Chris Paul; Thunder added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony; Timberwolves added Jimmy Butler), the Spurs did not.
The Spurs’ big offseason acquisition was Rudy Gay, who was coming off an Achilles injury suffered in mid-January. He’s currently the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging a solid 11.8 points in 22 minutes per game off the bench.
The team remains a solid one even without Leonard; however, it is becoming clear that they are not an elite team without him.
Last season with Leonard, the Spurs finished the year 2nd in the league in points allowed and tied for 2nd in the league in defensive efficiency. Through the first eight games of this season, the Spurs rank 6th in points allowed and 24th in defensive efficiency.
The team may continue to struggle on that end without arguably the top defensive player in the league. Leonard is one of the few players who can effectively guard the opposing team’s top offensive player, while being the top offensive player on his own team. Aldridge hasn’t shown he can lead the Spurs the way Leonard can.
At this point, there’s no timetable for when Leonard will make his return. However, it’s becoming more clear early on that Leonard is a huge part of the team’s status among the elites. Despite their 7-1 record without Leonard last season, his absence this year has greatly shown his importance to the team’s overall success even with Aldridge’s high level of play.
If Aldridge can play at this high level upon Leonard’s return, that could unlock something we haven’t seen in the Spurs over the past three seasons.