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“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Stayin’ Alive!” “Draft Tim Duncan. After that, stay alive.” You can bet Gregg Popovich has been thankful for the opportunity to do both. Perhaps, even in that order. He responded in true, curt Popovich fashion, after declining to discuss his approach toward Don Nelson’s career-wins record, to a reporter curious as to his personal “keys to success.” He’s now 18 wins behind Lenny Wilkens, and 21 behind Nelson. These are simple life keys that he offers. Stick around long enough for Fortune to fall into your lap. Then, don’t fumble it. Prosper, and then, live long! Here on the Squawk, we’ve beaten to death how thankful we were to have our team playing a role in the Big Fundamental not winding up in the greedy Celtics’ clutches. I’ll always wonder, but for the way that 1997 NBA Lottery shook out, how the landscape of the post-MJ era would have changed for the league. Presume Coach Pop is on the outs by 1998. With no clear avenue past Hakeem and Shaq, does David Robinson hit the hay early and retire too soon? Does Rick Pitino head to the Hall for his stellar NBA coaching career? Does the Knicks’ dream playoff season, in 1999, end in a title for Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy, making New York City all the more insufferable? Are the Spurs still in South Texas? Do the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili become, and remain, Eurobasket hoop legends, inspiring others to stay satisfied on that side of the Atlantic? And, whither The Pop-lar Coaching Tree? Do the sideline careers of Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers ever get off the ground? Was there still time for Mike Budenholzer go back to hooping in Denmark? Ensuring we would never need to discover the answers, coach-GM Popovich and the Spurs’ brass didn’t get tricked into picking Keith Van Horn. And for that, all of San Antonio remains grateful, even today as the Atlanta Hawks stop by (8:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Southwest-San Antonio) in hopes of extending their win streak at AT&T Center to three in a row. There are more than a few fans of the NBA’s Silver-and-Black that would be thankful to live long enough to witness a Spurs club (4-12) that prospers in the years after Popovich finally calls it a day, on the sideline and in the front office. One thing the Spurs are doing, for better or worse, is moving the ball, roadrunner fast. They haven’t been top-ten in pace (currently 5th in NBA) since the Finals years of 2013 and 2014, with Ime Udoka and a departing Coach Bud assisting Pop. It’s the clearest sign of an exodus from Iso-oriented ball dominated by former Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in recent years. Popovich is giving way to point guard Dejounte Murray (18 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds vs. PHX on Monday) and an array of small-to-mid-sized wings like Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, returnee and recent Buck Bryn Forbes, and Lonnie Walker. Isolation sets represent an NBA-low 2.4 percent of San Antonio’s possessions. What lingers following those former Spur stars’ departures, though, is an offense that still doesn’t embrace the three-ball. Only DeMar’s newest club, the Bulls, and the one prior to his Spurs tenure, the Raptors, come close to matching San Antonio’s current 2FG frequencies (NBA-high 68.9 percent of all shots from the field; NBA-high 33.3 2-point makes and 63.6 2-point shots per game). San An’s money shots (NBA-high 53.2 paint points per-48) come with a foot or two in the paint, but outside the charge semi-circle (22.3 non-restricted area paint FGAs/game, shooting 46.3%, each 2nd in NBA). When failing to achieve penetration, the Spurs are more than happy to settle for the tried-and-true mid-rangers (15.6 mid-range FGAs/game, 4th in NBA). The Spurs sit behind only Golden State with 69.3 PPG created off of assists. But the offensive modus operandi appears to be finding driving lanes that draw in defenders, then to float, pull-up, lob or kick out for the closest-range, most lightly-guarded shot a teammate can find. High-percentage, low-efficiency (105.5 O-Rating, 25th in NBA). Complicating matters for the Spurs offense are their collective struggles to, first, get to the charity stripe (NBA-low 16.8 FTAs/game), and second, to make shots from there (NBA-worst 68.3 FT%). Accidental Olympian Johnson is the sole Spur getting more than three free throw shots per game, and both he and Murray (each at 66.7 FT%) challenge the notion that two out of three ain’t bad. Disrupting plays with minimal contact is the name of San Antonio’s defensive game. Dejounte (2.1 SPG) leads the way, as demonstrated with his strip of an inbounds to Chris Paul for a fastbreak layup on Monday, pulling the scrappy Spurs within three points of Phoenix’s defending Western champs with 15 seconds to spare. Murray’s 3.9 deflections per game rank third in the league, as per NBA.com’s hustle stats, as does White’s nine charges drawn on the season (the roving Thaddeus Young isn’t far behind). When the Spurs keep themselves in contention for victories, as they did in storming back versus Phoenix, they’re skillfully building advantages in the turnover column (16.1 opponent TOs per 48, 4th-most in NBA) while limiting foul trouble (16.5 personals per-48, 2nd-fewest in NBA). The downside for the Spurs is the ease with which their backcourt-heavy defense (48.2 opponent paint points per-48, 3rd-worst in NBA) gets exploited in the interior, via Roll-Man P&R or Post-Up plays, nearly neutralizing their halfcourt offensive approach. Starting pivot Jakob Poeltl (7-for-9 FGs, 1-for-6 FTs, 5 O-Rebs and 4 D-Rebs vs. PHX) is getting back into form following his bout with COVID, and Popovich sprinkles in stints for Thad Young and Drew Eubanks to alleviate Keita Bates-Diop, as offseason pickup Doug McDermott (sore knee) shuffles in and out of the active lineup. The Spurs’ interior defense is ripe for peeling by the Hawks’ John Collins (116.0 O-Rating, 1st in NBA East and 6th overall) and Clint Capela. Opportunities abound for Atlanta to get the dormant former Spur Gorgui Dieng rolling (career-low 41.2 2FG% w/ ATL; career-best 59.1 2FG%, incl. 66.7% in 16 games last year w/ SAS), and to find mismatches inside the perimeter for Danilo Gallinari (career-low 42.6 2FG%). Gallo was 3-for-3 inside the perimeter during the Hawks’ 113-101 win over the Thunder back home on Monday, leading Atlanta’s bench brigade with 11 points and six rebounds. A Grizzlie last year before getting picked up off waivers by the Spurs, Dieng will likely be charged with finding the best Cajun turkey in Memphis ahead of the team’s arrival early Thursday morning. Absent Collins, Capela (28 points, 5 blocks and 17 boards) played the key role in aiding Trae Young (28 points, 12 assists, 7 of ATL’s 12 player TOs) and Atlanta to their second consecutive win in the Alamo City, back on April 1. The double-overtime win amid a treacherous springtime road trip was pivotal in getting the Hawks up to .500 level for the final time last season. Similarly, albeit at a far earlier stage, Atlanta (9-9, 1-8 in away games) would be thankful for the opportunity to enter winning territory for the last time this season. Much was made of the arduous early road schedule, but even the Hawks’ sole road victory in New Orleans was fraught with late-game danger and suspense. We will get to see whether Nate McMillan and the Hawks coaching staff has since done enough to keep players from reverting to bad habits, particularly on defense, when they’re far from the cozy confines of State Farm Arena (on road: 114.9 D-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA; 11.9 opponent TO%, 2nd-lowest in NBA; 15.6 opponent fastbreak points per-48 and 48.7 opponent paint points per-48, each 4th-most in NBA). Enough about what might have been. Let’s get this show on the road! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
“Popeyes says there are only 50 Cajun Turkeys left!” Y’all know Bud and the Bucks well by now. (I hear Khris Middleton may be back already, too? Smarvelous.) On travel today, so chime in throughout the day with game notes and thoughts as you wish. Our Hawks, of course, will kickstart a 3-game road swing in Milwaukee (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and they'll try to make it out of the rest of this week with their feathers un-plucked. Pardon us, Giannis and Harden! Please stay safe out there on the highways and byways, and enjoy all the Stuffing (some, I hear, like to call it Dressing) as your heart desires tomorrow. Bucks Game Notes (PDF): https://www.nba.com/gamenotes/bucks.pdf Hawks Game Notes (PDF): https://www.nba.com/gamenotes/hawks.pdf Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3