Handing out some first-half hardware

Handing out some first-half hardware


The Spurs would like to look ahead.

The NBA All-Star break is in the rearview mirror. The Spurs opened the second half of their season Wednesday night at Dallas.

For the players themselves, the time for reflection is over.

“We’ve got a lot of players well-rested and ready to go,” Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV said before tipoff Wednesday. “We’ve got to decompress and consume what we did on the first half of the season and see what we can do better.

“Now we’re focused on the second half.”

For a Spurs team bent on making a push for the playoffs during the second half, that approach is probably wise.

For the rest of us, there is no harm in lingering in the first half a bit longer.

With that in mind, we present our unofficial Express-News first-half awards. Call them “The Spursies.”

Team MVP: DeMar DeRozan

Much ink has been spilled over the past week or so, either digitally or otherwise, about DeRozan’s All-Star snub.

Not only did he go unchosen as a reserve by a vote of Western Conference coaches, he also was passed over twice by NBA commissioner Adam Silver as an injury replacement.

There is no doubt about this one, though. DeRozan has been the Spurs’ most valuable player through the season’s first 32 games.

The 31-year-old guard leads the team in scoring at 20 points per game and assists with a career-best 7.2.

Some of DeRozan’s performances have been dominating. Two examples: a 30-point, 10-assist night in a Jan. 29 win over Denver and a 32-point, 11-assist opus in a Feb. 27 victory over New Orleans.

Only one other player in team history has posted multiple 30-point, 10-assist games in a single season: Tony Parker.

More than raw numbers, DeRozan has also provided a steady, veteran hub for the Spurs’ youthful core to work around.

Biggest surprise: Dejounte Murray

The Spurs’ 24-year-old point guard has taken a giant leap in his fourth full NBA season, making a bargain out of the four-year, $64-million extension he signed in October 2019.

Murray is averaging career bests across the board (15.8 points, 5.4 assists and 7.0 rebounds). His team-leading 1.6 steals per game is closing on a career high as well.

Now in his second season since the ACL injury that cost him all of 2018-19, Murray’s command of the team is growing, and he is making a case to return to the NBA All-Defensive team.

Murray has cemented himself as the team’s point guard of the future and a potential star in the making, when perhaps that was not evident before the start of the season.

Biggest disappointment: Derrick White’s health

Big things were expected of White after his starring turn in the Spurs’ eight-game run in the Orlando, Fla., bubble last August.

The Spurs put their money where their mouth was in December, handing the 26-year-old White a four-year extension worth $73-million.

Injuries and illness have limited White to only eight games so far this season.

He did not make his debut until a Jan. 1 loss to the L.A. Lakers while recovering from offseason toe surgery.

White fractured the same toe in that game and went back on the shelf until a Jan. 30 defeat against Memphis.

With 25 points in a Feb. 14 win at Charlotte, White seemed to be at last finding his groove. Then he became one of four players to register a positive COVID-19 test after that game, resulting in the Spurs pressing pause on their season for 10 days.

White had not played a game since until Wednesday in Dallas.

If White can stay healthy and on the floor, it should give the Spurs something to look forward to in the second half.

Biggest buzzkill: COVID-19

The coronavirus is the runaway winner of this ignominious award. The pandemic’s effect on the Spurs’ season pales in comparison to its affect on the world at large.

Still, COVID has tossed a viral monkey wrench into the Spurs’ plans.

It struck the locker room at a time when the team at last seemed to be at full strength and gelling and caused the postponement of five games into a log-jammed second-half schedule that will test the Spurs mentally and physically down the stretch.

For all that and more, COVID-19 gets a big fat raspberry.

Best win: Jan. 7 at Los Angeles Lakers

It’s not every day a team gets to knock off the defending NBA champions on their own floor.

LaMarcus Aldridge went ballistic at the Staples Center, scoring 28 points to lead the Spurs to a 118-109 victory over LeBron James and Co.

It was a rare bright spot in what has been an injury-plagued and inconsistent campaign for the 35-year-old Aldridge.

He was one of six players in double figures that night for the Spurs — a list that included 19 from DeRozan and 18 from Murray.

The victory was an early indicator of the Spurs’ upside when they are at their best.

Worst loss: March 4 at Oklahoma City

The Spurs could have used an easy-does-it victory heading into their All-Star break.

Instead, they blew a 14-point second-half lead to fall 107-102 against a Thunder club headed full steam toward the draft lottery.

The Spurs’ biggest bugaboo in the game: 19 turnovers, resulting in 26 OKC points.

This was the loss the Spurs had to live with throughout the All-Star break.

Mr. Congeniality: Keldon Johnson

Once described by coach Gregg Popovich as a “wild mustang,” the 21-year-old Johnson has become synonymous with breakneck drives, tricky putback baskets and high-volume dunks.

Johnson’s teammates, meanwhile, talk about his smile, infectious energy and the anachronism that is his love of Mariah Carey music.

Johnson is even pleasant to reporters, ending each of his Zoom interview sessions with a buoyant, “Have a blessed day!”

[email protected]

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN



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