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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Kings

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With two wins in a row, the Spurs confirm that everything is fine and they will definitely make the playoffs and all will be well and good in the world forever and ever...

NBA: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Confirmation bias is the “tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses.” It’s a common reasoning error that no human is immune from. Not even a legend like Gregg Popovich.

Writing a “What We Learned” piece requires an answer to the question: What do we make of this game, these new pieces of evidence? The way I interpret the evidence is different from how you interpret it. You and I might look at different pieces of evidence - eye test vs. statistics, for example. We might have different biases about the same evidence - I’m looking for stats and anecdotes to affirm my prior beliefs about this Spurs team and so are you; I’m an optimist and you’re a pessimist; I think a certain player can’t make threes and you think that player is capable of making three three-pointers in the same game.

I look at this team - the team I grew up watching, loving, living and dying with, the team I want nothing but the best for - this *sigh* DeMar DeRozan Spurs team, and see a relatively mediocre group. I see a 60-52 (.535) record from last year to this year, including playoffs. I also see an exciting group of young players that I believe in - White, Murray, Walker, Poeltl - who need more minutes and responsibility (+hard work, +good coaching, +luck) to grow into championship-level players. I think the focus should be on them and their bright future together.

Pop looks at this group and sees something else. Of course, he has way more information about this team than we do. He sees everything behind the scenes and has all kinds of proprietary data too. He believes in this team. When he looks at this group I think he sees a sleeping giant: a team that was the best in the league at one point last year [J.R. Wilco and Bruno Passos talked about this], a team that will improve the rest of this season, grow together, and then just needs a favorable playoff bracket and some injury luck to get to the conference finals or even *whispers* Finals.

After this win against the Kings, what have we learned? You could think that the Spurs are learning how to grind out wins while playing poorly, like all great teams. Or you might think the Spurs are the kind of team that needs to come from behind in the fourth quarter and get lucky to win at home against a fringe playoff team missing their best player and another starter. What you choose might depend on what you already believed.

Takeaways:

  • Marco is the one true king of plus/minus. After a DNP-CD against the Rox, Marco had his best, most efficient game of the season, hit the game-tying shot to force overtime, and finished with a game-high +17. He had some great cuts around the basket as well. He draws the defense’s attention wherever he’s in the game. Love him or hate him, without him on the court Friday, the Spurs likely lose.
  • Bryn played a season-low in minutes. DeMarre Carroll also got a DNP-CD. Now that Lonnie’s part of the wing rotation, The Minutes Squeeze is on. Marco will apparently still get his, especially after playing as well as he did against the Kings. It will be interesting to see how the minutes shake out as the season progresses.
  • Derrick had one of the worst games of his career. It was the first time he’s ever been held scoreless when playing more than 20 minutes and only the second time this year he’s had more turnovers than assists. Not sure what happened, but I trust he’ll bounce back.
  • Jakob Poeltl’s reign of terror continues. He recorded 13 points on 5-5 shooting, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a mere 18 minutes. He’s had a block in nine straight games. He continues to be a darling of advanced stats. Is there nothing he can’t do (within 10 feet of the basket)?
  • The Spurs and Kings combined to start and finish overtime with some truly ugly basketball. The Spurs started overtime with three straight Dejounte Murray turnovers - a bad pass and two offensive fouls. The Kings missed their first three shots and their last four shots of the period, while the Spurs gave up three offensive rebounds (to the same player!) in the final seconds of a one-point game and still won. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic is getting hosed by Luke Walton. He got fewer minutes than Cory Joseph and Yogi Ferrell, somehow. The Serbian is coming off an amazing summer at the FIBA World Cup where he was named to the All Tournament Team. Despite averaging a career-low in minutes, he’s posting a career-high in points this year and leads the team in 538’s RAPTOR player ratings. He will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Kings may not be able to pay him after ponying up for Harrison Barnes, signing Buddy Hield’s extension and with De’Arron Fox’s extension still to come. I think Bogdan needs a place that loves and cherishes foreign guards...although I (ahem) can’t imagine where that could be.
  • Rebound Watch: The Spurs tied the Kings in total rebounds with 52. The Spurs are now 8-6 when they win or tie the rebounding battle and are 1-8 when they are out-rebounded.

Spurs vs. Kings Throwback

This is the game and playoff series that Manu poignantly talked about during Tim Duncan’s retirement ceremony.