The opening of the 2021-22 season represented the dawn of a new era for the San Antonio Spurs, and for the most part they did not disappoint. The “Youth Movement” Spurs opened with an expected record of 1-2, with an opening night blowout win over a depleted Orlando Magic team, followed by scheduled losses in Denver against the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and back at home against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on a SEGABABA.
Of course, there’s more to this team than meets the eye, and despite the expected losing record for opening week, so far they have passed the eye test. They did what they were supposed to do by blowing out an inferior team at home (something they struggled with in previous seasons), hung with the Nuggets up until the final minute despite Jokic going nuclear and getting next to nothing from the bench unit, and the very next night forced the Bucks to fight hard throughout for the win while doing an admirable job defensively on Giannis Antetokounmpo (but not so much on Khris Middleton).
The defense has looked the part, with the team leading the league in forcing turnovers and points-off, and while the offense has predictably struggled when forced into halfcourt sets (especially from beyond the arc), they have at least done well to keep moving the ball and not get too bogged down into iso-sets. Derrick White appears close to returning to form, Keldon Johnson has looked like a candidate for Most Improved Player, Jakob Poeltl is a force on defense while showing some improved touch on offense, and other role players such as Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker and Doug McDermott have had their moments.
Perhaps most importantly for a team that doesn’t have many expectations this season, the Spurs have been fun to watch and look like close-knit team that genuinely enjoys playing together. A rough opening schedule still remains, so from a standings standpoint it may get worse before it gets better, but just from watching this team for three games, they’re certainly better than the least-watchable team in the NBA. (Just don’t be surprised if many fail to realize that considering their lack of nationally broadcasted games.)
Week 0: N/A
Last Week: 1-2 (1-2 overall) — 123-97 vs. Magic; 96-102 @ Nuggets; 111-121 vs. Bucks
Next Week: Tues. vs. Lakers (1-2); Thurs. @ Mavericks (1-1); Sat. @ Bucks (2-1)
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 25 (last week: 24)
Pace: 100.3 (21) OffRtg: 109.6 (11) DefRtg: 106.3 (15) NetRtg: +3.3 (14)
Doug McDermott has seemingly fit in well in San Antonio, shooting 10-for-18 from 3-point range through three games. But 18 attempts in 86 minutes (7.5 per 36) isn’t a lot for a starting lineup’s most prolific shooter and McDermott’s teammates have shot 19-for-75 (25%) from beyond the arc. The Spurs are one of two teams — the Pistons are the other — that rank in the bottom five in both 3-point percentage (31.2%, 26th) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (33%, 27th).
The defense, which has been worse than the league average in each of the last three seasons, has shown signs of improvement. The Spurs rank second in opponent turnover rate at 19.6 per 100 possessions and number is 24.1 in 65 with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White on the floor together. But they couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Bucks on Saturday (a game that was tied with 11 minutes left) and their tough stretch of schedule continues this week.
San Antonio has had a balanced scoring punch to kick off the new season. Three different players have led the team in scoring in each of its three games — Devin Vassell (19 in the opener against Orlando), Keldon Johnson (27 against Denver on Friday) and Doug McDermott (25 against Milwaukee on Saturday). Johnson leads the team with 20.7 points per game and is one of six Spurs averaging at least 12 points a night. — Andrew Lopez
San Antonio’s success has to be measured in small gains—the Spurs are not masquerading as a contender, but need more from their collection of first-round draftees. Keldon Johnson (20.7 PPG on 56% shooting) and Devin Vassell (19 points in his season debut) can elevate the group’s long-term prospects with continued growth. — Jeremy Woo
The Spurs might not win much this year, but they’re going to be a fun team that plays hard all year, if nothing else. After an Olympics-induced confidence boost, Keldon Johnson is emerging as a franchise cornerstone-type talent, with other players falling in line. The rebuild is going to take time, but there will be some excitement along the way. — Gilbert McGregor
Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports — N/A (last week: 23)
Andy Bailey, Bleacher Report — N/A (last week: 25)