In what was their third double-digit loss in four games, the San Antonio Spurs couldn’t find any sort of rhythm on either end Thursday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It started out ugly, with a 22-3 deficit right away, which set the tone for a rough 48 minutes for the Silver and Black.
It’s been a tough start for the Spurs this year, and Thursday likely wasn't be the last time we’ll see San Antonio stumble over the next 67 games.
There will be plenty of growing pains, struggles, and moments where you double-take and say, “did that really just happen?” It’s not easy watching a basketball team that you grew up supporting struggle from game-to-game, week-to-week, but I’m going to embrace the inevitable, enjoy every win, and see the positives in what is trending towards a full-on rebuild.
This young ball club is showing why the Las Vegas oddsmakers placed San Antonio’s win total at 28.5 on the season. The team is young.
Embrace that. The Silver and Black are now 15 games into the 2021-22 season, and while this was the first time San Antonio has seen the Timberwolves this year, it will definitely be a performance they’d like to forget.
- Let’s circle back to focusing on the positives. A major one for the San Antonio Spurs this season has been second-year player, Devin Vassell. Coming into Thursday night, the Florida State alum was averaging 12.1 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on 40.3% shooting from three. Against Minnesota, Vassell was by far San Antonio’s best player, providing strong two-way impact en route to another double-digit scoring performance. It’s no secret that he has been a bright spot for San Antonio, and coming into this year I envisioned San Antonio’s best lineup involving Vassell, Dejounte Murray, Doug McDermott, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl. 15 games into their schedule, the Spurs haven’t tried that lineup once all year. I would like to see Vassell in the starting lineup, particularly alongside those four other guys.
- Starting Vassell begs for the question, who gets sent to the bench? You may already know the answer from the previous takeaway, but here’s why it’ll benefit for both parties. Derrick White has had a miserable start to 2021. The once elite ball-handler has fallen all the way down into the 30th-percentile out of the pick-and-roll, with statistics across the board to show that your eyes aren’t lying to you. He’s taken a step back this season, but one way to turn the tide and get his confidence back is by playing him with San Antonio’s potent bench unit. Coming into Thursday’s game, the Spurs reserves ranked first in the NBA in points, fifth in field-goal percentage, and 13th in plus/minus. It’s no secret that San Antonio’s strength lies within their bench, and it’s a unit that could use White. The Spurs bench with Vassell needs a facilitator — a pass-first player who can help create offense for others more so than himself. Despite White’s slow start, that’s a role he can embrace while finding his shooting stroke against the opposing team’s second-stringers. If there’s a moment to let your 70-million dollar man find his confidence, it’s now.
- Jakob Poeltl returned on Thursday, which is great, but coming from someone that has had COVID, I cannot stress how tough it is to get your wind back. So it Thursday night looked to you like Jakob’s first game coming back from a respiratory illness, that’s why. It seemed as if he was gassed by the 6th minute on the floor, breathing heavily from his stomach, with very little vertical pop as a rebounder and a rim protector. Poeltl will likely need a couple of weeks to get his conditioning up to speed, and during that time, we’ll probably need to understand that the version of him we saw from games 1-7 may not come back until games 20-25 of this year.
- Finally, we’ll end with an outlook here. Over the next 10 games, the Spurs will be playing teams that have serious playoff aspirations this season. It’s critical to understand this point because, on paper, Thursday night looked like San Antonio‘s best chance to get a win before they enter basketball’s gulag over the next 22 days. San Antonio will enter every contest as an underdog during this stretch, with a real chance that they could slip further down the Western Conference standings by mid-December. With that said, I think we’ll know where this team stands over the next few weeks, starting with Thursday’s performance. If this young group can go .500 or better over the next few weeks, we can confidently say that they are a better group than what their record implies. If not, I think we’ll have a better understanding of how much help this team needs in order to find themselves back in the playoff hunt for the foreseeable future.