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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Thunder

San Antonio is still struggling to close winnable games.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs again found themselves in a game that came down to the final few possessions as they traveled to Oklahoma City for a contest with the bottom-dwelling Thunder. And despite building a 16-point cushion behind their stifling defense before halftime, San Antonio fumbled their lead.

Keldon Johnson continued to find his form, scoring 22 points to go along with six boards, two steals, and a block. That wasn’t enough to keep the team afloat as Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and Devin Vassell combined to shoot a frigid 13-of-55 from the field.

The Silver and Black now sit in 13th place in the Western Conference at 3-7, only ahead of the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans, who are both 1-9. Thankfully, San Antonio still has head coach Gregg Popovich at the helm and several winnable games left on their schedule.

San Antonio needs Derrick White to show up

Derrick White is off to a less than ideal start this season. The 27-year-old combo guard is shooting just 38.9% despite logging the most minutes per game of his career and has failed to notch at least ten points in three of San Antonio’s first ten outings. Sunday was rock bottom for the fifth-year guard as he went scoreless on a 0-of-10 performance from the field amid an avoidable loss to a horrendous Oklahoma City squad.

After the game, Gregg Popovich told the media, “Derrick’s having a tough time right now, in a lot of ways.” Adding, the Spurs “need him to be a good player every night. That’s just a fact. It’s no surprise San Antonio currently sits in 13th place out west with a 3-7 record with as poorly as White has played so far, and unless he flips the script sometime soon, they could be looking at a third consecutive trip to the Draft Lottery.

With that said, the Colorado alumnus has unquestionably been among the most impactful defenders in the league by several metrics. Not only does he lead the NBA in charges drawn (7) and pace all backcourt players in shots contested (89), but he’s one of only four guards, including Tyrese Haliburton, Lonzo Ball, and Matisse Thybulle, posting at least one block and one steal per game this season.

Nobody should expect Derrick White to match his defensive numbers on the other side of the ball. Because if he did, the Spurs would have an MVP caliber player on their hands and probably wouldn’t be in this position. But fans have witnessed what the former Buffalo can do when he gets things going, and if he manages to return to his pre-injury form from a few years ago, it would vastly improve San Antonio’s offense.

The Silver and Black must manufacture easier offense

Per Synergy, the San Antonio Spurs are home to the tenth-worst offense (0.94 PPP) in the NBA. While their third-ranked transition attack (1.17 PPP) has prevented them from bottoming out, their half-court execution (0.89 PPP) has been undeniably shoddy. There are quite a few explanations for why this team hasn’t generated particularly efficient points this season, and that starts with their inability to get to the charity stripe.

Earning a few free throws is arguably the easiest way to put points on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, San Antonio has struggled to find their way to the line, averaging the second-fewest trips per game in the league, which was again an issue as they took a measly nine shots at the stripe versus the Thunder. As if that wasn’t enough of a headache, the good guys also knock down their freebies at a league-worst 70% success rate.

The Silver and Black must figure out how to get to the line more often. I wish it were as simple as asking Derrick, Dejounte, Lonnie, and Devin to embrace physicality like Keldon Johnson. But with leading scorers who prefer complicated finesse finishes in traffic rather than playing through contact, that may be a pipe dream.

However, there’s one reasonably achievable thing that could potentially help spur the offense, and that’s shooting more corner threes. Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be an X’s and O’s mastermind. Yet seeing as San Antonio ranks number one in efficiency from the corners and just 28th in volume, it sure seems like they could afford to draw up more looks from that area.

The Spurs are still learning how to close games

We’ve already discussed San Antonio’s difficulties closing games on more than a few occasions this season, so I won’t waste too much of your time addressing this situation. The Silver and Black have played the sixth-most clutch minutes in the NBA, own the third-worst point differential in crunch time, and they added to their less than sterling resume with the game on the line when they dropped another close contest versus OKC.

With the departure of veterans DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills this offseason, the Spurs are sorely lacking in late-game experience. They are also devoid of a legitimate closer, something most of their opponents have. Luka Doncic, Giannis Atetokoumpo, Nikola Jokic, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can turn the tide of a contest with a snap of their fingers, and most of them have the luxury of turning to an All-Star sidekick.

Dejounte Murray can get to his spots with relative ease, but his midrange jumper has been incredibly shaky to begin the year. Although the sixth-year floor general has made staggering strides as a go-to scorer, Murray hasn’t shown a propensity for nailing threes of the dribble or getting to the rim at will. And with nobody else stepping up in a meaningful way down the stretch, the Spurs have slipped to 0-5 in outings decided by two or fewer possessions.