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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Suns

San Antonio falls short of a fourth-quarter comeback after rallying from a double-digit deficit.

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

San Antonio saw their four-game winning streak stopped as they finished a brief Western Conference road trip with a tightly contested loss to the surging Phoenix Suns. Despite roaring back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit behind a patchwork lineup of second and third-stringers, the Spurs fell a tad short of what would have been a glorious comeback.

Dejounte Murray was fantastic for the Silver and Black as he poured in 17 points and 14 assists on the way to a seventh consecutive double-double. Bryn Forbes notched 15 points off the bench, Doug McDermott and Jakob Poeltl added 14 points apiece, and Josh Primo became the first Spurs rookie since David Robinson to log four blocks and three steals in a game.

The Spurs have been notoriously poor as a half-court offense, and while their transition attack is one of the best in the league, Phoenix took away their greatest strength and held them to just five fastbreak points. Head coach Gregg Popovich kept his ball club within striking distance, and San Antonio will have a chance to bounce back tonight against the Knicks.

Is Lonnie Walker IV losing his spot in San Antonio’s rotation?

Head coach Gregg Popovich has fiddled around with the regular rotations over the last couple of weeks after nagging injuries to Devin Vassell, Doug McDermott, and Keita Bates Diop left the Spurs seriously short of reliable three-point shooters and frontcourt depth.

San Antonio trailed by as many as 16 points late in the third quarter during Monday night. And Pop resorted to a hodgepodge lineup of Lonnie Walker IV, Tre Jones, Bryn Forbes, Josh Primo, and Drew Eubanks to navigate the team out of what felt like an impossible hole.

Forbes responded with 15 points, and Primo chipped in five points, four blocks, three steals, and two boards. Lonnie was instrumental in spurring a furious comeback bid, but he mostly fell flat following a season-high 21-point performance against the Warriors.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old swingman has seen inconsistent production since becoming a staple of the rotation a season ago. And with glaringly evident struggles from the field amid a contract year, time may be ticking down on his chance to solidify his place within the young core.

Devin Vassell has emerged as one of the most promising two-way wings in the league this season, and he could make his return to the lineup any day. The Spurs also signaled their desire to better their backcourt when they drafted Josh Primo in the lottery this Summer.

The Silver and Black desperately need Derrick White to step up

Dejounte Murray is unquestionably the engine that drives San Antonio’s offense, but he can’t carry them to victory without his backcourt running mate. Unfortunately, Derrick White hasn’t looked like himself for most of the season as he continues searching for a semblance of consistency.

The fifth-year combo guard may not run the show, but this young Spurs team simply isn’t going anywhere without him. The Silver and Black are a respectable 4-4 when White shoots above 40% from the field, and they drop to a less than ideal 4-10 when he fails to approach that mark.

Derrick has drawn the second-most charges (10) and contested the third-most shots (175) among all guards through 24 games, and he remains one of the premier perimeter defenders in the NBA. San Antonio could make a run at a play-in spot if he ever gets into a good rhythm as a scorer.

The Spurs have become too predictable on the offensive end

The Spurs are home the fifth-highest field goal percentage (46.6%) in the NBA this season. While San Antonio is incredibly accurate from the field, they are also fairly predictable, and opponents are more than willing to let them take a high volume of midrange jumpers and difficult floaters.

Only the Grizzlies have taken more non-rim attempts inside the paint than the Silver and Black, and though they no longer pace the NBA in midrange attempts, they are still among the league leaders from that range. Those aren’t necessarily poor shots, but they are undeniably more strenuous.

Dejounte Murray has logged the fifth-most touches in the league and run the eighth-most pick-and-rolls, yet the sixth-year point guard generates the fewest PPP (0.74) among the 32 players with at least 130 possessions out of that particular play. So, what does that mean?

Based on those lackluster stats, you might assume that Dejounte is one of the worst pick-and-roll ball handlers in the NBA. But if you’ve tuned in for a single minute of Spurs basketball, you know that couldn’t be further from the truth, and that’s why the eye test and context are so important.

There are a few reasons Murray trails so many of his peers on the pick-and-roll leaderboard. Whereas most guards are now a threat to pull up from three-point land when their big man sets a ball screen, Dejounte is almost always looking for a way to get inside the arc.

Murray is also at a vast disadvantage in that none of the rotational bigs on San Antonio’s roster are a pick-and-pop threat. With neither Jakob Poeltl, Thaddeus Young, and Drew Eubanks keen on spacing the floor, opposing defenses can more easily gameplan for the Spurs pick-and-roll.

Despite the roll-man typically being the top target, most teams have at least a few knockdown shooters on the court at all times. However, with McDermott and Vassell missing several outings and guys like Derrick and Lonnie struggling, Dejounte doesn’t have many viable options.

Perhaps things will change once the Silver and Black get back to 100% and eventually see Zach Collins integrated into the system. Until then, teams will continue relinquishing the in-between game to San Antonio and live with the varying results.