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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Suns

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Unexpected blowout upsets that come when wins are scarce as starters rest ... are cool.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I’m in a strange situation as a Spurs fan right now. I’m indifferently interested, or interestedly indifferent. Sound weird? I’ll try to explain.

With weekend games it’s normally like that for me here in Germany: I wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I make some tea, and then I watch the Spurs game – while trying not to touch my smartphone, so I don’t see if the Silver & Black won or lost. When I succeed, and it turns out we lost, the next couple of hours are ruined. It’s always been that way. Even in the Big 3 era when we had already secured home-court advantage. I hate it when my team loses. The sentence “It’s just a game” makes no sense to me whatsoever in the two or three hours after a loss. Usually, that is. Because it isn’t like that right now.

I welcome the idea of the Spurs trying to make the play-in, or the playoffs even, but I don’t mind all too much when we’re losing. Which makes me sort of indifferent to losses, while still highly interested.

Let me emphasize that I don’t believe in tanking. I don’t see how losing now helps you win in the future. I want the young core to develop, not changing the structure of a team’s makeup and goals just to get a better teammate in the draft. Nothing beats experience, particularly not in basketball. Trying to win and failing is part of the learning curve to actually winning. Better to take that step now than next season. What I learned in the Phoenix game is that, San Antonio’s young core is perfectly capable of winning meaningful NBA games against high-class opposition.

Observations

  • The starting lineup basically screamed “scheduled defeat” and little in the first four minutes suggested otherwise. Then Pop took an early timeout, and the guys came back like a bunch of Energizer bunnies. Derrick White swished two threes and before the Suns knew what had hit them the Spurs had a double-digit lead. And what often this season for the Spurs turned out to be an advantage waiting to be lost actually turned out be a lead continually extended. This was achieved by six players picked by the Spurs no earlier than 11th, one undrafted guy brought into the league by the Spurs, and two veterans. And it happened on the road against the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference, putting an end to their 10-game home winning streak! Quite clearly, this is the very definition of successful team building through player development – and the San Antonio Spurs are the Gold Standard in that department!
  • The starting five consisted solely of homegrown talent. Three number 29 picks, one number 19 pick, and an undrafted guy. Compare this to starting lineup of the New Orleans Pelicans: a number 1 pick in Zion, a number 2 in Ball, a number 2 in Ingram. And now look where they’re currently placed in the Western Conference – behind the Spurs.
  • The Spurs rested their best mid-range shooter and playmaker in DeMar, their best long-range shooter in Patty, and their most impactful defender in fringe DPOY candidate Jakob. What should have resulted in less shooting, playmaking, and rim protection ... didn’t. Dejounte flourished in isolation, smoothly swishing a number of mid-rangers, Devin Vassel and Derrick White provided quality shooting with a combined 7 from 13 from beyond the arc, Derrick also connected the dots and Drew Eubanks showed everyone who didn’t already know that he is an NBA player and as such a force to be reckoned with. Just ask former No1 pick Deandre Ayton, who was outwilled and outplayed by the energetic Eubanks.
  • The absences of DeMar and Patty not only showed that the young ones can shoulder their scoring load, at least on a good day, it also showed that their replacements provide the defensive stability the two veterans fail to provide. Perimeter defense looked vastly improved compared to recent outings, resulting in the Suns only hitting 22 percent from beyond the arc on 27 attempts.

The future looks good. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if an addition by subtraction effect is in the realm of possibility.