The San Antonio Spurs secured their first winning streak of the season as they surprised the stumbling Philadelphia 76ers on the second night of an especially short back-to-back. Gregg Popovich and his enthusiastic group of youngsters will now look to preserve their momentum when they travel west for a date with the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Silver and Black have seen Tre Jones and Devin Vassell thrive in their newfound roles as regular starters, Keldon Johnson has been excellent as their latest go-to scorer, and the club has found a heartening rhythm over the last two matchups. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Rudy Gobert are a daunting trio, but do the good guys have an answer?
San Antonio Spurs (2-1) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (2-1)
October 24, 2022 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Blake Wesley (Out — On Assignment), Malaki Branham (Out — On Assignment), Dominick Barlow (Out — Two Way), Jordan Hall (Out — Two Way)
Timberwolves Injuries: Kyle Anderson (Out — Back), Austin Rivers (Out — Hip
What To Watch For
- Joel Embiid dropped 40 points and 13 rebounds on the Spurs on Saturday evening despite still playing himself into game shape after plantar fasciitis put his conditioning on pause this offseason. While San Antonio overcame an absurd performance from the reigning scoring champion, their defense will face another uphill battle when they face the revamped Timberwolves and their star-studded frontcourt of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. KAT eviscerated the Silver and Black for a career-high 60 points a season ago. And Gobert offers Minnesota another pressure-release valve as a lob target out of the pick-and-roll and in the dunker’s spot. Jakob Poeltl, Zach Collins, and Gorgui Dieng will have their hands full, so don’t be shocked if Gregg Popovich turns to Jeremy Sochan, Isaiah Roby, and Keita Bates-Diop for additional support. Even if the good guys contain that two-center lineup, the backcourt pairing of D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards is liable to detonate for a 30-plus apiece on any given night.
- San Antonio has survived their last two contests thanks to unsustainable three-point shooting (47.8% on 34.5 3PA) and stellar ball movement (30.5 APG). The former will eventually regress to the mean, as no team in NBA history has ever come close to that efficiency on that volume for an entire season. Once the long-range well eventually runs dry, the Spurs will have to lean on their unselfish passing to generate offense. This version of the team is less heliocentric than the one that asked Dejounte Murray to take on the burden of handling the fourth-most touches per game (87.5) in the league last season, and they have already relied on spreading the wealth through three games. Jakob Poeltl has been a playmaking hub from the high post, Tre Jones gets San Antonio into most of their sets, and Keldon Johnson has been allowed to experiment as a pick-and-roll playmaker. Even second-year guard Josh Primo has seen an uptick in usage as the primary initiator off the bench. Though the Spurs lack a player with the intrinsic capability of creating advantages for themselves or others, their constant breakneck pace, cutting, screening, and relocation have made it possible to keep their heads above water.
- Keldon Johnson was the defacto face of the franchise heading into this season, with reasonable expectations that he would overtake the leading scorer mantle for San Antonio. However, Devin Vassell drummed up some interest from a handful of national media outlets as a dark horse to have a breakout season and a periphery candidate for the Most Improved Player Award. The third-year swingman showed Spurs fans why he could have a chance to achieve those objectives, averaging 22.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on .552/.533/.833 shooting splits over the weekend. Best of all, Vassell only committed a single turnover in 68 minutes of back-to-back action against the Pacers and Sixers. As is the case for the rest of the roster, his outlandish three-point shooting has little hope of upholding over an extended period. Regardless, the former lottery has flourished off what he does best, getting buckets off limited dribbles. Whether getting to his spots using DHOs, making punctual cuts to the basket, or relocating on the perimeter for catch-and-shoot opportunities, Devin is the ultimate complementary piece. And there might be room for more. He doesn’t see many on-ball reps, but Vassell self-created a pull-up three on Saturday, which teased untapped potential off the bounce. Two games are great, but can he make it three in a row when he suits up in Minnesota?
For the Timberwolves fans’ perspective, please visit Canis Hoopus.
PtR’s Game Thread will be up this evening for those of you who want to chat throughout the matchup. You can also follow along with the action on PtR’s Twitter feed.