It’s Deja Vu all over again for the San Antonio Spurs in facing their first back-to-back opponent (not games) of the season. Having shocked the shiny, new trade-altered iteration of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Spurs will have to do the same thing on the same court all over again, since a heavily inebriated chimpanzee appears to have been given control of the NBA schedule.
(Fun fact: The Spurs will face the Timberwolves again on Sunday, playing 75% of their annual series against Minnesota in less than a week, and will not see them again until the second-to-last game of the season in April.)
On the bright side, they should have the Timberwolves pretty well scouted by Monday morning. Scouting-wise, there’s not a lot to be done when it comes to so small a sample size, but currently the Spurs lead the league in assists (total and per game), are 2nd in assist percentage, 3rd in assist-to-turnover ratio, 3rd in pace, 10th in points off of turnovers, and 10th in percent of points off of turnovers.
So far this suggests the characteristics of exactly the kind of squad you’d expect from Gregg Popovich: a team built on heady team passing, top-notch ball security, and taking advantage of the mistakes of others, which is precisely what we’ve seen play out in the last three games of the season.
Whether or not this is an edge that this Spurs team can continue to ride beyond pre-season expectations and prognostications has yet to be seen, but thus far it’s allowed them to subvert those expectations while beating a pair of healthy so-called ‘super-teams’ in the 76ers and Timberwolves.
There are however some glaring weaknesses to be exploited. San Antonio’s poor free-throw shooting continues to be a trend that has carried over from last season (27th) alongside a bottom-third free-throw rate (21st), and team rebounding while improved (especially offensively) still sits around the bottom third of the league (25th in rebounding percentage, 19th in rebounds per game) alongside rim-protection (20th in blocks), which makes their victory over Minnesota all the more baffling.
On paper, the Timberwolves are a team that the Spurs should have particular difficultly with, sitting 1st in rebounds (total and per-game), 5th in points in the paint, and featuring two rim-pressuring big-men in Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, but bottom-third turnover issues (25th in turnovers, 25th in turnover percentage) and disastrous long-distance shooting (24th in 3-pts made, 29th in 3-pt percentage) have allowed supposedly tanking teams like the Jazz and Thunder to give them real trouble.
Whether these issues are signs of what’s to come for a consistently afflicted Minnesota franchise, or just a streak to open the season for a team still-adjusting to new personnel will likely have a lot to do with the Spurs finding a way to steal another victory in a season that was supposed to be about a different Victor.
For now, it seems that team play has the edge over flashy off-season acquisitions. But you’ll have to tune in to see if that continues to be the case.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
October 26, 2022 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Devin Vassell - Questionable (Knee)
Timberwolves Injuries: Austin Rivers - Out (Hip), Kyle Anderson - Out (Back)
What to watch for:
- The Passing(!): As impressive as the assist numbers have been so far, they really don’t do justice to how cohesive the Spurs have been in that respect. For all the concerns about secondary distribution in the off-season, the Spurs have been consistently moving the ball in a manner we haven’t seen from them in quite some time, with six different players chipping in 3+ assists per game, and two more chipping in 2+ in limited minutes. Win or lose, I’ll watch every game of the season if this level of passing continues to be on display.
- Tre Jones: One of the biggest questions of the season revolved around who would end up running the point, and if Tre Jones would be up to an increased role in the event that it ended up being him. Well, so far the experiment appears to be a success, with Jones not only holding his own, but sharply facilitating a top ten scoring offense for a team that was selected by most experts as the weakest in the league. Much like the team assist number, Jones’ assist numbers don’t really do justice to just how effective he’s been as a traditional point guard for the team, with his canny distribution often leading to assists for other players. Jones is averaging an additional 1.5 secondary assists per game, better than Lebron James, Luka Doncic, and Ja Morant. He might not seem like the sexiest of solutions after years of Tony Parker’s speed-bursts, Dejounte Murray’s full-court mania, and Manu’s improvisations, but right now Tre Jones is the mechanism that’s making this Spurs team hum with efficiency.
For the Timberwolves fans’ perspective, visit Canus Hoopus.
PtR’s Game thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.