The Spurs have a winning record after five games, which seemed extremely unlikely before the season started. It was clear that moving Dejounte Murray and sitting on a ton of cap space instead of replacing him or adding talent to the team was a sign that San Antonio was rebuilding. Even Gregg Popovich made it clear during media day that the goal was development.
For fans who reluctantly embraced the tank, the start of the season has to be confusing. After begrudgingly accepting that the team was going to lose, wins might feel weirdly bittersweet. But there’s no reason to stop enjoying them or accept that every defeat is created equal, either. The individual result of each game simply matters less than the way they come about, at least this early in the year.
Let’s start with the losses. The one against the Hornets was a bad one, not only because it was a blowout, but because of how some of the young players performed. The Spurs looked clueless for most of the night and one of their most important pieces, Devin Vassell, was inefficient. Charlotte’s bigs feasted on the offensive glass, the perimeter defense surrendered a lot of open threes, and the bench looked like a huge weakness. The goal of establishing a culture centered on effort and depth was not achieved in any meaningful way and the young players that needed to show progress didn’t. It was concerning.
Compare that loss to the one against the Timberwolves, which simply didn’t mean much. Vassell and Josh Primo were out, which led to more Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott, and Keita Bates-Diop than would be ideal. The Spurs still kept pace, Keldon Johnson got his 20+ points, and the coaching staff got a look at Romeo Langford, so it wasn’t a waste of a game, but it’s one of those defeats that doesn’t show us much about the state of the team. Losing by 12 against an opponent with a clear talent advantage is not a big deal this year. There will be plenty of nights that will go the same way, in all likelihood. It’s just much easier to brush it off.
Just as the losses are different, so are the wins. Against the Pacers, the Spurs prevailed over an evenly-matched opponent, and while the almost epic collapse near the end was the most memorable part, it’s not the reason why it could be understandable that some didn’t enjoy it. Young teams are supposed to struggle with execution in the final minutes, after all, but having to play such a short rotation while relying more on a veteran like Josh Richardson than the younger guys might have tainted the win for some. Similarly, beating a reeling 76ers team by closing out strong is a sign of growth, but doing so while getting just 32 combined minutes from Jeremy Sochan and Josh Primo is not ideal. Both wins had some pros and cons to them, and while the good outweighed the bad, Team Tank could have understandable gripes about them.
The win against the Timberwolves, though, was just a joy to watch. The Spurs outworked a good team on the road, with Jeremy Sochan having a great offensive game, all 10 players who got minutes in the first three quarters scoring, the team moving the ball to the tune of 37 assists, and the two most important up-and-comers, Vassell and Johnson, managing to contribute despite somewhat inefficient shooting nights. It’s close to the perfect win for a rebuilding squad, as the shot distribution and effort on defense were good and there were enough standout individual performances and fun moments to please everyone.
Now, as the games start to blend together while the season goes on, focusing on the ups and downs of nightly performances could be tough, but in general, the important factors to consider when trying to judge if the team is on a good path will have little to do with its record. Are the young players consistently getting minutes and making the most out of them? Is everyone playing hard? Do the Spurs seem to know what they want to do on both ends? If the answer is yes, then it doesn’t matter if they lose. Do they keep making the same mistakes that they made in the past? Are the veterans having to play big roles for the team to be competitive? Are only a handful of players responsible for most of the positives? If the answer is yes, then even if the result was a win, it’s completely fine to not feel great about it.
There have been some unexpected final scores in the young season for the Spurs, so it’s understandable for fans to be a little confused about how to feel. This early, however, the team’s record is not what matters. If the idea is to tank, the front office will find a way to do it. If the roster is good enough to fight for the playoffs, the Spurs have enough resources to make any upgrade needed.
What matters most right now is not the immediate results, but the process. Some losses will have more positives than some wins if the goal, as the Spurs have said, is development. Progress is all that matters at this point. Such is the life of a rebuilding team.