Oh, to be young again. I used to be able to handle these west coast games on work nights. I was younger, more energetic, and perhaps most significantly, lived in San Antonio. Those were the days. My work hours were 8AM-5PM, and I lived just 10 minutes from work, which was out in the suburbs. (And I very strategically lived where I was going the opposite direction of rush hour traffic. No US 281 construction for me!)
Then, in 2020, I made the lifestyle-altering decision to move to Houston to further advance my career with the company that has employed me for the last 10 years. The move has paid off in that regard, but I am generally more tired and feel more than two years older since making the move. Work hours are now 7-4 in bustling downtown Houston, and my commute is about 40 minutes without any major traffic problems (which is big “if” with these H-town drivers). Suffice it say, it’s been an adjustment.
So when a Spurs schedule like this week’s comes up, with a FIGASENI entirely on the west coast, it’s my worst nightmare. What used to make me shrug now makes me cringe, so a big hat tip goes to all PtR contributors who are willing to stay up late and cover these games, because it’s a struggle bus for this Houston transplant at the ripe old age of 37. Games like Monday’s blowout loss to the Warriors had me struggling to stay awake throughout because there was nothing watchable about it, but last night’s performance against the Trail Blazers was much easier to stay up for.
The fun, exciting version of the Spurs were back and went toe-to-toe with the unexpected leaders of the Western Conference — and for whatever reason the team with the best overall record against them in the league, with the Good Guys holding just a three-game edge in the series — on their own turf, despite it being a very streaky game and Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons going nuclear from three.
A lot of that was thanks to a career night from Jakob Poeltl, who had a career-high 31 points on 14-17 shooting (helping offset Portland’s 18-point advantage from three with a Spurs 20-point advantage in the paint), along with 14 rebounds and 5 assists. (I want to say Dan Weiss mentioned during the broadcast that Tim Duncan and someone else — maybe David Robinson and/or Artis Gilmore — are the only other Spurs big men to put up such numbers, but don’t quote me on that because, again, I was tired, and now I can’t find anything to back up.)
In the end, this game still went the way many have and several more will go this season, with the Spurs losing late largely due to too many mistakes down the stretch. Turnovers are the Spurs’ biggest weakness, and that probably will remain the case for much of the season due to the team’s youth and lack of ball handlers, but that’s ok. It’s hard to be upset with them when watching how much fun they’re having together and how hard they’re playing, and at least for one rebuilding season, that’s good enough for me.
- What a difference having Tre Jones available makes. With the Spurs lacking any sort of point guard behind him in the rotation, the difference in the offensive is extremely noticeable when he’s on the court vs. off. While he’s still not quite an outside threat, his speed and ability to drive-and-dish gets almost every possession started and is what makes the Spurs’ pace-and-space/offense-by-committee work. When he isn’t out there, the ball movement often stops, the offense bogs down, and the bench unit is left scrambling. While his overall box-minus of -0.4 may not quite match the eye test, that’s still second-best of any main rotation player other than Zach Collins. Jones isn’t a flashy player or one to put up eye-popping numbers, but he might be the most underrated and important player to this team as currently constructed.
- Speaking of the bench unit lacking a point guard, I love the leadership and enthusiasm Josh Richardson brings, and he was a big part of the Spurs’ late season push into the play-in last season with his energy and surprisingly accurate three-point shooting. While it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to shoot over 44% from three like he did in 21 games for the Spurs last season, he’s been far less efficient so far this season, shooting at 35.7% percent. While that’s just barely below his career average and still not bad, it just feels like a lot of his shots are forced against the flow of the offense, and when they are, he tends to miss. This may relate back to the lack of a ball handler with the second unit, so he’s trying to make something happen himself, but quite often there’s a more open player just a pass away. I wouldn’t mind him playing a little less hero ball and instead working on keeping the ball moving for the second unit.
- I will never be on the “trade Poeltl” bandwagon. He means too much to this team, and his contract is too much of a bargain at this point to get proper compensation. Whether the Spurs should try to re-sign him this summer is another story, but the only thing that would make Poetlt expendable to me is if the Spurs luck into Victor Wembanyama in the draft. (And even then, they could probably still start together since Wemby is a power forward and has three-point range.) The good news is the draft comes before free agency, so the Spurs can wait and see what happens there before they determine if they want to try to re-sign Poeltl in free agency, but at least for rest of this season, he should not be on the trading block unless an offer too good to pass up comes along.
- Finally, don’t be this guy. I won’t name names, but you can click on the link to see what I’m talking about. Basically, a San Antonio sports personality tweeted that he doesn’t want Jeremy Sochan to shoot threes ever again. When anyone responded to give him time to develop, his responses ranged from stuff along the lines of “he couldn’t shoot in college so he never will learn”, to “well Russell Westbrook never learned to shoot, so why should we expect Sochan to learn?” What? You’ll throw an enigma like Westbrook out there to back up up your point, but no one is allowed to point out how the Spurs have developed players who weren’t great shooters in college, like Kawhi Leonard and Keldon Johnson, into excellant shooters? The Spurs are still one of, if not the top teams at developing players in the league, so I don’t know what world we’re living in that we should be giving up on Sochan as a shooter after just 14 games. Yeesh.