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What we learned from the Spurs’ loss to the Clippers

This year’s team might need to get a little creative if it wants immediate offensive help.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Disney has put out some amazing documentaries over the years - creatively titled and rather on-the-nose specials like Penguins or Elephant or Polar Bear shine a revealing light at the drama and love lives of these special animals. Similarly, the documentary Air Bud (whoops, that one’s not a documentary) follows the life of a gifted golden retriever as he realizes his dream of playing for the Timberwolves. Not the Minnesota franchise, but the champion Fernfield Washington high school Timberwolves.

That leads one to wonder — could a similar situation help the offense-starved San Antonio Spurs? Don’t worry, I did the homework for you - while there is no rule that explicitly states that a dog cannot play in the NBA, it is implied. But there’s a chance, however faint, that Pop and company could turn to someone a little less conventional to put the ball in the basket.

One of the rules in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players indicates that potential recruits must be at least 19 years of age and one year removed from high school. The key part being: a player must have attended high school to qualify for the NBA. So our canine hopeful faces their first hurdle, but all is not lost. At the very least, service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their owner goes. In theory, a dog could go to high school under that stipulation, and therefore could also theoretically qualify for the NBA draft.

Ultimately, however, their biggest hurdle is not the high school rule. Rather, the NBA’s minimum 19 years of age is the secret (doggy) door that prevents canines of all kinds from realizing their hardwood dreams. Some of your longest-living breeds, the Jack Russell Terrier (16 years) and Chihuahua (17 years), would still be much past their life expectancy by the time they could lace up those four little Chuck Taylor’s. There is an ace in the hole, however. The rare New Guinea Singing Dog can live over 18 years of age and sounds like a pretty awesome candidate for the eventual Vegas or Seattle expansion teams to build around and generate some fan interest to boot. Think of the bobblehead nights a team could have when your star also has an adorably-wagging tail and a yodeling bark?

I really digress, but in my defense it was both a very late (9:45 Central Time tip) and very long game, as the Spurs dropped one in Tinseltown to the Los Angeles Clippers by a final of 119 to 97. They were absolutely shelled by a team that came into the night taking around 11 triples a game and ranked 18th in shooting percentage (34%) from the arc, but finished 21 for 39 (54%) from beyond. There was a bit of good news though:

Early in the game, the Spurs set a great tone through their offensive aggression. Jakob Poeltl demonstrated his offensive development with several strong drives to the hoop, as he and Tre Jones continue to connect on the pick-and-roll. The work Jeremy Sochan is putting into his midrange game is starting to pay dividends as well, as he had several nice buckets around the 15-foot range. The defense was even focused in on Kawhi Leonard, as Sochan and Keita Bates-Diop often double-teamed him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Leonard that was hurting the Spurs as Paul George blistered them for 18 first-quarter points and the Clips put on their best 2014 Beautiful Game impression with crisp ball movement and many, many open shots.

Defensive lapses aside, what really stood out was that once again the lack of an MVP-level talent hurts the Spurs against teams who can simply outshoot and then dare them to respond bucket for bucket. On nights like this, where Keldon Johnson struggles to get to 11 points on 33% shooting and Devin Vassell wears (some very impressive) street clothes — his ensemble featured yellow shag bell-bottoms, for one — it becomes very clear the Spurs are missing that go-to top tier creator on offense.

Is there room for defensive improvement on a night when John Wall passes for 10 assists in the first quarter, and four Clippers score 20+ on you? Absolutely. But the Spurs currently rank 25th out of 30 teams in Offensive Efficiency (ironically, the Clippers are 30th), 15th in Points Per Game, and 28th in Free Throw Attempts per Field Goal, a ratio that would definitely be impacted by a top-tier shot creator.

Given that Pop is unlikely to hire an animal trainer and start recruiting from the city’s dog parks, any hope in the near future will come from the continued development of the current group of young, exciting talent and perhaps, a lucky lottery bounce or two. Until that point, expect to see this offense-starved story play out a few more times, in Hollywood and beyond.


  • Devin Vassell’s fit is at least mid-season form:
  • Midway through the second quarter, my notes read: “All heart, not enough muscle.” You have to give it to this Spurs team - they are trying. They just don’t have the firepower or experience to compete on a nightly basis.
  • Tre Jones: 6 points, 10 assists, 1 turnover. OK, he shot 23% from the floor. But still, he continues to surprise with his maturation at the point. He’s also in the final year of his 3-year minimum deal. They need to lock this guy up, ASAP.

Game Film:

Duh. Only the best Disney documentary about basketball ever (sorry, The Air Up There):