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The Spurs’ pace-and-pass identity could be hard to maintain

Can the Spurs keep running and making enough shots to keep topping the league in pace and assists all season long?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs will be without Blake Wesley for a while. Should they try to add another ball handler?

Mark Barrington: They did. It’s Jordan Hall. The only problem is that he isn’t very good. I think they’re going to stick with him and see if he can get better. Despite the success of the past few weeks, I still think this is a rebuilding year, and I think adding any players that don’t fit the timeline isn’t really worth it, so unless they can get a really great young player without giving up a whole lot, they are going to dance with the ones they got.

Marilyn Dubinski: I believe they’re going continue with the offense-by-committee approach that has worked so far, at least until it doesn’t anymore. They continue to lead the league by a whole assist per game, with six main rotation players averaging 2.5 or more assists (seven if you believe Malakai Branham will continue to get minutes in Wesley’s place). If they end up waiving Jordan Hall (who signed a non-guaranteed contract), they’ll probably continue to look for guards to fill that 15th spot, but odds are slim it will be with a rotation player.

Bruno Passos: If that was a concern for this team going into the season I don’t think they’d be in a situation where an injury to rookie and known project Blake Wesley suddenly has them in a bind. I think they’ll keep chugging along, paying little mind to the losses racking up, and give the ball to the next man up to bring up the floor and let their half-court offense be generated by a million dribble hand-offs, side pick-and-rolls and back cuts.

Jesus Gomez: It all depends on whether they are actually actively trying to win or they really are focusing on development. They could absolutely use the help of some veteran point guard in the short term, but giving minutes to Malaki Branham and allowing others more opportunities with the ball in their hands makes more sense when taking the longer view. It seems that for now they are leaning toward just playing things out with what they have and retaining talent like Jordan Hall instead of making any bigger moves, which is understandable.

J.R. Wilco: It took far too many many years of watching Pop coach the Spurs without a pass-first point guard racking up double-digit assists on a nightly basis, before I stopped wanting/expecting one. And I’m not going back on it now. I’m absolutely loving the motion-based-read-and-react-pass-and-move offense the team is playing this season. Since that type of offense doesn’t require a stellar ball-handler in order to score, the team will be fine until Wesley’s back.

The Spurs rank second in the league in pace and first in assist percentage. Do you expect them to remain in the top 10 in those key categories all season?

Barrington: Top ten? I think it’s no problem to keep the assists up, but pace is going to be harder to maintain. A lot of younger players have trouble adjusting to playing 82 regular season games, and while I think Keldon Johnson is a terrific player, I don’t know if he can carry the squad on his broad shoulders that long without wearing down. I think things will slow down considerably around mid-season.

Dubinski: As long as the aforementioned offense-by-committee approach keeps working and the team keeps hitting their threes at a respectable rate (currently 7th), they can definitely remain in the top 10 in assist percentage. Despite Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell being a cut above the rest, the Spurs are deep enough that the defense still has to be aware of everyone on the court, and there just isn’t much they can do about that type of ball movement and a four or five-man threat. Pace remains to be seen. The Spurs’ depth and youth help a lot in keeping the legs fresh, but if they start coming back to earth record-wise, does the energy remain so high for 48 minutes every night? Probably not.

Passos: The precise numbers? Probably not, if only because assists depend on shots going down and the Spurs might be exceeding expectations in the shot-making department early on. But both should remain a big part of their identity this season, regardless of who stays healthy and who potentially gets moved in the months ahead.

Gomez: I think it’s likely, unless they completely unravel on offense, simply because the style they try to play requires pace and ball movement. Even when they are not getting fastbreak points, they need to make an initial attack before the defense is set as much as possible to create a small advantage that gets bigger with an extra pass. That’s their identity and it’s doubtful it will change even if Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson get better at being go-to guys in the halfcourt. The Spurs just have too many players who are not reliable outside shooters to play slow, star-oriented basketball right now, and they seem to know it.

Wilco: I’d be willing to lay a bit of cash on San Antonio staying in the top ten of assists — because it’s who this team is. They’ve shown themselves capable of playing this way, which is the biggest hurdle. (Notice that they never played like this when LMA/DmDr/DJM were on the court.) Since they CAN play like this, why would they stop? As for pace, I think they’re more likely than not to stay in the top 10, because the legs are young. I think it’d be harder for them to slow down than maintain how they’ve been playing.