The shorthanded San Antonio Spurs came up short in a feverish second-half comeback to the Ja Morantless Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night. Although they erased a 13-point lead, their pedestrian half-court offense stalled to a standstill down the stretch as it encountered the full force of the stringiest defense in the NBA.
Despite giving a couple of title contenders a scare in consecutive games, the Silver and Black find themselves approaching lottery-locked territory with a 13-28 record halfway through the season. An unyielding barrage of injuries has factored into their tumble in the standings, and it may be time to consider making moves for the future.
- Malaki Branham has been terrific as of late, and he put together another encouraging offensive performance in Memphis against the number-one defense in the league. The rookie swingman scored 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting in about 25 minutes off the bench, earning plenty of praise from the opposing broadcast with buckets that belied his baby face. He curled around an off-ball screen for a bump fade around the nail, buried a catch-and-shoot three-pointer in transition, and drained a midrange jumper out of the pick-and-roll. Branham also feathered in a teardrop on the baseline after trapping a defender on his back. And he capped his evening off with an opportunely triple by relocating to the corner when Poeltl cleaned the glass for a second-chance opportunity. The Ohio State alum has reached double figures in six of his last 13 games after accomplishing that feat just once in his first 14 appearances. Malaki was already starting to carve out a role in the rotation before Devin Vassell joined the injury report, and he should see more touches and shot attempts as long as the Spurs remain shorthanded. Who knows? He could even earn a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend if he maintains his efficient production.
- The Spurs have logged the second-fewest clutch minutes in the NBA this season, which isn’t all that shocking, especially considering they own the worst point differential in the NBA. Even when San Antonio scratches and claws its way into a close contest, they haven’t done much winning, going 5-10 in crunch time, the third-worst mark in the league. Monday night saw another admirable effort from Gregg Popovich and the youngsters, but all their efforts to erase a double-digit deficit were for naught. Their final ten possessions included a layup, free throws, a trio of missed threes, an off-target floater, and four turnovers. You could chalk up their late implosion to the absences of leading scorers Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, but that tandem has combined to shoot an inefficient 9-of-30 from the field in games decided in the clutch. San Antonio stutters down the stretch when the slower pace of a nail-biter forces their bottom-five half-court offense into action. They have turned to a handful of players, but in all likelihood, that go-to scorer that can singlehandedly push a team to victory isn’t on their roster.
- Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott, and Jakob Poeltl have all established themselves as potential targets for postseason hopefuls with their stellar play throughout the first year of San Antonio’s rebuild. PATFO are in talent acquisition mode, but they shouldn’t necessarily rush to host a firesale at the trade deadline. Poeltl provides essential structure on both ends of the court, while McDermott offers their young playmakers a steadfast off-ball outlet that doesn’t take minutes from developing prospects. As we saw on Monday night against the Grizzlies, Richardson is also capable of helping an inexperienced team remain competitive in almost any matchup, which could be a positive or negative, depending on how you look at things. The 29-year-old guard has become a favorite for head coach Gregg Popovich, and he is the main obstacle keeping Blake Wesley from breaking into the rotation after his promotion from the G League last weekend. If the Spurs are serious about facilitating development and bringing elite talent to the 2-1-0, then now is the best time to start listening to offers for Richardson. They are a season-worst 15 games below .500 at the midway mark of the season, Devin Vassell is out until after the All-Star Break, and their fellow bottom-dwellers are full-steam ahead on pursuing ping pong balls. There are bound to be multiple franchises interested in parting ways with a first-rounder for Richardson, so why not give the green light if it means better lottery odds at landing a potential cornerstone like Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson in the 2023 NBA Draft?