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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Heat

Playing in a world of pure imagination

NBA: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” - Thomas Edison

Lately, the subject of innovation has been on my mind. There are an seemingly limitless number of quotes on the subject, ranging from Steve Jobs to Albert Einstein, and beyond. An endless sea of scrolling in the internet era, assertively telling us what innovation is and isn’t.

It intrigues me why there should be such a never-ending commentary on the subject. I’m sure that a great deal of it has to do with creatives having explain themselves and their methods to those with more rigid mentalities over the course of human history. Nothing in my studies has succeeded in convincing me that the first person to actually invent the wheel was not in fact burned at the stake by his neighbors.

And on the one hand, it’s incredibly easy to label those neighbors as philistines. On the other hand, it’s not too hard to see their side of things, particularly if you squint a little in the direction of one Jeremy Sochan.

The truth is that innovation is scary. Successful or not, change makes people uncomfortable. It’s the very nature of the idea that threatens to undermine our collective foundations and sense of what is. We want point-guards to be point guards, and centers to be centers, and frankly, we’re not getting much of that right now as Spurs fans.

Last night we experienced both the highs and lows of a brave new world (Aldous Huxley would hate the way we use that phrase) as Sochan and Victor Wembanyama each finished the evening with as many turnovers as assists.

It was exactly the sort of performance that Spurs fans will almost certainly have to steel themselves for more of in the coming weeks, as PATFO appear to have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of using Sochan as a point-guard, and Wembanyama as more of a jump-shooter.

There’s been a great deal of speculation about this, both in print and online. That’s probably not news to most of you. Much of the technological innovation of the last decade-and-a-half has made this sort of conversation all but inescapable now.

The days of having to listen to impassioned wackos calling into sports radio shows are fading away, soon to board ships at the grey havens and sail into the great beyond. There are just so many avenues for that now. And there are pros and cons to that too, because innovation functions according to its own laws of equivalent exchange, if you will; for everything that is gained, something must be lost.

In the case of Jeremy Sochan: Point God, the thing that has been lost is more obvious and immediate in the form of San Antonio’s offensive flow and execution, particularly in the half-court. The benefits to be reaped are, for now, nebulous at best, though robust in theory.

Will this current experiment result in a truly position-less starting unit? Will San Antonio once again prove the superiority of their developmental processes? Will Sochan go as Super Saiyan as his hair color? Will Pop start break dancing during timeouts? Only time will tell, though I confess to having my doubt about several of the above items of inquiry.

It should be noted that Sochan has begun to appear more confident with each game, his handle and decision-making improving incrementally, but visibly. The counterpoint being that he seems to be particularly vulnerable to more experienced teams like the Miami Heat.

It’s also worth noting that he’s currently shooting 39% from long-distance, in what appears to be the fruit of developmental tweaks from last year and the off-season.

And while I certainly question the wisdom of having Jeremy learn an entirely new position against starting units, without so much as training wheels on, I have to admit that Gregg Popovich and Company still have the edge on me when it comes to scouting and development (though my ability to second-guess them remains elite) in this era of Spurs basketball.

I find myself thinking a lot about a George Clooney film from 2009 though, ‘Up In The Air’.

In the film in question, Clooney’s character works as a professional employment terminator, flying from city to city to assist companies with their layoffs, giving a charismatic face to pink slips and severance packages.

He has a protégé forced on him, who unbeknownst to him, has begun to aid his boss in the development of remote termination services, in an effort to trim the bottom line.

Once discovered, his character strongly opposes the changes, in large part because it renders him and his way of life obsolete, but also because it’s deeply inhuman and fails to consider the complexity of human response.

There are, of course, no numbers to back either of the latter two counterpoints. It’s something that Clooney’s character understands organically, via years of intimate experience and the intuition that accompanies that sort of thing.

Alas, his concerns are ignored, to the detriment of a terminated employee who takes their own life. To which his company responds by rolling the program back out of legal concern. There’s no sense of victory there though, only a sense of inevitability, and cost.

It fills me with the same question I have about these young Spurs, at what point does the cost become acceptable? And what will the cost-benefit split end up being in the end?

In the thousands of quotes on innovation that I scrolled through last night, precious few seemed to acknowledge the mess inherent to the process. Make no mistake though, innovation is often messy, and slow. It very famously took Edison over 1000 attempts to successfully invent the light bulb.

I imagine he broke quite a few in the process.


  • I’m sure you noticed my mentioning Wembanyama’s jump-shooting above and wondered where I was going to expand on that. The answer is right here, sort of. One of the trends that’s become apparent during this five game losing streak has been his tendency to abandon the paint when the opposing team has a stout post defender on hand. To be fair, some this almost certainly has to do with the quality of offensive distribution on San Antonio’s part, as players seem to miss his speedier forays into the post with startling regularity. And of course, the speedy, switchy, and sturdy Bam Adebayo presents a considerable challenge for even the most elite NBA big men. But a big part of this issue stems from something I tweeted about earlier in the season: a lack of reliable post moves. I’m willing to bet that this is something San Antonio brass intends to remedy as soon as developmentally possible, and have probably already started to work with Victor on, but until he’s able to be more comfortable down low, I think we’re likely to continue to see this as a trend this season. Which means that his shooting efficiency is bound to vary accordingly from game to game. That’s being said, when the man is hot, he’s hot and hard to block.
  • That being said, Victor’s defense has already reached a point of excellence that he managed to end the contest +5 in plus/minus in spite of an 8/22 performance and 7 turnovers to boot. Earlier this week Rudy Gobert mentioned that Wemby’s already ahead of the curve positioning-wise, and boy was he on the money, as nothing the Heat tried on offense to get around him really worked. It might not show in the block count, but after the Spurs held the Heat to a 15 point first quarter, Miami decided to go small for most of the rest of the night, doing their level-best to spread the Spurs out as much as possible, a decision made almost entirely because of Wembanyama and Zack Collins.
  • Speaking of Collins, once the Heat decided to go small, he took them to town in the post, making Kevin Love look silly, and any number of smaller defenders look tiny. It’s easy to forget how long and offensively competent Collins is in his own right, but between his passing, shooting, and ability to sniff out weak spots, he’s been somewhat quietly averaging 14/6/4 on 53% shooting. If the Spurs can somehow find themselves a big to anchor the 2nd unit, they’ll really be cooking with gas.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Pure Imagination performed by The Rest