The Spurs are in the bottom five in offensive and defensive ratings. Which is more likely to improve?
Marilyn Dubinski: I thought they’d be better at defense than they are, especially with Tall Ball, but the discipline just isn’t there yet. The instant someone’s out of position, perhaps due to a double-team, everything stops, the double-teamer doesn’t recover, and everyone behind him stops rotating. Is that more fixable than a lack of shooters, or will the offense improve once the Spurs figure out how to use Victor Wembanyama better and how to balance feeding him and Devin Vassell? At this point I believe in the offense more, but just a little.
Mark Barrington: I think they should get better at defense if Wembanyama can improve his positioning, which right now involves way too much aimless floating. That being said, they’re bad enough that they could improve a lot without moving out of the bottom five. The offense is going to take longer to straighten out because Pop is trying to get players to do things they’ve never done before, and that takes time. I think that one day, it’s going to start to come together, but that day won’t be soon, certainly not the the next ten games.
Bruno Passos: Defense is tough for young teams, even ones with aliens. The offense might have a quicker path to competency if the Spurs have a light-bulb moment with Wembanyama’s usage or if a starting lineup shake-up opens up new efficiencies, so I’ll go with that, but I don’t expect a huge leap in either area as the season rolls on.
Jesus Gomez: The offense just seems to have more upside. There will be games when everything just clicks on defense for long stretches, but the personnel, the system and the inexperience of the players will probably make those stretches not sustainable. On offense, just hitting a few more threes and developing some chemistry, especially in the starting lineup, should be easier to achieve.
Victor Wembanyama currently leads the Spurs in points and rebounds. Do you expect that to be the case at the end of the season?
Dubinski: He should be leading the Spurs in rebounds, and I expect things to stay that way. Points are another story. Obviously, he has proven himself capable of putting up big numbers, becoming one of the quickest players ever to post a 38-point game, and his “bad” nights still consist of scoring in the teens, which is more than can be said for a lot of players. That being said, he’s still getting a feel for the game, finding his spots, and is an inconsistent shooter. Meanwhile, Vassell looks like a pure shooter, and it’s early enough that his numbers are hampered a bit by his 12-minute comeback game in New York. When all is said and done, I still expect him to be the Spurs’ leading scorer by season’s end.
Barrington: Gosh, I hope not. It’s probably OK for him to be leading in rebounding, but I think that Zach Collins needs to step up in that department. He doesn’t need to catch Wembanyama, but he needs to do more because the Spurs are giving up way too many offensive rebounds. I think, in a perfect world, Devin Vassell is the Spurs leading scorer as Wembanyama ends up playing closer to the basket and uses his gravity to draw in the defense, which will result in a lot more open shots for Devin on the perimeter. And it also should open up Keldon’s game.
Passos: I can’t say I did coming into this season, but unless the Spurs intend to change gears from his sky-high usage as they learn what they have in him, I can see it continuing. As of now at least he seems to be the more natural choice for crunch-time buckets (although I’d love to see Vassell make more of a case for himself), and there are just too many different ways to get him involved in the offense.
Gomez: He should comfortably lead the Spurs in rebounds. Collins is in charge of boxing out the bigger guys and Sochan and Johnson spend too much time in the perimeter to be a threat. Wemby is also gigantic, which helps on the boards. Whether he will lead in scoring is tougher to say, but he probably will. He has a star’s usage percentage and as time passes he should only get better touches. It’s possible Vassell finds the consistency and the touches to be a 20+ point scorer but it might be hard for him to get there in such an experimental year.
If you had to give someone not currently in the rotation (Graham, Wesley, Champagnie, Barlow, Mamu) some minutes, who would it be and who would they take those minutes from?
Dubinski: None of the above? No one outside of Barlow has done much in the garbage time minutes they’ve gotten so far, and he’s on a two-way and will inevitably have to go to Austin at some point. If Champagnie was in the same form as last season and summer league, hitting threes AND defending well, I wouldn’t mind seeing him get some of Doug McDermott’s minutes. Mamu also brings a certain level of energy that can be lacking with the second unit, but again it’s hard to justify taking minutes from anyone who is currently in the rotation because they’ve simply outplayed all those guys at this point.
Barrington: I really think that Blake Wesley needs to play. If he can’t get minutes on a rebuilding team, then he’s not going to get minutes next year when the Spurs are looking to make the playoffs. I think that this year is a make-or-break one, and I’m rooting for him to make it count. If he spends the entire year on the bench, he’ll be gone at the end of his contract. Taking minutes from another guard is going to be tough, but at least right now, he could be taking some of Tre Jones’s minutes while he’s recovering. I don’t mind Blake spending time on the G-League team, but he’s going to have to prove himself at the NBA level soon to be a part of the Spurs long-term plans.
Passos: Can I say none of the above? I think all of these guys have a purpose when someone goes down but it’s a bit early to tinker with who’s in the rotation. As much as I’d love to see a Devonte’ Graham-Wemby high screen and roll, there are still more levers to pull with that core right now (more Branham, please) before the Spurs give him a real look or smash the glass on the Emergency Mamu. Stay the course and maybe consider a bit of Wemby-Vassell two-man game before the calendar year’s over.
Gomez: The rotation seems fine for now. There’s not a lot of quality depth in San Antonio so there’s not going to be a huge level of competition for minutes this soon. Graham could be an option down the road, though, if the Spurs decide to change their starting lineup and have Sochan off the bench. The veteran guard can play off the ball and hit threes while also being able to handle the ball, so the fit would be there. But for now, it doesn’t feel like a big change is needed.