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What We Learned from the Spurs’ Loss to the Warriors

The losing streak continues per schedule, as Devin Vassell shines.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs lost their eleventh game in a row, and it didn’t come as a surprise. There are really only two opportunities Spurs games are going right now: Either they are being blown out, or they keep up until midway through the third quarter, but then relinquish the momentum to their opponents or lose touch.

It would be a moral win for the young Spurs if every once in a while they would really make it into crunch time with an actual opportunity to win a game, and not just a mathematical one. But that’s just not happening right now, despite the Spurs often taking the lead against their opponents in the first half, sometimes even by double digits. It appears impossible for them to hold on to a lead. And as long as that is the case the Spurs won’t win any games. Mind you, winning games clearly isn’t the Spurs’ priority this season.

The Spurs are not starting the only point guard they have. They’re letting a guy run the point who can’t really do that. Point guards are expected to make their teammates better. The Point Sochan experiment has the opposite effect. The Spurs are perfectly aware of that. And yet they keep the one guy who can reliably run the point out of the starting lineup.

Why are the Spurs doing that?

I’m sure they have a good reason. And I’m sure it’s got something to do with the individual development of Jeremy Sochan. I’m sure there’s a point when they will end the Point Sochan experiment. But Sochan becoming what they envision him to be seems very high up on their priority list. Because they’re taking into account that everything becomes more difficult for everyone else on the court without a capable point guard.

Last night’s loss against the Warriors was another case in point that we currently can’t watch Spurs games with the expectation they’ll win.

Takeawys

  • Only 16 games into his NBA career, Victor Wembanyama already is the Spus’ clear-cut first option. And not just that: His 30.2-percent usage is superstar territory. Spurs GOATs Tim Duncan and David Robinson have exactly one regular season between them in which one of them had a higher usage – Robinson in 1993-94 when he won the scoring title (32 percent). Despite all the hype around Wemby, his usage is surprising. What’s not surprising at all, however, ist that at age 20 he is a high usage/low efficiency guy. Last night was an exemplary case n point: He was taking a number of difficult off-balance shots that didn’t go in. That’s what usually happens with that kind of offense. He might have some more fluke scoring performances like the one against the Phoenix Suns, but he will likely continue to be an inefficient scorer for the time being. He’ll necessarily become more efficient over time, but that isn’t going to happen overnight. Still, there is one way that would likely see him become more efficient overnight. As Sam Vecienie wrote for “The Athletic” yesterday, “When Wembanyama and Sochan play without Jones, the Spurs’ offensive rating descends to 95.6. When Jones is out there with Wembanyama, but not Sochan, the team posts a 116 offensive rating. When Jones shares the court with both players, that number jumps to 120.5.” The Spurs choose to start Wemby with Jeremy Sochan.
  • Speaking of Jeremy, the fact that the Point Sochan experiment continues is remarkable not only in the sense that it negatively impacts the efficiency of their number one option and franchise cornerstone, it also comes at the expense of Jeremy’s fellow first-round draft selections. Blake Wesley has seen his role decrease to cameo performances, and Malaki Branham, who showed scoring flashes in his rookie season, has also seen his minutes decrease in year two, his scoring efficiency has nosedived from bad to worse. Last night’s game showed why: What the Spurs need from their second-unit shooting guard is three shooting – to make up for the Spurs’ two de facto point guards lack thereof. Unfortunately, Malaki isn’t good from beyond the arc. He was 0 from 6 last night. That can happen to anyone, but there’s just nothing that suggests he could become even adequate. His percentage has dropped from a poor 30 percent last season to a shockingly poor 25 percent at lower volume this season. When you look at his shooting motion, these numbers are not a surprise. Malaki operates efficiently inside the arc, but that’s only a nice-to-have thing for the Spurs, while three-point shooting is an absolute necessity – and will very likely continue to be a necessity in the future. The Spurs’ young core, who are the top seven guys in the rotation, is full of shaky shooters defenses tend to ignore. There’s only one guy, and that’s just not enough, who can be trusted to draw attention and therefore provide much needed spacing. That guy is Devin Vassel.
  • If Devin isn’t the basketballer on the Spurs, right now, and I believe he is, he’s most definitely the Spur best equipped to help an NBA team win games. He has become a deadly operator around the perimeter, both on and off the ball. He kept the Warriors’ perimeter defenders occupied like no other Spur, they covered him closely, but he still went 4 from 10 from deep. There’s just no hesitation when he lets it fly with an “I don’t care you guard me” body language, and a wicked stepback if necessary. Interestingly, Devin currently has a true shooting percentage of 61 percent, despite taking 67 of his hots from deep or long mid-range and only 3.2 free-throw attempts per game. This is remarkably efficient for a guy with such a shot profile. He’s shooting 40 percent from deep this season at 6.3 attempts per game. More than two of those attempts per game are pull-up threes, which he makes at a 33-percent clip. From long mid-range he was already among the league’s best performers last year. So good in fact some analysts were doubtful whether he would be able to reproduce the 49 percent from long mid-range this season. He’s been shooting 59 percent from there this season. That’s peak Kevin Durant.