It has been a rough season for the Spurs so far. After a good start, the team has found itself on a 12-game losing streak, and some of those defeats have been one-sided. It’s hard to feel good about how things have gone lately for the Silver and Black.
There have been some bright spots, though. It might have been easy to miss them, but they have been there. So now that there’s time to go through them during this break in the schedule, let’s take a look at what has actually gone well.
Victor Wembanyama is the real deal
Most people knew that Wemby’s hype was deserved, but there were some concerns about how quickly he would adjust to the NBA game, as there are with every rookie. It didn’t take long for him to quash those worries.
Wembanyama is averaging over 19 points, nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks. He looks like an absolute force on defense despite still making the type of mistakes you’d expect from a 19-year-old and he has moments when his offense clicks and he looks like a surefire future superstar. The Spurs have the worst record in the league but they are better when he’s on the floor and it’s abundantly clear that Gregg Popovich is still experimenting in hopes of finding the optimal way to use him. Wemby is good now, but he will only get better.
All eyes were on Victor to start the season and, despite some inconsistency, he hasn’t disappointed. It took Wembanyama less than 20 games to prove that it’s not a question of if but when he will in fact be the franchise player most people thought he could be before the draft.
The recent extensions are looking like smart investments
After locking Keldon Johnson down on a team-friendly deal last summer, the front office secured the future services of Tre Jones, Zach Collins and Devin Vassell this past offseason. So far all the deals look good.
After his first contract expired, Jones signed for two years and just under $20 million. There are 35 other point guards making more than him and a lot of the viable ones earning less are on rookie deals. Jones has his issues, namely with outside shooting on offense and a lack of size on defense, but he’s shown that he’s a committed defender and a steady floor general who can push the pace and put pressure on the defense with his drives in the half court. Paying $10 million a year for a quality backup who can start if needed and is young enough to continue to get better is a bargain.
Jones wasn’t the only role player to get an extension. Zach Collins inked a new deal that will keep him with the Spurs for two more years after this one, making around $17 million a year. Unlike Jones, he’s getting paid like a starter, but the good news is that he’s producing like one. Collins is asked to do a lot on offense — arguably too much — but he’s up to the challenge, averaging 14 points and four assists per game while constantly setting screens. He’ll always be a limited defensive player, but he’s tough and he tries. The only reason his contract is just reasonable and not great is because his three-point shooting has been poor, but if he can get to league average from outside, his impact will far exceed his salary.
The most controversial of the extensions was Devin Vassell’s simply because of how high his contract looks without context. Accounting for incentives, the shooting guard could make a whopping $146 million over the next five years after this season is done, which only makes sense for a high-quality starter. It’s early in the season but Vassell has met that criterium. He’s averaging 18 points on almost 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc while still showing untapped potential on defense. He seems ready to make the leap. The only question with Vassell is his health, as he has missed time with injury already, but if he can stay on the floor, he could end this season as one of the best at his position and a piece San Antonio can build around.
Cedi Osman is a fun, pleasant surprise
Osman landed with the Spurs as part of a three-team trade in which the Cavaliers salary dumped him. At the time it was unclear if the veteran was going to stay in San Antonio or if he was going to be waived. Almost a quarter of the season in, he’s found a place in the rotation and has been both productive and extremely easy to root for.
The Spurs bring Osman as one of the first players off the bench and he has been repaying their confidence by starting the season on fire from beyond the arc. The veteran forward is having a career year from outside, connecting on 41 percent of the many threes he has attempted and never hesitating to pull the trigger. He’s been a calming presence at times thanks to his experience and is good for a wild, fun drive every couple of games. He runs the floor well, he brings effort on defense and he genuinely seems happy to be in San Antonio, even when things aren’t going well.
The numbers say the Spurs have been an absolute disaster with Osman on the court and we are talking about a flawed tweener forward here, so there might not be a long-term relationship between the franchise and Cedi. There doesn’t have to be one. So far, he’s made games more fun to watch and that’s enough.