The older I get, the more I tend to overreact to the Spurs winning a couple of early season games. I did so after the two wins against Phoenix last week. I did so when they started 5-2 last year. I remember I was being more cautious when they started 4-1 in the 2019-20 season, and that was a year when DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were still around, as well as the up and coming guard duo of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. The Spurs had a team back then that, potentially, could have had a winning season.
No one expected anything like that from last year’s Spurs; no one expects that from this year’s. But I guess that’s exactly why I’m overreacting: the expectations are so low that the hopes become sky-high as soon as I see them win. In both cases, last season and this one, the reality check didn’t take too long to arrive. Since taking to the court for the second half in Sunday’s game against the Raptors, it’s largely been one hell of a nose dive for the Spurs.
First, they were “Scottie-Barnesed” and “Annunobied”, then they were torched by Tyrese Haliburton and his sharp-shooting bench, which included a certain Buddy Hield, who has now shot 50 percent or better from beyond the arc against the Spurs twelve times in his career. And I guess that Jalen Brunson dude really loves playing against the Spurs as well, as he showed in his time with the Mavericks and now the Knicks.
- The Spurs lack three-point shooting — and shooters. According to basketball-reference.com, they’re getting up 34.5 attempts per game, 16th in the league, and they’re converting them at a 34.1 percent clip, 22nd in the league. Meanwhile, their opponents shoot more often, 40 attempts per game, and make their shots more often, 40.9 percent. It’s even more worrying when you consider that the Spurs’ far and away best three-point shooters — Doug McDermott at 52.8 percent from 4.5 attempts per game, as well as Cedi Osman, 45.2 percent from 3.9 attempts — might not be with the Spurs for much longer. They both are more likely than most other Spurs to be on the trading block at the deadline, and even if they aren’t they will be free agents next summer. Other than that, Devin Vassell is a good shooter, Wemby is a willing one but, with his shots often way off the mark, far from a reliable. Keldon Johnson, Zach Collins, Malaki Branham, Jeremy Sochan, and Tre Jones are all either unreliable, reluctant, or both. The Spurs were 9 from 34 from deep against the Knicks, and that’s just not enough to win an NBA game in 2023.
- The Spurs also lack other reliable ways of scoring, so much of their offense looks unstructured and lacking in plan. Once Devin Vassell is back in the starting rotation, I would like to see him as the pick-and-roll ballhandler more often. There was a pick-and-roll with him and Charles Bassey that looked promising. It’s tough to imagine Jeremy Sochan as a pick-and-roll ballhandler at this stage, but nevertheless he showed some flashes as a passer last night with two beautiful, Manu-lite whip passes late in the first quarter. Jeremy was probably the best Spur last night.
- Another guy who’s got passing potential is Collins, who had a number of beautiful dimes. His hook shot also looks good. Speaking of Zach, though, I’m getting a bit more concerned he might not physically be strong enough to be a starting center in the NBA. Sure, Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein are among the stronger centers in the NBA, but then again, against whichever team the Spurs have played this season, they all seem to have centers stronger than Zach. He’s playing with intensity, though, and that’s something his teammates could show more of. For example, there was a severe lack to even try and close out the opposing three-point shooter after missed rotations last night.
- Let’s end this on a couple of positive notes. Tre Jones looks tailor-made as a back-up point guard. Though clearly limited, he’s such a steadying presence. He’s the Spurs’ Mr. Reliable. Another thing I would definitely rely on: next year, Wembanyama will come back to Madison Square Garden and put those “overrated” chanting Knicks fans in their seats.