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Week in Review: Spurs try some new lineups but match franchise losing streak

New starting line-ups, same results. But change is still something!

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!

Week 6: The show gradual improvement in spots but can’t end the losing streak.

Week 7: 0-2 (3-18, 15th in West) — 94-102 L @ Minnesota Timberwolves; 112-121 L vs. Chicago Bulls

As the Spurs continue losing — to the point that a loss tonight would set a franchise record of 17 straight losses — it may seem like nothing is changing, but there were actually some changes this week in the form of starting lineup shakeups. One made sense, the other not not so much. Beginning a short week (thanks to the In-Season Tournament) in Minnesota, Gregg Popovich surprised many by benching his “starting point guard” Jeremy Sochan for only the fourth game of his career, but not in the move many would expect (Tre Jones), but rather for sixth man (maybe seventh?) Cedi Osman.

The idea was likely to bring more shooting to the starting lineup, but it didn’t pay off, as Osman scored only 6 points in what was an overall poor offensive performance from the Spurs. Ironically, they did actually do one thing well that they have struggled with all season: defend, holding a similarly icy Minnesota team (no pun intended) to 102 points. If the Spurs just could have scored their season average of 110 points, they could have won. Instead, the poor shooting night combined with their usual third quarter collapse and Rudy Gobert dominating the offensive glass did them in.

Next was the Chicago Bulls, where we got another lineup shakeup more along the lines of what fans have been asking for (but not quite). With Sochan back in for Osman, this time Zach Collins was moved to the bench not in favor of Jones, but rather Malaki Branham. This time Pop elaborated further, explaining the idea was to have four perimeter players around one big, which meant we finally got Victor Wembanyama starting at center. Unfortunately, it didn’t immediately pay off, as they followed their usual home trend of leading by double digits in the first half before collapsing in the second, getting outscored 35-20 in the third quarter and run over by old friend DeMar DeRozan in the fourth.

Despite the losses, it’s good to finally see Pop shaking things. This is an experimental season, after all, and you can’t keep repeating the same failed experiment over and over and expect new results. When that will finally result in a win is anyone’s guess, but that is about more than just the starting lineup. It’s about the team coming out after halftime with the resolve not fold, and when the inevitable offensive lull hits, the response should be to tighten up on defense and weather the storm, not lose confidence and keep jacking up threes. This is a young, learning group, and it feels like if they can just experience the taste of victory again, many more things will start to improve.

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — 29 (last week: 29)

OffRtg: 107.1 (27) DefRtg: 118.9 (27) NetRtg: -11.8 (30) Pace: 102.3 (4)

By the numbers, the Spurs had their best defensive game and their third best offensive game of the season last week. They lost ’em both, and their losing streak has hit 16 games.

Three takeaways

1. More amazing than 16 straight losses is that the Spurs are now 1-9 in games they’ve led by double-digits, having blown a 13-point lead to the Bulls on Friday. In the 27 previous seasons for which we have play-by-play data, the worst record in games led by double-digits was 5-9, by the 2011-12 Bobcats, who had the worst overall record in NBA history (7-59). The Spurs and Lakers, who are 9-1, have led the same number of games by double-digits this season.

2. The Spurs changed up their starting lineup a couple of times last week, starting Victor Wembanyama at center (Zach Collins came off the bench) for the first time on Friday. But they continue to dominate the 2023-24 “Start Anybody But A Point Guard At Point Guard” Challenge. Eight different Spurs have started at least one game this season, and none of them are named Tre Jones (who started 65 of his 68 games last season).

3. For the season, Wembanyama has played 28% of his minutes at the five, with Collins, Charles Bassey and Sandro Mamukelashvili all off the floor. The Spurs have been a little better in those 171 minutes (minus-9.2 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been in 434 minutes with Wembanyama playing alongside one of the other bigs (minus-11.6). The offense has been much better, while the defense has been worse.

One of the Spurs’ three wins came against the Rockets, a Week 1 victory in which Houston shot just 1-for-13 on shots that Wembanyama defended. Meeting No. 2 is Monday in Houston, the start of a stretch of five straight games against teams that have winning records.

(Author’s Note: I had a feeling the Spurs were setting some kind of NBA record in terms of blowing double-digit leads, and point #1 above confirms it. Young or not, that’s just horrific. Also loving the “Start Anybody But A Point Guard At Point Guard” Challenge phrasing. Thank you for both points, Mr. Schuhmann.)

Brett Siegel, Clutch Points — 29 (last week: 29)

Victor Wembanyama is beginning to blossom into an All-Star talent. The rookie big man has recorded five double-doubles in his last six games and he had nine rebounds in the one game he failed to record a double-double. Making the move from power forward to center, Wemby will now be able to utilize his size a little more in the paint, as well as have the ball in post-up opportunities.

Currently finding themselves on a 16-game losing streak, the Spurs will win a game this week against the Lakers. Who knows, maybe a win would help them turn things around and start piecing things together.

Yossi Gozlan, Hoops Hype — N/A (last week: 28)

N/A — will update

Coming up: Mon. 12/11 @ Houston Rockets; Wed. 12/13 vs. Los Angeles Lakers; Fri. 12/15 vs. Los Angeles Lakers; Sun. 12/17 vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Prediction 2-2 — I’m clearly losing my mind. I maintain that I will keep predicting one win because with every loss it’s theoretically getting closer, but two? Maybe I just can’t get myself it accept a loss to the Rockets (the Spurs did beat them very early in the season, but they are also 9-1 at home) while setting a franchise record losing streak. And maybe I see them finally holding onto a lead at home, perhaps against a not-so-great road team in the Pelicans. Even at my most frustrated, I can’t help but be optimistic. Shrug emoji.