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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Bucks

A paradox of toy assembly and roster contruction

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever put something together and realized there’s a part missing?

With the holidays swiftly approaching I imagine we’re all experiencing some version of Vietnam flashbacks to the hellish assemblies of Christmas Eves past.

Toys with missing pieces and unreadable (or minimal) instructions, and assembly times so much longer than we anticipated, dot the hell-scape of children’s aisles and online portals, all brought to us with shipping windows that might as well just say ‘maybe’ rather than give out a concrete date.

I myself recently spent time constructing a rather large playground structure over several days, and woke up one night in a cold sweat realizing I’d put an L-bracket in with the holes in the wrong orientation.

And after last night’s game (and a good chunk of this season) I have to wonder if Spurs GM Brian Wright and Spurs CEO R.C. Buford have been experiencing similar nighttime disturbances, because boy does that Spurs roster feel badly assembled.

On a night where Jeremy Sochan led the Spurs in assists despite not starting as point guard, yet still managed the lowest +/- of the night, and Zach Collins led the team in scoring through three quarters, it was somehow more painfully obvious that the team is missing pieces. Not just in regards to talent, as many will be happy to argue, but in regards to baseline functionality.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s now twenty-six games into the season and San Antonio still continues to utilize their only true point guard off of the bench. Why is there only one point guard on the roster? This seems like a good question, much like the inquiry I posed to an 800 number call-line in India last year when a certain box arrived without any instructions at all!

Have you ever tried to put something together using just the picture on the box? If you’ve ever had that distinct displeasure, you’ll know how confusing it is trying to suss out the purpose of each individual part.

You lay them all out, one at a time, on the floor, and then stare at the collection of mismatched screws, bolts, and pieces, desperately willing yourself to visualize how everything fits together. You know what the end result should look like. You know how it should function.

And inevitably, you take a run at it, backing up every time you seem to make progress, thwarted by an unanticipated nut or washer, slowly losing your sanity as you insist to yourself that you’re a smart person who should be able to figure this out.

Maybe you even manage to use every piece, but the end result is somewhat grotesque, awkward, and every so slightly off. Maybe you put it all together and then find a random screw left over.

Maybe you assemble a roster with little quality big-man depth, and a dearth of true distributors. Maybe you claim you’re looking to build a quality roster and develop a generational talent, but spend most of your time digging through the bargain bin and trying to force sections of the roster into places they don’t quite belong, like a puzzle piece that just might fit if you apply just the right amount of pressure and ignore what the picture is supposed to look like.

Maybe you’re covertly tanking while giving lip service to avoid league fines. Maybe your roster is just plain bad. Maybe it’s just missing a few important pieces.

Maybe the word ‘maybe’ just feels played out at this point, and you’re exhausted, and confused, and just flat out fed up.

Maybe you turn on the game, just for a moment, to see if somehow, magically, everything has come together against all expectations.

Maybe it’ll all work out in the end. Maybe. Just maybe.


  • It feels like Zach Collins has taken a real shelling this season, after being treated as somewhat of a comeback darling last season, and that probably has more to do with expectations and a new contract than anything else, but the reality is that he’s doing pretty much exactly what he was doing last season, in spite of playing more minutes and seeing more usage. Staying healthy, out of foul trouble, and serving as a front-court facilitator and floor-stretcher, Collins is averaging a respectable 13/6/3 on 48% shooting, with his 3-point shooting trending upwards at 37% over the last 10 games. Granted Collins is far from an elite rim protector, and has a tendency to toss up one too many shots when his stroke is off, but the reality is that Zach Collins is (like Tre Jones) a tweener; an excellent bench player/low ceiling starter, and expectations should be adjusted accordingly. He might even seem expensive after all those years of top shelf budget-rate production from Jakob Poeltl. But in a season that already feels lost, Collins is one of the players who feels most locked-in every night, limitations be damned, and the Spurs ball-movement would undoubtedly be even more woeful without him. He certainly deserves his flowers after dealing with Giannis and Brook Lopez for most of the evening, without the aid of his now-injured battery mate, Charles Bassey.
  • Meanwhile, Cedi Osman continued his quiet campaign to become one of the most alluring glue pieces for contending and cash-strapped rosters, dropping 10 points in just 19 minutes, and doing just about everything you reasonably could ask of him, even as Doug McDermott continued his recent shooting slump. As in the case of the oft-mentioned Tre Jones, San Antonio’s ball-movement tends to look better when Osman is on the court, cutting and moving like one-man Broadway musical, and it feels like there’s a pretty good chance that the Spurs will be able squeeze a decent pick out of another team come the trade deadline. Otherwise, it certainly raises questions about his usage, considering his overall effectiveness thus far, and San Antonio’s need for more (and better) shooting in their more heavily played units.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect by The Decemberists