Is this iteration of the Spurs the least fun to watch of the post-Duncan era?
Marilyn Dubinski: My first instinct is to add a caveat of “without Victor Wembanyama, it definitely is” because he at least gives us something to look forward to when we turn them on, but the reality is his presence is actually making the fact they have been just as bad, if not worse than last season all the more disappointing. Then, the question becomes, is there a difference between “least fun” and “most disappointing”? Watching the team struggle to get the ball to Wemby, blowing double-digit leads, predictable meltdowns nearly every third quarter (which makes it hard to enjoy even good first halves) — it all makes for a mostly unenjoyable viewing experience, but “least fun” is up for debate.
Mark Barrington: I think it got close to that the other night when Wembanyama had to sit out a game with a sore ankle. Without Victor, this team is basically last year’s team, but a little less organized and with players who don’t know their roles. It’s a chore to watch them, but if you look closely, you can see players like Malaki Branham and Jeremy Sochan improving their skills while the overall team game is a chaotic mess.
But when Wembanyama is in the game, he makes it worth watching all by himself. He could play with four G-League players (and sometimes he does) and still make every moment a must-watch experience. He does things that you’ve never seen on the court almost every game, and you don’t want to miss a minute of it.
Jacob Douglas: I don’t know about that. Last year’s squad was essentially the same minus Victor Wembanyama. Sure, the wins aren’t coming right now, but I find enjoyment in seeing the players develop. Devin Vassell is becoming more assertive offensively, Malaki Branham is finding his rhythm, Keldon Johnson plays with a vigor that’s always engaging. Then of course there is the big man who seems to be catching onto the NBA game quickly. In terms of winning, it’s not pretty – but the development has been fun to watch.
Jesus Gomez: Not for me. The DeRozan-era Spurs were pretty hard to watch since they were neither fun nor good and there was no future to them. As terrible as these Spurs are — and they undoubtedly are terrible — they do have a generational talent that shows something new every night and it’s interesting to see which other young players are taking a step in the right direction. I’ll take purposeful awfulness over meaningless mediocrity.
How many current Spurs do you expect to still be in San Antonio in three years?
Dubinski: I’d run with about four, give or take. Wemby should absolutely be a lock, Vassell is pretty darn close, and Jeremy Sochan and Keldon Johnson probably stand the next best chances. (I am not on the trade Keldon bandwagon, but I get that he has the most tradable contract on the team.) Maybe Malaki Branham can carve out a future role for himself, and it looks like Tre Jones will have to be accepting of a bench role to stick around (which is possible). But beyond that, right now this is not looking like a group that will eventually rise far enough to keep intact when you get past the young core. Hopefully we are proven wrong in the next year or so.
Barrington: I think that Devin Vassell is a lock if he stays healthy. Jeremy Sochan is on a trajectory to becoming a special player, and I certainly hope he gets there, because if he does he will be an essential building block for a title contender. I like Keldon Johnson, but he’s probably the most tradeable player in the current core, and there’s probably only a 50% chance he’ll be here in three years. Many of the other current players could possibly stick, like Branham, but he could be moved too.
I’m pretty sure the tall rookie is going to be the one guy that they’re building around, so he’s definitely going to be a Spur as long as the team can sign him to a contract.
Douglas: I’m going with 5-6 players. That’s probably a bit high compared to what others may think. Wembanyama will still be on his rookie deal and by 2026 should be an all-star. Vassell is going to be a scoring wing in this league for a long time, and is a great fit with Wemby. I think Sochan, Branham and Tre Jones probably stick around too. Jones in particular seems like he’s the team’s long-term backup point guard, given their reluctance to start him. Maybe we see someone in Austin like Dominick Barlow or Sidy Cissoko take a leap and become a staple of the rotation?
Johnson seems like the guy you dangle if you want to make a big trade at some point. Of the young core, he is the most expendable. He’s on a manageable contract and would provide wing scoring for a contender.
Gomez: Wembanyama is a lock. I think Vassell, Sochan and Branham will be there since they are either under contract or will be easy to retain as they come out of their rookie contracts. The two big question marks are Blake Wesley and Keldon Johnson. Wesley would have to improve significantly to get an extension or even a qualifying offer. Johnson is a good player on a great contract. which makes him a valuable trade chip for a team that might need one. I say Wesley will be gone but Johnson will remain a Spur, as long as the front office nails the next draft.
If you could magically add anyone to the roster for the rest of the season, except former All-Stars or players on rookie deals, who would you add?
Dubinski: They need someone who can pass, create and defend, and there is one player who comes to mind and fits the above criteria: DERRICK WHITE. Maybe it’s just homerism, but not only is he my answer to “if you could bring any former player back, who would it be,” but I truly believe he fits everything the Spurs want in a starting point guard right now, and the lack of one is a big part of what’s holding them back. (I get that there’s possibly no Wemby if they never traded him and/or Dejounte Murray, but they’re missed now, and White is my choice of the two.) My runner-up to this question is Alex Caruso, whom I’m also biased toward because we went to the same college, and he’s a similar player to White.
Barrington: So, somebody that’s good, but not good enough to have ever been an All-Star? Maybe a player from a small market team that’s been overlooked because of large market bias? I was hoping to sneak Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in, but he’s been to one All-Star game already. Surprisingly, Jalen Brunson has never been an All-Star, but he spent much of his career in Luka Doncic’s shadow, but now that he’s a Knick, he should be an All-Star soon, probably this year. I also like CJ McCollum, now on the Pelicans, who would really help to fix the Spurs' offensive woes. CJ would certainly fill a void at point guard for the Spurs, but maybe there’s a veteran glue guy that would help the Spurs even more.
How about P.J. Tucker, a guy who plays with fire and would keep things competitive in the locker room? He’s a guy who has always outperformed his physical attributes, even playing center for the Rockets for a while at 6’ 5”. He’s toward the end of his career, but he could help to develop Wembanyama and cultivate a winning attitude in the young Spurs squad.
Douglas: What does this team need more than anything else? Shot creation and point of attack defense. They are 26th in the NBA in total field goal percentage and 27th in three-point percentage. On the other end they are allowing teams to get a lot of shots up and shoot high percentages from all over the court.
It’s hard to find good NBA players who provide you both. Anfernee Simons and Tyler Herro come to mind as shotmakers on their second NBA deals, but neither of them are plus defenders. OG Anunoby is a high-level defender who hits shots, but isn’t necessarily known as a creator. Maybe it’s someone like Coby White, who is having an incredible season shooting the basketball and has steadily improved as a defender in his first five seasons. Take your pick of those four, but that’s the archetype I’m looking for in trades and via the draft if I’m PATFO.
Gomez: Give me Harrison Barnes. I know I’m not dreaming big here but the Spurs have guards and don’t play them, so I don’t see the point of adding another one. Wembanyama has been good at center, so I’d want him to stay there. Vassell needs to start at the wing. The Spurs have a lot of forwards but no one who can shoot as consistently as Barnes while also defending well. So Barnes could start in place of Sochan or Johnson or come off the bench and take the McDermott minutes. Adding just a solid vet who fills a role would help this team a lot.