The Detroit Pistons have been one of the unfortunate focal points of the NBA season. On Tuesday night the Pistons made history with their 27th consecutive loss – the longest streak in a single season. It’s been disastrous, with fans calling for the owner to sell the team or demanding newly hired coach Monty Williams be fired.
The San Antonio Spurs have largely dodged this kind of ire from their fan base, despite losing 23 out of their last 24 games. If not for a hot shooting win against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Spurs would be just three games behind Detroit in the record-setting skid. It seems that San Antonio’s head coach had reached his breaking point after Tuesday nights 130-111 loss to the Utah Jazz.
“Part of it is youth, part of it is that I probably need to demand more from certain people,” Gregg Popovich told reporters after the game. “It’s time they have to be more consistent, or I make changes.”
One of those changes came at the start of the second half, when Malaki Branham was pulled from the game and never came back in. During that stretch, Branham didn’t box out Kris Dunn, leading to an offensive rebound and a score, missed Victor Wembanyama on a post up and then turned the ball over and didn’t sprint back on defense. After that turnover you can see Pop head to the bench and grab Tre Jones to sub in. The Jazz went on a 9-2 run in those two minutes before the substitution.
There seems to be a clear shift in mentality from the coaching staff. The Spurs have been experimenting with their rotations over the last few weeks. They’ve tried Wembanyama at the center position and moved Jeremy Sochan off the ball – two decisions that have seemingly worked. They moved Keldon Johnson to the bench, where he thrived on Tuesday night on the way to a 26-point performance. After being borderline stubborn with the rotation to begin the season, the Spurs are ready to make some lineup changes.
This season seemed to be about figuring out what the future of this roster will look like around Wembanyama. Based on Popovich’s recent actions and comments, it looks like we may be out of the “prove it” phase and into the “bring consistency for 48-minutes or we will change things up” phase.
- The Spurs went on a nice run to pull within one-point in the third quarter, and it was sparked by an unlikely trio. Johnson started things off with on of the most violent dunks of the season.
Then Jones and Blake Wesley continued the run with pressure on the perimeter and aggression in the fast break. Jones finished the game with 6 points, 7 assists and 2 steals, and was crucial in getting the Spurs back in the game. Wesley was impressive, pushing the break with his speed and containing the Jazz’s ball-handlers. We haven’t seen much of Wesley, but given he’s played well in two straight games, it may be time he gets a share of the backcourt minutes off the bench.
- Sochan has put together a solid stretch. He was one of the Spurs best players against the Jazz, finishing with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He also knocked down three of his four shots from deep. Sochan has gone back to being a secondary playmaker, cutter and rebounder on the offensive end where he’s at his best. The ability to hit shots while spotting up from deep is a game changer for the Spurs offense. Sochan is hitting 38.9% of his threes this year – a clip respectable enough that defenses can’t sag off on him anymore. It seems that the second-year wing has worked hard on his jump shot, and we are beginning to see the fruits of that labor.
- Julian Champagnie has also slotted into the starting lineup well. His shooting and cutting ability play well off the Spurs playmakers in the starting five. San Antonio is a team that desperately needs floor spacing, and Champagnie is providing that right now. His defense has been up and down. There was a particular play in the fourth quarter where he miscommunicated a switch on a dribble handoff to Lauri Markkanen, leading to a wide open three. Yet, if he’s shooting like this, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t see consistent minutes.
- The Spurs were atrocious on closeouts against Utah. It seemed like every time the Jazz caught the ball on the perimeter, San Antonio was flying by on a ball fake. Kelly Olynyk could get around his defender seemingly whenever he wanted just by giving a slight fake. This is where the consistency and discipline Popovich is preaching comes in. You can’t expect to stop a team if you can’t contain drivers. So often the Spurs are scrambling or over-helping because someone gets beat on the perimeter. The point of attack defense need a major upgrade right now.