I sit here at the All-Star break with so many thoughts running through my head about the current 2022-23 San Antonio Spurs season. In a rebuilding, figure-it-out type of season, it would be easy to just check out and be ready for the off-season by this time in the year, but not me! Personally, I am more excited for the final 23 games than the 59 prior, and this is why.
There is a good chance coming out of the All-Star break, or at least very soon after, the Spurs will be back to full strength with Devin Vassell (missed the last 22 games after knee surgery) & Romeo Langford (missed the last 12 with hip issues) expected back, along with new acquisition Khem Birch possibly returning from a knee injury to make his first appearance in the Silver & Black.
Now, I know there are a chunk of Spurs fans that want Devin to sit for the rest of the year in order to not hurt the Spurs chances of a top pick, well let me evaporate those fears. First, they weren’t winning much when he was healthy anyway, if anything the Spurs will just end up playing a better brand of basketball but still end up on the wrong (or in this case right) side of the W-L column. Second, San Antonio is so far behind the fifth-worst Orlando Magic, it likely won’t even matter. They are ten games out with 23 games to go, which pretty much ensures that they will finish with a bottom-four record and a 14% chance at the #1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Of course, finishing with the worst record does still have its benefits despite the league’s anti-tanking measures; the lowest you can drop to in the draft is the fifth pick, while the second-worst can drop as low as sixth, and so on, but with the Hornets holding the tie-breaker over the Spurs and starting to hit their stride with LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier healthy, I wouldn’t worry too much about San Antonio finishing above them. It looks like it will end up being a three-horse race to the bottom between the Spurs, Rockets and Pistons.
Also, let’s be honest: as much as it would be comforting knowing we can’t do any worse than the fifth pick, finishing with a worse record than the Rockets, who are ridiculed by the media, fans and even players for their inability to play competent basketball and willingness to even show effort, would be downright embarrassing. As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to take the risk that the Spurs could pick as low is sixth if it means they finish above Houston in the standings.
This current franchise-low 14-game losing streak has established that the Spurs pretty much have guaranteed themselves a bottom 4 record and a 14% chance at Victor Wembanyama (and if not, Scoot Henderson is about that best consolation prize you could ask for), so fans should be okay if their favorite team does win a few more games down the stretch.
Figuring Out the Best Rotation
Due to injuries, trades, and mid-season free-agent signings, the Spurs haven’t really had a chance to discover their best rotation, and as a result, players haven’t found consistency within their roles. This is something the Spurs should figure out in their final 23 games of the year.
This is their current best rotation (when fully healthy) in my opinion:
PG: Tre Jones
SG: Devin Vassell
SF: Keldon Johnson
PF: Jeremy Sochan
C: Zach Collins
This is pretty much the starting lineup Coach Pop had gone with when everyone has been available, with the substitution of Colliins for the now-traded Jakob Poeltl. This starting five gives the Spurs a bit of everything: playmaking, shooting, defensive versatility, cutters and the ability to spread the floor. I would expect Pop to play this five when Devin is back and off his inevitable minutes' restriction.
PG: Devonte’ Graham
SG: Malaki Branham - Blake Wesley
SF: Romeo Langford - Keita Bates Diop - Julian Champagnie
PF: Doug McDermott - Isaiah Roby - Dominick Barlow
C: Charles Bassey - Khem Birch - Gorgui Dieng
The odd man out would be Blake Wesley as he wouldn’t be able to crack the ten-man rotation and get consistent rotation minutes. Fortunately, the likelihood is not all ten guys in front of him would be available for each of the 23 final games, and this would still allow Blake to get enough minutes to continue his development.
Showing Defensive Improvement
I watch each and every Gregg Popovich pre and post-game press conference, and for the first time this season after their most recent loss to the Hornets, he got into his players about the lack of defensive improvement this year. For much of the season, Pop has praised his side's effort and ability to keep fighting each game no matter how out-talented they are.
But after a loss and frankly a poor performance on both ends of the court to another bottom dweller like the Hornets, Pop had enough, and was very clear about his disappointment with his young squad, even saying that the excuse of youth is wearing thin. He challenged his guys to come back from the All-Star break and show better intensity on the defensive end. So I, for one, am excited to see how the guys respond to his feedback, because it’s times like these when you really learn about a young squad and the fight they have.
Answers to the Future
This sprint to the end of the season will give us the answers to a few questions we still have about next year. Like, do they give Tre Jones and Romeo Langford new deals, and if so what do those contracts look like? Do they trade veterans like Devonte’ Graham and Doug McDermott in the summer for more draft assets (if that’s possible) or keep them to complement the young squad? Can Zach Collins be the starting center for years to come? What are the ceilings of the three rookies? Are Devin and Keldon core pieces on a championship team, or just role players on a winning team? There is so much left to answer, and I can’t wait to see it all play out.
This last one is simple. I’m just excited to continue to watch them play ball, play free, play with each other and continue to show growth as individuals and as a team.
So what about you? Are you looking forward to the final 23 games or are you just ready for the off-season to begin?