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What We Learned From the Spurs Loss to the Mavericks

Simple game. Simple Math.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In the age of analytics, sports can become a confusing game of percentages, odds and acronyms. What the heck is VORP, RAPTOR and... LeBron?? Seriously? We are naming stats after players now?

Look, analytics can be a helpful tool, and have advanced the quality of the game so much. But sometimes, simple equations can be the key to breaking down the game. For example... 2 > 1. That’s right. Two is greater than one.

For the Dallas Mavericks, two superstars are better than one (or in the case of the Spurs, none.) Luka Doncic is a generational talent as a scorer and playmaker. He’s strong as an ox and plays the game at the pace of a snail. His touch is unbelievable, and he does things with the basketball that only the greats can. So yes, despite his off of the court troubles, Kyrie Irving was a worthwhile gamble for them.

Tonight was a great example of why two is greater than one. When Luka wasn’t cooking San Antonio, it was Kyrie. Luka could literally throw the ball to his new teammate, sit back, and watch him blow by, or put his defender in the blender. Is it fun basketball to watch? No. Is it effective? Yes. Stagger the two of their minutes, and you always have an elite scorer on the floor. Add that and the league’s worst defense... and the result is an 140+ night.

In the Spurs case, 2 promising 19-year-old rookies is better than 1. Jeremy Sochan has looked every bit worthy of a lottery selection and has Spurs’ fans rightfully excited about his future with the team. But man, Malaki Branham is special. Sure, he has his frustrating moments where he tries to fit a pass into a rapidly disappearing target, and he can’t guard his own shadow. BUT, the kid just makes things happen with the ball in his hands, and it’s so refreshing to see on a team where not many players can create their own shot. He’s leading all rookies in scoring this month with 18.6 ppg.

Sean Elliott mentioned on the broadcast that when Branham is set and under control, his shot is beautiful. It’s true. When he’s not rushing into his looks, the Ohio State product’s shot is up there with some of the leagues best. And guess what? He’s only going to get better, especially with all of the reps he’s been getting late in the season. It’s hard enough to hit on one pick in a draft, but it looks like the Spurs might have hit on at least two. They might not be Luka and Kyrie, but those two are going to be fun for San Antonio fans to watch for many years to come.


  • So much for Pop harping on the defense, huh? The Spurs are a historically bad defensive team, but tonight was downright ugly. Miscommunications on screens, not getting back in transition, allowing skip passes to wide open men in the corner. Giving up 140 points in a game is unforgivable. Coach is right, this can’t be blamed on youth anymore. At some point, these guys have to take pride on that end of the floor, even when you are facing off against one of the better offensive teams in the league. Will getting 3 good defenders in Jones, Sochan and Vassell back help them? Certainly. But in the interim, the young guys on the roster have to step up on defense, or this 15-game losing streak could balloon even larger.
  • Blake Wesley had a 3rd quarter stretch that shows you why he is so intriguing as a prospect. His speed and nose for the ball make him an explosive player in spurts. That pass off of Luka for the score, and then the steal right after was one heck of a sequence. Pop seemed fired up about him too, immediately challenging Tim Hardaway Jr.’s charge on the rookie, and then getting T’d up arguing that Wesley was fouled. It seems like the old coach has some fondness for the young guard. Wesley only had 9 points tonight, but he was the only Spurs player to finish with a positive +/- (+1.)
  • Popovich is going with the young guys. Other than a quick sub of Doug McDermott to give Branham a talking to, before immediately subbing him back in, Dominick Barlow was the first man off of the bench. Wesley and Bassey both played around 20 minutes off of the bench as well. Of course, the Silver and Black were short handed tonight, but as they race to the bottom, it might behoove them to get an extended look at these guys in meaningful NBA minutes. It may reveal things you didn’t know, like Charles Bassey showing off his jump shot!