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What We Learned from the Spurs Loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Don’t worry, the tank is still on

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs season has been a lot like an Oscars broadcast. One really high moment followed by an hour of insufferable slop before the next memorable highlight. Some stars that you wished were there the whole time only show up for brief cameos.

The loss to the Thunder was one of those lows of watching a rebuilding team. Coming off of the win against Denver, we saw what this squad can look like at full strength. They are a big, long team with a lot of playmakers and can compete on the defensive side of the ball enough to stay in games. It’s not a team that can contend, but it’s fun to watch.

But the NBA isn’t about having fun (sorry), it’s about winning championships, and to do that you need superstars. Hence the 17-50 record, and the sitting of promising players that make watching this team so fun. We all know that fact at this point, but sometimes I have to keep telling myself that when I watch a performance like this one. Boy, was it ugly.

From the jump, the Spurs had no one to initiate offense without Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones and Jeremy Sochan on the floor. Malaki Branham couldn’t find his rhythm in his 6 minutes of play before leaving with a shoulder injury, which hopefully isn’t serious. Those absences meant the Spurs were going to have to formulate offense without four of their best playmakers. The result speak for themselves. They went 33 of 88 from the field and 10 of 36 from three, turning the ball over 19 times in one of the most disorganized games of NBA basketball I’ve ever seen.

The ball found itself in the hands of Devonte’ Graham and Zach Collins. Collins had one of his best games of the season, putting up 23 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. The offense really only looked fluid when it was running through his hands. He was a joy to watch in the high post, showing an impressive 2-man game with Doug McDermott. The confidence to hit step back 3 pointers is what you’d like to see from Collins all of the time. If there were any bright spots from the short-staffed Spurs, one of them was certainly him.

Graham on the other hand is a rollercoaster of a player. His 2-3 elite offensive possessions will be followed by 4-5 erratic shots that make no sense in the flow of the offense. You can literally tell by the way he moves up the floor after seeing a few shots go in, that the next time he touches it he’s shooting. It worked out for him against OKC, with 20 points on 8-16 shooting. But I am not going to say that I enjoy watching it!

Look, really what we’ve learned is that this team is NOT going to lose it’s bottom-three spot. You sit key contributors in a winnable game if you are trying to lose. They are locked into the Wemby sweepstakes, and they should be. But it’s not always pretty when you are attempting to tank your way to the top. Every once in awhile, you are going to have to sit through a 2 hour mess. But hey, at least it’s not 4 hours like the Oscars, right?


  • Zach Collins is going to get his guaranteed money. Since taking over the starting job he’s putting up 12.5 points a game, and 7.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He’s a perfect fit with this team as a passing big man who can use his speed inside, and when his shot is falling, you get nights like tonight. With a lot of cap to work with in the offseason, I would be surprised to see him not get the full 7.7 million he’s owed next season. Even if he’s not the starter, his on and off of the court presence will be important for future iterations of this squad.
  • With Branham going down in this game, I hope they give him some time to rest up. He hasn’t looked the same over the last handful of games, and his shot has seemed to change a bit too. He doesn’t look as smooth in the mid range and from deep. If the shoulder is really bothering him, it’s important to get that sured up. It also gives more opportunities for Blake Wesley, whose work ethic has become an often mentioned topic. He looked rushed in his return from Austin. After appearing like he was starting to figure it out before getting assigned. Maybe a consistent role down the stretch will see him return to form.
  • The veterans on this team have been playing well. McDermott and Bates-Diop have played key roles since the all-star break and look like they could contribute on competitive NBA squads. KBD is slated to be a free agent this summer, and I’m fascinated to see what the market will be for him. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he’s the type of lengthy wing that makes a difference in the playoffs. McDermott has another year on his deal, and while the team desperately needs a three-point specialist like him at times, it would be intriguing to see what a franchise in need of some shooting might offer for his services.
  • It’s always fun to see a Popovich technical. The Spurs had a really weird stretch in the 4th where they were getting a lot of contact inside with no foul calls. Collins was mauled under the rim with no whistle, which set Pop off. On the broadcast there were clearly some front row audience members with their phones out, so for any of them who might be reading, post the footage? I would love to hear the conversation.