Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!
March Madness is a term associated with college basketball and the NCAA Tournament (and it most certainly has been mad this year, for those who have been following), but this week, it could also be extended to the Spurs. One of worst three-point shooting teams in the league which averages 11 makes on 31 attempts (34.8%) suddenly shot lights out for four straight games, hitting 71-155, a jump of about 8 attempts per game and good for 45.8% shooting. After only hitting 20 threes three other times in franchise history, they did it twice this week, including a franchise record 22 in a blowout victory over the Orlando Magic — and that may have been the most “normal” game of the week.
Next was the Dallas Mavericks missing both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving while in much more need of the win than their opponent. For three-and-half quarters, it just an ugly game between two shorthanded teams, but then chaos ensued in the final minutes. After the Spurs blew a late nine-point lead and found themselves down by three with 45 seconds left ... well, it’s just easier to watch what happened than type it all out again. The Spurs still lost in overtime, but that final minute of regulation was pure Madness.
Then it was the Ja Morant-less (but still fearsome) Grizzlies’ turn to take on what has become a wildcard of a Spurs team. The Spurs were clicking on all cylinders and appeared on their way to another surprising victory, but then they completely fell apart after building a 29-point lead (proof that truly no lead is safe with this team), and they ended up losing in overtime for the second consecutive game.
So what could be more Mad than that? How about doing the complete reverse the very next game, and against an old teammate, no less. Dejounte Murray and Hawks came to town and seemed in control, taking a 24-point lead just seconds into the third quarter. But then, it was the Spurs’ turn to make a miraculous comeback, getting all the way back within a point in the same quarter before eventually gaining the lead for good and even stretching it out to double figures in the fourth. This time they didn’t take their foot off the gas, and just like that they became the first team in NBA history to complete a comeback of 20+ points just one game after blowing a lead of 25+ points. (Because of course. Why else would anyone ever do that?) Madness.
The Spurs remain pretty much where they have been the last couple of weeks: still with a two-game cushion behind the 27th seed Hornets but winning just enough that they probably won’t get back down to 30th. But they’re still in tight competition with the Rockets for 29th, so there’s that.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 28 (last week: 29)
OffRtg: 109.9 (29) DefRtg: 119.1 (30) NetRtg: -9.2 (30) Pace: 101.7 (4)
The two teams involved in last summer’s Dejounte Murray trade have both been much worse offensively (when you take the league average into account) than they were last season. San Antonio has fallen harder, scoring 2.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than it did in 2021-22, with only the Hornets having seen a bigger drop-off. While this will be the Spurs’ fourth straight season out of the playoffs, it will be its first season in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency since the year before they drafted Tim Duncan (1996-97).
The Spurs are one of two teams — the Warriors are the other — that rank in the bottom 10 in three of the four factors on offense. They’re 25th in the most important of those (effective field goal percentage), and in the bottom seven in 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) for the eighth straight season. They also rank in the bottom five in both free throw rate and turnover rate, having seen the league’s biggest jump in the latter. (They were second in turnover rate last season.)
Health (and non-injury-related absences) have been a bit of an issue. The Spurs’ three returning (and remaining) core players — Tre Jones, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson — have played just 439 total minutes together. But the Spurs have only scored 108.0 points per 100 possessions when the trio has been in the game, a mark that ranks 397th among 426 three-man combinations with at least 400 minutes of floor time. And now, their most intriguing offensive player may be rookie Jeremy Sochan, who’s averaged 17.4 points per game since the All-Star break (with 29 in a win over Orlando on Tuesday) up from 10 ppg before the break. That’s the ninth-biggest jump among 345 players who’ve played at least five games since the break.
The Spurs would have to be really bad offensively over the next three weeks to finish last on both ends of the floor, but they’re playing seven of their next eight games on the road (where they’re 1-19 since late December) and three of their next four against top-10 defenses.
Zach Harper, The Athletic — 28 (last week: 28)
Team clutch: (9-17) | -17.7 net rating (ranked 30th)
Only the Spurs have played fewer than 30 clutch games this season, and San Antonio has little chance of getting to 30. This has been by design.
The Spurs are the worst clutch team in the league, and most nights they’re in the running for worst team in the league, period. But they’ve had a little surge lately, making them a lot more watchable.
Mr. Reliable: Keldon Johnson | 41.9 FG | 25.0
3FG 70.6 FT | 22.8 points per 36 | 5.4 rebounds per 36 1.8 assists per 36 3.1 turnovers per 36
Johnson is probably the only guy who should get the ball in clutch situations this season. He can create his own shot, and he has the confidence of an Olympic gold medal winner. The Spurs have just been here to develop and lose this season, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
Mr. Unreliable: Jeremy Sochan | 33.3 FG | 25.0
3FG 100.0 FT 9.7 points per 36 2.2 rebounds per 36 3.0 assists per 36 0.7 turnovers per 36
Sochan is one of a few rookies who made it into this space this week, and I recognize it’s not totally fair. It’s hard to play at the NBA speed, even for successful rookies, and adding the pressure of the clutch emphasizes that even more. But he’s been really bad in the clutch for making shots. The good news is he takes care of the ball in his opportunities and he moves it too.
Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports — 27 (last week: 28)
The Spurs decided they were sick of being a doormat this week, with victories over the Magic and Hawks and narrow defeats at the hands of the Mavs and Grizzlies. Players were in and out of the lineup, but Devin Vassell averaged 19.5 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting in the two wins.
Prediction: 1-3 — I was right about the Spurs going 2-2 at home last week and even which games they would win, but per usual it’s just surprising how they got there. This week features a tougher schedule: entirely on the road and against teams either fighting for their postseason lives (NOLA and Washington) or having already clinched a playoff berth but are jockeying for seeding at the top of the East (Bucks and Celtics). I say the Spurs lose the latter two but steal one either from the Pelicans or Wizards.