The San Antonio Spurs were a historically bad defensive team last season. They had the highest defensive rating in franchise history (120.0) and gave up 123 points per game.
There were plenty of reasons for their porous defense. One that sticks out is the inability to make impact plays on the defensive end. There was little-to-no aggression on that end of the floor, with San Antonio finishing 26th in blocks (3.9) and 22nd in steals (7.0.) Strong defenses are typically good at turning the other team over, and protecting the basket.
Defense will be a point of emphasis for the Spurs next season. Gregg Popovich was adamant on the defense improving late last season. Solid defensive rotations and increased pressure at the point off attack are more important than leading the league in steals and blocks. However, having impact players on that end of the floor who can swing the game in your favor with highlight plays can improve a defense.
Here are three players who could lead the team in those types of plays next season.
The number-one overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft has the most potential to be a high impact defensive player next year. At 7-foot-3 and with an 8-foot wingspan, Wembanyama has the physical tools to disrupt opposing offenses.
We saw the impact he can have altering opponents shots in summer league. He can block shots on the perimeter and erase them at the rim. It would not be surprising to see Wembanyama average over two blocks a game next year. Jaren Jackson Jr., the defensive player of the year, averaged three a game.
His length will lead to deflections and a few steals as well. I wouldn’t expect Wembanyama to swipe the ball away from too many guards, but in the passing lanes and around the basket, he could rack up a large number of steals over the course of the year. Wembanayma has DPOY potential down the line. Expect him to be a core part of the Spurs defensive effort next year.
It seems like the NBA world is ablaze with excitement about Vassell. Spurs fans have been raving about a breakout season coming in 2023-24, and ESPN writer/basketball nerd Zach Lowe recently sung the praises of the Spurs wing. A lot of that attention has turned to his offensive ability, but he could be impactful on defense as well.
Vassell was second on the team in steals per game (1.1) last season. If he hadn’t been out for half of the season with a knee injury, he might have led the team in takeaways. His length is so disruptive, whether it’s tipping passes, or getting a hand onto balls that most players can’t. He has good instincts reading the passing lanes that should only improve as he become more comfortable in an NBA defense. You won’t see Vassell rip too many ball-handlers, but off the ball he should be a disruptor.
Every team needs an irritant. For San Antonio, that was Tre Jones last season. He hounds ball-handlers at the point of attack, and is quick enough to guard opposing point guards full court. That effort on the defensive end paid dividends for the third year guard last season.
Jones led the team is steals (1.3) and steal percentage (2.1%) last season. That latter number is quite high (the highest of all time is 4.12%.) Jones has cemented himself as the best point of attack defender on the Spurs. He’ll likely create more turnovers with his pressure than make a huge impact off of the ball. If he’s the full time starting guard, Jones has a chance to build on his performance last season and establish himself as one of the better defensive guards in the NBA.
Who will lead the Spurs in blocks/steals this season?
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