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Week in Review: Injuries mar the end of a rough 2023 for the Spurs

The Spurs got a win, but with Wemby on minutes restrictions and Collins out for the near future, their front court depth will be tested.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

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!

Week 9: Two games without Victor Wembanyama, plus the worst game of his career when he did play, added up to a pretty lousy, winless week.

Week 10: 1-3 (5-27, 15th in West) — 118-130 L vs. Utah Jazz; 118-105 W @ Portland Trail Blazers; 128-134 L @ Portland Trail Blazers; 101-134 L vs. Boston Celtics

Something finally clicked last week that made Gregg Popovich decide he’d seen enough. After two months of “experimentation”, playing players out of position, and generally trying to make them work out their own struggles on the court, maybe he was done seeing double-digit leads blown (especially at home), or maybe he’d seen enough of his players’ inability to find their open 7’4” star rookie, but Pop announced after Tuesday’s loss to the Jazz that he was going to start demanding consistency holding players accountable. It was a welcome revelation from fans who are used to the HOF fame coach’s more hardnosed side.

They responded in their next game — the first of a back-to-back miniseries against a similarly struggling Trail Blazers team — by making a noted effort to find Wemby early and often. The result was an early 26-point lead that they held onto the rest of the way, even after Portland made a push to make it a single-digit game, all while Wemby put up a historic rookie stat line of 30/6/6/7, only ever matched by a rookie David Robinson, and also the first teenager to do it and the first player to ever do it in under 25 minutes.

Unfortunately, the Spurs weren’t able to duplicate that success the next night without Wemby (who, according to Pop, will remain on a minutes restriction and not playing in back-to-backs until his ankle is re-imaged in a couple of weeks), and they would later lose Zach Collins to what was reported as a light ankle sprain. (If there was any luck, they dodged a bullet after Tre Jones also turned his ankle but returned.) Still after a listless first 30 minutes, they made an admirable comeback attempt from 28 down to within five thanks to Devin Vassell and newly-minted sixth man Keldon Johnson, but it was too late.

After a relatively tame stretch of schedule, the Spurs returned home to the find the league-leading Boston Celtics waiting for them. Already down Collins (for 2-4 weeks) and now Keldon Johnson, who has taken some hard spills lately and was a late scratch with back spasms, they really stood no chance against a group that has been together for several years and is vying for its first championship. The Spurs fought hard but were unsurprisingly outmatched, although Wemby at least won the Alien vs. Unicorn battle with Kristaps Porzingis.

It was a rough end to a rough 2023, and while it didn’t bring the basketball we wanted to see, it did bring the dream player. While 2024 will likely remain difficult before it gets better, here’s top hoping it also brings an eventual turning points, where it all starts coming together. Happy New Years, Pounders!

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — 29 (last week: 29)

OffRtg: 107.3 (29) DefRtg: 119.0 (25) NetRtg: -11.7 (30) Pace: 103.0 (3)

The Spurs got their first win against one of the other teams in the league’s bottom 10 team, splitting a back-to-back in Portland last week. They’ve still won just two of their last 27 games.

Three takeaways

1. Victor Wembanyama had one of his best games of the season in the win over the Blazers, scoring 30 points (on 9-for-14 from the field and 10-for-10 from the line), dishing out six assists (with just one turnover) and blocking seven shots. Over his first two games last week, the Jazz and Blazers were 7-for-29 (24%) on shots he defended. Portland’s 19-for-54 (35%) shooting in the paint on Thursday was the third-worst shooting game in the paint for any team this season.

2. Those two games came after a four-day break, with the rookie having missed the Spurs’ last game before Christmas. After playing in their first 18 games, Wembanyama has missed four of the last 14, including the second game of each of their last two back-to-backs. (They’ll have three back-to-backs in January.)

3. In those same two games, the Spurs had 69 assists on 85 field goals. For the season, they’ve recorded assists on 70.1% of their buckets, which would be the highest rate for any team in the last seven seasons.

The Spurs have one of the league’s easiest January schedules regarding cumulative opponent winning percentage, though their first opponent is now much better than its record would indicate, and the Spurs already lost to the Grizzlies in what was Memphis’ best offensive game of the season without Ja Morant.

Brett Siegel, Clutch Points — 29 (last week: 28)

Victor Wembanyama is 19 years old and having some sensational performances. However, a recent freak injury has the Spurs being extra cautious about Wemby’s health. It looks like he might not play back-to-backs moving forward for a while.

Outside of Wemby, there is not much to like about Gregg Popovich’s squad. In their last game of 2023, they lost by 33 points at home to Boston.

The Spurs have five wins this season. By the end of January, they may add one or two wins to this total. Many didn’t think it was possible, but the Spurs have actually become a worse team over the course of their multi-year rebuild.

Coming up: Tues. 1/2 @ Memphis Grizzles; Thurs. 1/4 vs. Milwaukee Bucks; Sun. 1/7 @ Cleveland Cavaliers

Prediction: 1-2 — I would like to think the Spurs will be revenge-minded when they head to Memphis, as the Grizzlies probably handed them their most pathetic loss of the season (blowing a 19-point lead at home against a team missing seven rotation players), but Ja Morant is back. (Although they have lost their last three after winning their first four following his return). Then we will hopefully get that coveted Wemby vs. Giannis matchup that was missing a couple of weeks ago, followed by the Cavs, who seem beatable but are quietly having a solid season.