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Week in Review: Spurs’ improved play starts translating to wins

All we want is hope, and the Spurs are starting to provide it.

Charlotte Hornets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images

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 11: Spurs kick off 2024 with an encouraging but winless week.

Week 12: 2-1 (7-31, 15th in West) — 130-108 W @ Detroit Pistons; 135-99 W vs. Charlotte Hornets; 116-122 L vs. Chicago Bulls

Just a few weeks ago, it was feeling like this season was the lowest of lows for the Spurs franchise, with the only thing keeping fans sane being the promise of a bright future centered around Victor Wembanyama. But in the meantime, the Spurs couldn’t be counted on for anything on the court. Experimental lineups weren’t working, the growing pains for Wemby and his teammates were extremely visible, and it was almost a guaranteed that they would collapse at some point after halftime, making it hard to enjoy games no matter how far ahead they got in the first half.

That all started to change recently, perhaps not coincidently when Tre Jones was finally handed the starting point guard position. That, combined with Wemby’s move to center, seemed to unlock the offense. He has cut back on threes that are not within the flow of the offense, his teammates have started focusing on finding him in the post, pick-and-roll and lobs, and his gravitational pull has unlocked everything for everyone else. The improved play showed in tight losses against the Bucks and Cavs, but then, it finally all came together for a couple of wins last week.

Sure, it helped that the opponents were the Pistons (the only team with a worse record than the Spurs) and Hornets (who got LaMelo Ball back but have still been struggling mightily), but let’s not pretend the Spurs would have been guaranteed to win those games earlier in the season. Both squads were helpless to stop Wemby, and his teammates hit their own shots while not allowing any collapses while he was off the floor during his (increasingly frustrating) minutes restrictions. Also, perhaps as a sign their confidence is growing, the Spurs are more active on defense. It’s far from perfect on that end — teams are still getting too many open looks for my liking — but it’s good to see a more consistent effort across 48 minutes.

Even in their one loss of the week against Chicago with Wemby sitting on a SEGABABA, it was still different than previous losses. While it felt like they could have easily folded with the letdown of not having their star out there, Tre Jones scored a career high 30-points while keeping the team afloat in the first half, Keldon Johnson had an amazing second half to help the Spurs rally all the way back from an 18-point deficit in a matter minutes, and they almost pulled off the win before running out of gas late. Barring a miracle, it’s probably too late to turn this entire season around and make any kind of postseason run, but a this point, all fans want his to see improvement and hope for the future, and at least across the last five games, the Spurs have provided it.

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — 27 (last week: 29)

OffRtg: 109.0 (27) DefRtg: 118.0 (25) NetRtg: -8.9 (26) Pace: 102.6 (3)

Your best argument for the West being much better than the East might be that the Spurs (0-11 vs. the East before Wednesday) beat the Pistons and Hornets by a combined 58 points last week. Those were, easily, their two most dominant wins of the season.

Three takeaways

1. With the two wins and a narrow loss to the Bulls on Saturday (along with some ugly results from the other four teams in the bottom five), the Spurs have climbed from 30th to 26th in point differential per 100 possessions. They rank 10th in January because all six of their games have been wins by more than 20 points (two) or single-digit losses (four).

2. The last five games have, easily, been their best stretch of offense this season (122.4 points scored per 100 possessions). Seven Spurs have averaged double-figures over that stretch, led by Victor Wembanyama (23.3 points over the four games he’s played). He’s been a little more consistent from beyond the arc (making at least two 3s in six of his last seven games) and also finishing better in the paint (67.2% over that same stretch).

3. Tre Jones has started the last five games, and he scored a career-high 30 points in the Spurs’ loss on Saturday. They still don’t have a lineup that’s played more than 88 minutes, but their new starting lineup has outscored opponents by 32 points in its 48. The context, of course, is that’s a plus-23 in 21 minutes against the Pistons and Hornets last week and a plus-9 in 27 minutes otherwise.

Wembanyama sat out the Chicago loss and has now missed the second game of each of the Spurs’ last three back-to-backs. They’ll have another one Friday and Saturday (at Charlotte and Washington), Games 3 and 4 of a five-game trip that begins Monday afternoon in Atlanta.

Brett Siegel, Clutch Points — 26 (last week: 28)

We said it a few weeks ago and it remains true right now. The San Antonio Spurs are better than their record says they are. Victor Wembanyama has looked like a legit All-Star in recent weeks while Spurs improve every single night.

“This is the fifth game in a row where they played like this and played well enough to win a game,” Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs’ loss on Saturday against the Bulls. “Starting with Milwaukee and Cleveland, the two wins [and] tonight. They’re showing more consistency.”

The Spurs are only going to get better as the season goes on, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them rise in the NBA Power Rankings by the end of the season.

Coming up: Mon. 1/15 @ Atlanta Hawks; Wed. 1/17 @ Boston Celtics; Fri. 1/19 @ Charlotte Hornets; Sat. 1/20 vs. Washington Wizards

Prediction: 2-2 — It’s time for the road trip ahead of the homestand ahead of the Rodeo Road Trip. It’s hard not to let the current level of optimism overtake everything, but I expect the Spurs to keep riding the momentum to a couple more wins this week. Wednesday in Boston more than likely won’t be one of those games, but any of the other three present good opportunities against struggling Eastern Conference teams. (Although you can already book no Wemby in Washington — not that that game still won’t be winnable.)