For the San Antonio Spurs, it has been just another week of basketball. The outcomes — losses in Atlanta and Boston — were not unexpected and more than anything were about Victor Wembanyama and the insane show he’s been putting on in limited minutes. The Spurs’ next two games are tonight against the Hornets (without Wemby) and tomorrow against the Wizards (with Wemby), presenting a decent opportunity for a second consecutive two-win week. Nothing wrong there.
However, if you dig a little deeper into the world of national and social media, this has been a crazy week. While losing in Atlanta isn’t unusual, it was a wild game that just so happened to be nationally televised. After a horrid first half, Pop benched most of his starters, including Wemby, to start the second half, and after returning, he turned things up to 11 for all 26 of his points, nearly leading them back from a 35-point deficit with 18 minutes left in the game while putting on quite the show in the process.
This got talking heads going again, with takes on all ends of the spectrum, from good to bad, sending Spurs Twitter into a tail spin. As a result, I thought we’d take a look at some of the hotter teaks from a more level-headed perspective.
The Rookie of the Year race is now about...winning?
It’s been a while since the Rookie of the Year race has been this heated, and despite the 2023 class being considered loaded and top-heavy, the race is actually between Wemby and a player who wasn’t even a part of that class: Chet Holmgren, who missed all of last season with a foot injury so is a rookie by default. While Wemby is superior in just about every statistical category outside of shooting percentage, Holmgren has also been very good, plus he has the added benefit of being on a winning Thunder team surrounded by superior talent, which has generally made him look better and possibly aided in him winning first two Rookie of the Month awards.
As a result, many are already defaulting to Chet as the Rookie of the Year since he’s contributing to a winning team, including Mr. Hot Take himself, Lou Williams.
Lou Will says Wemby needs to carry the Spurs to more wins to be considered ROTY— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) January 18, 2024
"If [Victor Wembanyama] wants to win Rookie of the Year, he has to win. He's the best player, he's gonna have to carry them."
(Via @RunItBackFDTV ) pic.twitter.com/zIC0N85bud
The problem with this argument is unlike MVP, winning isn’t what ROY is about, in large part because the top rookies rarely land in winning situations. It’s about who is the best first-year player in the league, full stop, and even with limited minutes, it’s nearly impossible to claim that isn’t Wemby at this point. He’s already the MVP of his team as a rookie, while Chet is arguably the third option next to an MVP candidate in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and possibly the most efficient scorer in the league in Jalen Williams. Whether the voters see it that way in a few months remains to be seen, but regardless, this is only contributing to the Wemby/Chet rivalry that doesn’t really exist on the court but is raging on social media.
The Spurs need to speed up the rebuild around Wemby
This has been a debate all season, but in this specific case it comes from me listening to NBA radio while I was driving home from work yesterday. Justin Termine and Ryan McDonough (who was filling in for Eddie Johnson) basically repeated what many have been thinking. Why haven’t the Spurs immediately capitalized on winning the lottery and getting Wemby? Why are they still tanking? Why didn’t they use their cap space to sign positions of need or add more leadership? What took so long to start a point guard to help get Wemby the ball, and why is Tre Jones (most likely a backup on a winning team) the only one on the entire roster?
Granted, to those who are not as invested in the Spurs and don’t see the long view, it’s easy to wonder what the heck they’re doing. Gregg Popovich has bared the brunt of this criticism, especially for the Jeremy Sochan experiment, which may have had some long-term positives on his development but overall was a failure, especially to outsiders who saw the goal as being to truly make Sochan a PG. (And who knows? Maybe it was.)
My feelings fall in middle of all these arguments: I get what they’re doing but don’t have to always agree with it. I respect the developmental phase and rebuild, but I agree the Spurs can’t dilly dally too long and waste any more seasons after lucking into such a multi-generational talent. They need to decide which players are part of the future, move the ones that aren’t, shore up their depth with veterans, and find a star (or potential star) point guard to pair with Wemby, whether it’s through the draft, a trade or free agency. (They’ve been tied to Dejounte Murray, and some feel Trae Young is expressing interest, so that’s a start.)
Owner Peter J Holt seems to agree to an extent, as he recently told the French press that while they don’t believe there’s a deadline for success and will keep building the right way, they will find a balance between development and results. “We don’t want a roller coaster between victories and defeats. We want to build a superpower, [an] ultra-competitive [team] that lasts for a long time.”
Hopefully the roller coaster ride ends soon, whether it’s because the current squad suddenly discovers its full potential or the right roster moves are made. Fans’ patience is already wearing thin, but more importantly, they can’t let Wemby reach that point, and he might if next season is a repeat of this one.
More Tim Duncan comparisons
I’m not even going to argue this stuff or justify it with a response other than to say, just stop already. It’s crazy how how people have already forgotten how truly dominant Tim Duncan was. He already to an extent was a victim of flash over substance in his playing days, and even more so today with the game becoming more offensive-oriented and everyone shooting threes. (The first one also completely ignores that Wemby exists — more fodder for that fake rivalry.)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the first guard in NBA history to average 30+ points on 55%+ shooting.— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) January 19, 2024
Chet Holmgren is the best defensive rookie since Tim Duncan.
Jalen Williams hasn't missed a shot since Thanksgiving.
And they're the second youngest team in the NBA.