With Victor Wembanyama out last night in the first game of a back-to-back, the Spurs had a rough outing against the equally woeful Charlotte Hornets. But as much of a bummer as that was in the midst of a season woefully short on wins, the youngest team in the NBA cannot afford any lingering looks in the rear view mirror.
Currently working their way through one of the weakest stretches in the their schedule, this is the Silver and Black’s best opportunity to stack up some wins (should they be so inclined) and build on the foundation of improvement that Tre Jones’ insertion into the starting unit has fostered.
Thankfully, their next opponent is one of the most directionless teams in the league.
With only seven wins so far, the Washington Wizards have spent most of the season in the company of the Spurs, sporting a bottom four record that would be good for dead last in the Eastern Conference if not for the historically hapless Detroit Pistons.
Still, the Wizards have been good at avoiding double-digit losing streaks, unlike the Spurs and Pistons, largely due to an offense that has them positioned 15th in scoring this season.
The good news is that while the Wizards are in fact better at putting the ball into the basket, they’re still pretty bad at doing so efficiently, ranking 25th in Offensive Rating. They’ve also been in a bit of a slump on that end, ranking 23rd in scoring over the last 10 games, and 24th in True Shooting % (down from 19th).
Defensively, the Wizards offer no real obstacle for any team, sitting at 29th in Defensive Rating for the season, and just one spot above the Spurs in Net Rating, at 26th.
Still, the Spurs have been a different team on both ends since Jones was inserted into the starting unit, playing their way to 19th in Offensive Rating (up from 28th) and 11th in Defensive Rating (up from 24th) over their last 10 games, to the tune of a Net Rating of 19th (up from 27th) in that time.
And if you narrow that sample-size to their last six games, San Antonio’s Defensive Rating climbs to 5th(!), and their Net Rating to 9th.
Yes. the 2nd unit has some issues to sort out in Jones’ absence. And yes, the long-distance shooting still deserves the occasional sign of the cross. But it appears that the Spurs have in fact been improving, and continue to improve as the season goes on.
The question for this game is: will it be enough?
San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards
January 20th, 2024 | 6:00 CT
Watch: Bally (Soon to be renamed) Sports Southwest|Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Charles Bassey - Out (Knee)
Wizards Injuries: Daniel Gafford - Questionable (Concussion)
What to watch for:
Branham vs. Wesley
With Jones now spending most of his minutes playing with the bench, there’s been a contest slowly developing between one-time-starter Malaki Branham and 2nd year Blake Wesley. Wesley has shown flashes of dazzling speed in the past, but was sent down to Austin to work on making better decisions, and has returned from Austin looking much more in control of his game than in the past. Branham, on the other hand, has seen his minutes steadily decrease since being removed from the starting unit. Branham has seen his shooting drop off, and his efficiency decline steadily as the season has progressed, finding him near the bottom in most defensive and efficiency metrics for players getting 20+ minutes per game of playing time. Meanwhile, Wesley’s status as a more physically gifted (and defensively superior) player has earned him more time, leading to a near even minutes split over the last couple of games. It’s possible this is something that will continue over the season, but if Wesley continues to find an edge it’s possible he’ll be running point for the 2nd unit by the end of the year.
Eyeing Potential Trade Targets
As trade season closes in, rumors are already beginning to swirl, and the Spurs have found the franchise name drifting into a number of hypothetical conversations, a significant change from the Duncan era front-office years. But the Spurs have been fairly active (by their standards) over the past several deadlines, and as such it’s much less surprising to see them mentioned in those rumors, especially with the point-guard position continuing to be a relative void. The Wizards have also been mentioned more than a few times, with most believing that they look to be sellers at the deadline. Chief amongst the players mentioned have been forward Kyle Kuzma and point-guard Tyus Jones. Whether or not the Spurs end up taking steps to improve their scoring, or reuinite a pair of brothers, this contest should serve as a showcase for both players for Spurs fans who haven’t had the energy and/or inclination to watch the games of another losing team, much less one they have no real passion for.
For the Wizards’ fans’ perspective, visit Bullets Forever.
PtR’s Game thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.