clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What we learned from the Spurs win over the Wizards

A lesson in patience.

San Antonio Spurs v Washington Wizards Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

It’s been a whirlwind of a month for the San Antonio Spurs. They started the new year playing some of their best basketball. Tre Jones’ injection into the starting lineup had breathed new life into the squad. Then they embarked on an east coast road trip that has been uneven at best.

On Saturday night, the Silver and Black picked up their first win on the road trip, snapping a four-game losing streak with a 131-127 win over the Washington Wizards. It wasn’t a pretty game by any measure. On the second game of a back to back, the Spurs were sloppy and played modest defense at best. The Wizards were equally as porous defensively and careless with the basketball, leading to an up and down game that looked like it belonged at the YMCA, more than the Capital One Arena.

Yet in that ugly games, signs of development for the young Spurs were evident. With seven minutes to go the Wizards were soaring after a Corey Kispert dunk. It looked like once again San Antonio would give up a winnable game, failing to execute in the clutch. But they didn’t do that. They made the right plays and defended when it mattered the most.

Jeremy Sochan knocked down clutch jumpers (a sentence I don’t think anyone expected to read this season.) Devin Vassell made plays for others when defensive pressure was directed towards him, tossing four assists in the final six minutes. Victor Wembanyama hit big time deep shots and protected the rim, blocking shots that no one else in the league could reach. Jones pushed the pace when it was needed, then got the offense settled down the stretch. The players that you want to see come up big when it’s needed the most did just that on Saturday.

It’s another reminder that the Spurs are still developing. Sure the Wizards aren’t world beaters, but these are the kinds of pesky teams that good teams need to beat. Seeing progress in games like this is what this season is all about. For San Antonio it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Small improvements add up to big change down the line. There were plenty of improvements on display in D.C.

Takeaways:

  • Another lesson in patience is the case of Blake Wesley. Last season the rookie guard looked lost on an NBA floor. He played too fast, turned the ball over and was inefficient at the rim. With a year of professional experience under his belt, Wesley has the looks of a real NBA player. This season he’s tossed 39 assists with just 8 turnovers and is shooting 65.5% at the rim. On Saturday he was crucial to keeping the Spurs in the game, especially with his play in the late second quarter. He’s become a strong point of attack defender and doesn’t shoot the offense in the foot with careless play. Sometimes guys just need reps, time and confidence. Wesley seems to have all of those right now, and deserves the increased role he’s seeing.
  • Wesley’s success has come at the expense of Malaki Branham. As Wesley’s minutes have increased, Branham’s have decreased. He’s played in just 12 minutes over the last two games, and logged only four on Saturday. Branham has struggled this season. He’s a liability defensively and doesn’t provide enough scoring punch to make up for that. After establishing himself as a solid scorer in his rookie season, teams have responded by getting physical with him and not letting him get to his dribble pull-up. We see sophomore slumps all of the time. Teams start to get a scout on a player, and try to minimize their strengths. It’s on the player to figure out a way to counter those strategies. Just like it took Wesley time to improve, Branham needs time to figure out how to respond. Whether that’s in San Antonio or Austin is up to the coaching staff. I’m not ready to give up on him just yet.
  • San Antonio has been running a lot of great stuff to get Wembanyama the ball in advantageous positions. The lobs are going to stick out, and he’s creating a lot of those with the help of his teammates. What’s been more impressive is the Spurs use of flex screens, running Wembanyama off curl cuts and utilizing him more in the high pick-and-roll. Gregg Popovich has been running some great offense to get the big man involved. There is a lot less freelancing going on, and more structure to get him open looks. That has been a huge part of the rookie’s recent success.
  • Congratulations to the younger Jones brother on finally beating Tyus Jones in an NBA game. Jones once again nearly had a triple double with 11 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds. Jones is a good NBA point guard. It’s great that people are starting to see this.
  • Jeremy Sochan has been playing extremely well lately. He’s also having a lot of fun on the court. Maybe too much fun...