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The state of the Spurs at mid-season

The Spurs have been among the worst teams in the league, but may have just turned a corner. Will their improved play lead to more wins?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

We just passed the halfway mark of the season. If you could describe the Spurs so far in a word, which would you use?

Marilyn Dubinski: Although things have been better the last couple of weeks, over all the main word to describe this season so far would still be disappointing. I know there have been a lot of growing pains with the team getting used to Victor Wembanyama and vice versa, but to reiterate what Jesus, J.R. and I discussed a while back, I just never imagined the team would get worse before they got better. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around (especially once Wemby’s minutes restrictions are lifted), but the first half of the season probably hasn’t been what anyone envisioned.

Mark Barrington: Is there a word that somehow encapsulates frustration combined with euphoria? I’m so overjoyed about the future of this team, but the feeling is tempered by the almost daily experience of watching them fail to execute basic basketball plays. There’s so much future potential, so few results now. It’s like a baby drooling all over itself and spitting up milk, and you wonder if it’ll ever be able to do anything, and before you know it, that little helpless creature is learning calculus. It’s those years in between that make your hair gray. But we really don’t have to go that far with a metaphor, since several players on the Spurs are literally gawky teenagers who still learning how to play the game.

Jesus Gomez: “Frustrating” probably fits best. The losses are not fun, but they are acceptable and arguably even desirable this year. The bigger issue was the lack of direction and the unnecessary experimentation that deprived the team of an identity. Both the Point Sochan and then the Point Branham experiments seemed unwise and so was running so much of the offense through Zach Collins when he was the starter. Those problems, combined with the understandable inconsistency of a young team, made a lot of games frustrating to watch, especially earlier in the season. Now that Wemby is at center, Jones starts at point guard and everyone seems to be in the position they suit best, it’s more fun to watch the young core learn on the job.

J.R. Wilco: I’m going to go with “long-suffering” — first in its obvious meaning for what this half-season has meant for fans, and for its synonym of “patience” for what I see as the main driver in the organization’s decision-making. The Sochan Experiment showed Pop’s long-suffering approach to Jeremy’s development, and required our long-suffering as we watched the league’s top draft pick get increasingly frustrated while being practically ignored instead of scoring easy baskets. The same can be said for: Wemby’s first 20 games at power forward, Pop not calling plays so the team could “figure it out themselves,” and Tre Jones’ inexplicable (and unexplained) absence from the starting lineup. In all of these things, the team showed patience and the fans suffered long ... even if it the experimentation wasn’t even half a season long, and even though a synonym of patience is passivity.

The Spurs won seven of their first 41 games. Will they win more in the second half of the season? What record do you think they’ll have at the end?

Dubinski: I believe they will be better. Wemby has been so good in limited minutes lately and should be able to play normal minutes again soon, which will be a big boost, plus the team has been much better since Gregg Popovich finally decided to start Tre Jones. It will still be an uphill battle on most nights, and the team needs to figure out how to win tight games (they’d lost their last 14 games under that scenario before the win in Washington), but I’d like to think they can still get it together enough to reach 20 wins.

Barrington: The Spurs are a whole lot better than they were at the start of the season, they’ve moved from the realm of unbelievably bad to merely awful. The problem with their win/loss record is that there aren’t a whole lot of worse teams than them in the league. I still think the improvement in play will net them some additional wins, but probably not a lot more. My prediction for total wins is somewhere in the 17-20 win range, barring major injury.

Gomez: They should win more. Wembanyama is playing like a star since moving to center, Jones is providing a steadying presence on offense, Sochan is finally finding some stability and Keldon Johnson is providing some much-needed bench scoring. I’m not expecting them to suddenly rattle off a six-game win streak or anything like that, but they are probably better than the other bottom-dwellers and they have the talent to catch some better teams off guard. Getting 20-22 wins sounds doable.

Wilco: It might be tough to double their first-half wins and end at 21, but I’ll give them even odds at making it. When I think of all of the games they were in reach in the 4th quarter when Wemby had to sit because of his minutes restriction, I think maybe it’ll be possible for them to match or surpass last year’s win total of 22. Regardless of the final record, we’re talking about a much more optimistic half-season, due to the way the team is playing and the visible improvement that’s been increasingly obvious to see.

Who are your front-runners for the major league awards (MVP, DPOY, ROY, COY, 6MOY) at this point of the season?

Dubinski: Joel Embiid should be a favorite for MVP if he can meet the 65-game threshold. I’m sure Nikola Jokic will be up there per usual, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jayson Tatum are underdogs to keep an eye on. DPOY I haven’t paid too much attention to, but Rudy Gobert has really rebounded (as in returned to his old self) this season, and of course it’s hard to ignore Wemby from a statistical standpoint if the Spurs can continue to turn around their defense as they have recently done (not that he’ll win it). ROY should be Wemby, but Chet Holmgren will get some votes. For coach, I would go with the Thunder’s Mark Daigneault because of their huge improvement, and 6MOY I’ll give to Jordan Clarkson.

Barrington: I think the MVP race is probably between Embiid and Giannis, but I really think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander deserves consideration, because he’s making the Thunder into a Western Conference powerhouse. The DPOY is probably going to be Gobert, but Wembanyama should get noticed, because he completely changes the game whenever he’s on the court. It will come as no surprise that I think the Rookie of the Year has to be Wembanyama. Chet Holmgren is having a fine season for the Thunder, but he’s just a complementary player for his team, while Victor is the main threat for his team, and has better stats. Coach of the Year is a toss-up for me between Daigneault of the Thunder and Finch of the Timberwolves. Mazzula has a strong case for the job he’s done with the Celtics, because they are much more mentally tough than in past seasons. The sixth man of the year will probably be Austin Reaves, although I think he’s a bit overrated. Being on the Lakers always helps a player win awards. My sentimental favorite is Bobby Portis of the Bucks, who brings a toughness to the game that’s beyond his basketball skills.

Gomez: MVP is tricky because Jokic is clearly the best player in the league, but Joel Embiid is having the better season, so I’ll go with him. Defensive Player of the Year has to go to Gobert, considering the Timberwolves have the best defense in the league by a mile and he’s at the center of it all. Chet Holgrem is great but Wemby is the Rookie of the Year, as much as that upsets some people, for some reason. I’d give Coach of the Year to Rick Carlisle, who has shaped the Pacers into a better team than I’d thought they’d be, but it’s probably going to come down to Chris Finch and Mark Daigneault and between them, I’d go with Finch. For 6MOY, I’ll go with Clarkson if he gets traded to a good team, but right now I’m picking Malik Monk, who is having a strong season off the bench for the Kings.

Wilco: For anyone who doesn’t remember my stance on these awards, here’s the TLDR: it’s an award given by the media, which means it’s all about the narrative. That said ... Since Embiid won MVP last year when it should have been Jokic, why not give this year’s to Jokic when it should be Embiid’s? DPOY can be Gobert’s, but if ROY goes to Chet, then console Wemby with the DPOY! Will Hardy is my choice for COY. The Thunder’s improvement has been tremendous, but they have SGA and Hardy has done so much with far less. The 6MOY could go to any of the current frontrunners and I’d be happy.