After being blown out by two of the best teams in the league, the Spurs had a golden opportunity to get their ninth win of the season against the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers. They did what they could and handily beat their fellow bottom dwellers. They’re now one win away from finally getting out of the single digits in the wins column. Sooner or later, the Spurs will achieve that, but it won’t be much more than cosmetics. It doesn’t matter much in season one of the Wemby age, though. What matters more than wins is that their guys continue to show improvement. Some did last night against the Trail Blazers, others showed their limitations.
- Before I launch into praise for Sochan (the Man) and Wemby (the Victor), some words on the Trail Blazers: How on earth does that team have a better record than the Spurs? It’s gotta have something to do with Malcolm Borgdon not playing at all and Jerami Grant only playing ten minutes. Other than those two, I saw one and a half NBA starters last night. The half-guy is DeAndre Ayton, and here’s why: A guy his size with his build is made to terrorize a team like the current San Antonio Spurs in the paint. Ayton should be an “and one” machine. He didn’t even go to the line once. His mid-ranger is fine, remarkably fine, but that shouldn’t be more than the secondary way of scoring for a muscle-packed 7-footer. Other than a guy I would like to mention later, the Trail Blazers were an utter shambles on offense. The Spurs quite simply had to win this game. And they did so while going 10 out of 34 from deep, also thanks to out-rebounding their opponent and earning plenty of free-throws.
- Sochan, the Man: Okay, maybe he wouldn’t have had a 31-point/14-rebound game against more serious opposition, but some things about his game have been noticeable, and were magnified last night, all January. Don’t you get the feeling that whenever he’s taking an open three there’s a pretty good chance it’s going in? In January, he’s been a 40-percent three-point shooter from 3.8 attempts per game. That’s quite a respectable number. And I must admit that, despite his great development over his rookie season, I didn’t see that coming so quickly. Then again, the guy has an awful lot of cheek and doesn’t appear to have any nerves whatsoever. I continue to be glad the Spurs drafted him with the number nine pick two years ago.
- Wemby, the Victor: We’re getting used to his monster blocks, but one thing I can’t get enough of is Victor becoming more efficient as a scorer. Overall, he didn’t have his most efficient outing last night, but two things were highly encouraging. One, he’s getting to the line more and more – and his percentage from the charity stripe keeps going up. In the most recent three games, he earned himself 26 trips to the free-throw line, missing only three of them. He was a perfect six from six last night. Additionally, he made three of his seven attempts from deep. Yes, he took some mid-rangers that weren’t good shots, but that’s just something he has to cut back on.
- When Keldon’s hot shooting from the 2021-22 season carried over into the early stages of the next, it looked like the Spurs had themselves another dead-eye. Unfortunately, his long-distance shooting percentages have been looking more like his shooting motion and the arc of his shot suggest. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in four games, which is a pity, but I tend to be fine with it. I like him in the role of a guy who comes of the bench and does what he does best: apply rim pressure and get to the line.
- The point guard situation of the Spurs has seen some improvement of late, but it’s still a position the Spurs have to get more scoring punch out of in the future. Tre Jones had a nice, efficient game, but it’s hard to imagine him as anything other than a backup point guard on a seriously contending team – and that’s nothing to be frowned upon for a guy who was picked at number 41, quite the opposite, actually. Blake Wesley continues to impress with his foot speed that translates to him staying in front of opposing ball handlers. His offensive contribution, after scoring twelve against OKC, left a lot to be desired on Friday. The same old problem was apparent against the Trail Blazers: He’s getting to the rim with ease, but it’s difficult for him to score around the rim.
- Some words on the Trail Blazer I said I was going to mention earlier: How great would it be to have a player like Anfernee Simons in San Antonio? The Spurs are lacking in the shooting department – and Simmons is certainly among the league’s elite when it comes to scoring from beyond the arc. His step-acks look super silky and the precision of his shot is nothing short of amazing. He would open up an awful lot for the players that have the skills of the Spurs’ current core. That said, Simons is an easy target on defense, and I’m sure he would be attacked to no end in the playoffs. Still, the Spurs could do with a shooter like him.