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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Timberwolves

Seeing development in real time.

Minnesota Timberwolves v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs started this season with a 5-27 record. That stretch was filled with experiments, learning how to play with a generational prospect and plenty of growing pains. Since turning over the calendar to 2024, the Spurs are 5-9. Still under .500, but playing much better basketball than they did to start the season.

That all came to a head in the Silver and Black’s most impressive win of the season against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Spurs didn’t let up over the course of the game despite going down 13 points in the third quarter. They rode the scoring efforts of their young core to a clutch 113-112 win over one of the Western Conference’s best.

In the game you saw Devin Vassell take control for stretches. He would get to the basket for aggressive finishes, hit pull-up jumpers in the mid-range and knock down threes when they were needed. Jeremy Sochan played with confidence, using some improved touch to hit turnarounds in the paint. Victor Wembanyama made clutch plays on the defensive end, and continues to show the world his seemingly endless bag of offensive tricks. Even former G League regulars like Blake Wesley and Dominick Barlow made major plays in the fourth quarter.

This season is about how the core develops around Wembanyama, and trying to figure out what the future holds for the Spurs. Games like this one against Minnesota show a couple of things: How much the overall team has improved since the previous two losses to the T-Wolves and who will respond when the pressure is on late in the game. It’s highly encouraging to see a young team step up, especially when it’s led by the guys you’ve invested so much into, like Vassell, Wemby and Sochan. Now they have the chance to build upon this improvement for the last 38 games.

Takeaways:

  • Tre Jones has changed the way this team plays. There is no disputing it at this point. When Jones and Wembanyama start together the Spurs are 4-5. Wembanyama averages 24.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and shoots 51/35/84 percent shooting splits. Jones was excellent running the offense on Saturday. The point guard finished with 12 points and 11 assists. The inverted pick and roll with Wembanyama handling and Jones screening is one of the most interesting wrinkles in the Spurs offense. It puts two of their best playmakers in an action that still throws the defense off guard. That duo has a net rating of 8, the highest Spurs two-man lineup that has played more than 500 minutes together.
  • Oddly enough Julian Champagnie got the defensive assignment on Karl Anthony-Towns, while Sochan guarded Anthony Edwards. Even through he’s smaller than the Wolves big man, he did a good job keeping him at bay. KAT only had 19 points and 5 rebounds on 9-16 shooting. Not many of those buckets came against Champagnie. The second-year wing’s defense is improving and his shooting still hovers just under 40%. He flies under-the-radar on most night, but Champagnie is really coming into his own as a 3&D wing.
  • It’s hard not to be impressed with Sochan’s play lately. Gregg Popovich praised his ability to play off instinct. That comes with confidence. You can see it in his body language and the look on his face – Sochan is playing with joy again. He’s in a role that suits him, and is playing quite well in it. The stretch in the fourth quarter where he scored on four possessions in a row were a sign of that development. He was able to get to the basket because the Wolves had to respect his jump shot from deep. He still needs to get better at navigating screens on the defensive end. Edwards’ three to tie it would have been contested harder had Sochan fought over the top. There are always improvements to be made, but Spurs fans should be stoked about the second-year-man’s development.
  • Doug McDermott has been the bench unit’s saving grace at times this season. Having someone who can come off the pine and get hot from three is a huge boost to the Spurs offense. In a night where the bench was, once again, not at it’s best, Dougie McBuckets came in and gave them a boost. I would imagine the veteran shooter will have some value at the trade deadline. Losing him would be a tough pill to swallow for the team as currently constructed, but could net them assets to help this team when they are ready to contend in the future.