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The Spurs don’t need to trade for a point guard, for now

After growing pains and failed experiments, the Spurs are finding an identity. Should they be patient with what they have now or look for upgrades? The PtR staff discusses.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs seem done with point guard experiments and are giving minutes to Tre Jones and Blake Wesley. Is that a good enough duo or do they need an upgrade before the deadline?

Marilyn Dubinski: I’m thrilled Jones is finally starting and remained baffled that he wasn’t to start the season. Ideally, they will find another point guard down the road whose ceiling is a tier or two up from him (but I would want him to stay aboard as a glorified backup), but I don’t feel like they have to go for broke and find that new starter at the trade deadline unless a dream offer comes along. He and Wesley are fine for the remainder of the season, but I don’t see Wesley or Branham (if he ever returns to Pop’s good graces) as full time point guards, so the Spurs will need to start looking at upgrading the position this offseason.

Mark Barrington: I am super excited about watching these guys play out the season, and I would be a little sad if they added a free agent that took playing time from them. I don’t believe either one of them is a starter for a contending team, but the best for this rebuilding year is probably to develop the young players the Spurs already have on the roster and see whether they can be part of the long-term strategy for the team. I really love watching Blake’s frenetic yet disciplined defense, and if he improves his shot making, he’s going to be a really good part of the team’s future. The best way for him to develop is to get minutes on the court. Tre Jones is really good, but if the Spurs find an upgrade, he could go to the bench. I just hope it isn’t this season.

Jesus Gomez: It’s good enough for now. The Spurs are not one upgrade from being a play-in hopeful at this point. They just need to continue establishing an identity that makes sense, and Jones is good enough to do that. They didn’t need a veteran point guard last offseason and they don’t need one now. Wesley also brings a lot of intensity on defense to the second unit which makes up for his lack of vision, for now. Ride out the season and make moves next summer.

Bill Huan: Since Jones and Wesley have only started playing consistent minutes recently, I think it’s unfair to acquire a player who might usurp them without giving the current Spurs duo more runs. It’s pretty clear that neither will become high-caliber starters on a contending team, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given minutes now to see what types of players they can ultimately become. If the Spurs do trade for another guard, I’ll seriously start to question whether Pop caught Jones stealing from his lunchbox or something.

Malaki Branham and Dominick Barlow were in the same class. Branham was a first-rounder and Barlow went undrafted. Who do you think will turn out to be the better player?

Dubinski: Branham arguably still has the higher ceiling, but Barlow is showing more rapid growth, and it’s hard to ignore the recency bias. That being said, the question may be more about who sticks around as to who will be the better player. It may turn out that Barlow’s position and skill set end up being more needed because Branham has more competition at his position and will likely gain even more if the Spurs go for guards in this year’s draft. If it gets to the point that both are midrange shooters on offense but Barlow provides more energy, hustle and defense, he could win out.

Barrington: Malaki has gone from starter to DNP lately with the emergence of Blake Wesley at point, but I still believe in him as a player. His skill set isn’t really suited to be a point guard, he’s more like a young DeMar DeRozan type, a shooting guard who’s really good with the ball in his hands but isn’t a great distributor. When he plays more at his natural position, he’ll be back in the rotation. He really needs to work on his shot in the off-season, and if he gets back to a solid three-point percentage, he’ll have a long career in the NBA.

I’m really impressed with Dominick, who really makes the most of his skills and plays with a lot of energy. His problem is that he’s undersized, and I think that will eventually make it hard for him to find his way into the rotation once the Spurs add more bigs to the roster. He could be a lot like Drew Eubanks, who has bounced around the league a bit, but is always an asset wherever he goes.

I think the ceiling for Branham is higher, but Barlow is more of a sure thing for now. If Branham can keep improving his game, he could be a very good player. I think that Barlow is somebody you want to have on your team, but he’s not a core player on a contender.

Gomez: I still think Branham has more potential. The big issue with Branham is that he doesn’t seem to always play hard, which is a concern experts had about him coming out of college. But it’s possible that being asked to play point guard affected him. He could still be a good bench scorer who needs to be hidden on defense but can carry a unit on offense if he develops as a pick-and-roll passer.

Barlow has progressed a lot and it’s impossible not to root for him, considering how much energy he always brings to the table, but he’s an undersized center with good but not elite athleticism and a developing jumper. There are too many players like him floating around the NBA and overseas. He’s still young, so he might make a leap, but until that happens, Branham seems like a safer bet.

Huan: At this point, I’d still lean Branham. I know that he’s been racking up a lot of DNPs recently, but he’s still played over twice the number of NBA games as Barlow has (108 vs 49). The latter has been more impressive lately but it’s important to not let recency bias cloud our judgement. There’s a reason Branham was a first-round pick, and he’s still got more long-term potential than Barlow.

What do you think their record would be if the Spurs had started the season with their current starting lineup and rotation?

Dubinski: I think they’d still be a meh team on the outside of the postseason looking in, but they’d be a tier above Detroit, Washington and Charlotte instead of down with them. They still would have had plenty of growing pains and getting used to Wemby to go through, along with one of the toughest schedules in the first half of the season. Still, I think maybe they blow fewer double-digit leads, so I’ll give them 5-7 more wins, which would place them above Portland but behind Memphis and Golden State in the West (which, painfully, is still 14th).

Barrington: It’s a question that’s impossible to answer. My guess is that the Spurs would probably have a few more wins, but Jeremy Sochan would not be as versatile and valuable as he is now. The season outlook would probably be about the same, but the long-term outlook would be much worse as the team would have missed key opportunities to develop player skills during a rebuilding year in which wins weren’t important.

Gomez: The starting lineup has a great net rating, but I don’t think the difference in the Spurs’ record would have been huge because Wemby would have needed time to adapt and Pop would have probably let the team play for around 20 minutes before taking a more active role in shaping it. Maybe five or six more wins, which would still have them as one of the worst teams in the league. I do think they would have looked a lot better than they did and I feel like it would have set them up to have a stronger second half of the season. But I’m fine with Pop, intentionally or not, making sure the Spurs get a high pick this year since tanking for another season made sense.

Huan: I know the Spurs have played much better with their current lineup, but this team is still really bad. If they had the same percentage as last year, San Antonio would be 13-34 instead of 10-37. Given how good Wemby’s been, I’d say a realistic but conservative record would be 15-32.