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Revisiting Spurs preseason questions 50 games later

Is Wemby who we thought he would be? Will returning players improve?

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

Before the start of this season, I asked and answered ten questions about the upcoming 2023-2024 Spurs season. With the All-Star game and the trade deadline approaching, it seemed like a good time to revisit those questions and answers. I will list the questions, give a quick summary of the answers I gave in October, and see how those answers have held up at the 50 game point of the season:

1. How much will Victor Wembanyama play?

My October prediction: Assuming he remains relatively healthy for his rookie season, I expect Victor to play about 30 minutes per game and play in about 70 games.

Today: Pretty good prediction, because I dropped in the “relatively healthy” assumption. While Victor’s rolled ankle led to a minutes restriction for about a month, he has averaged about 30 minutes per game after the medical staff removed that restriction. He is now at 28.6 minutes per game for the season and has played in 44 of the 50 games.

2. How good will he be this season?

My October prediction: The only part of his game that has been disappointing so far has been defensive rebounding — but if he plays 30 minutes a game, he can probably get 8-10 boards just from being long with good hands. So how about 18 points, 9 boards, 3 assists and 3 blocks?

Today: I have told anyone who has asked this Victor has been better than we hoped. The numbers show that my relatively optimistic October prediction was not optimistic enough. Even though he is playing less than 30 minutes per game, he is averaging 20.4 points, 10.3 boards, 3.2 assists and is leading the league with 3.1 blocks per game: remarkable stats for a rookie who only recently turned 20. Yes, better than we hoped and also better than I predicted.

3. Will he be a media sensation?

My October prediction: We already know this answer: Yes.

Today: While the players and coaches in the league have been unanimous in praising young Victor, I feel like the media may be underrating him. I suppose that comes with the team’s disappointing record.

4. How will Keldon Johnson react to being the third option?

My October prediction: Johnson may not even start some nights. I believe he is driven enough to use Vassell’s ascendance as a good thing and an incentive for Johnson to continue to improve himself.

Today: I am giving myself partial credit for predicting that Keldon “may not start some nights” — he has settled nicely into a sixth man role. Like sixth man savant Manu Ginobili, Keldon does not start even if one of the normal starters is out. He should not complain about not starting — and he doesn’t — as he is a close second on the team in minutes per game to Devin Vassell, 31.6 to 30.4. And during those 30.4 minutes, Keldon plays hard. The answer to my question: Keldon Johnson has reacted very well to being the third option.

5. Can Tre Jones become a viable threat from three?

My October prediction: Last season, Jones shot under 29% from three — that shrinks the floor and does not stretch it. I would be more confident about Tre Jones becoming a viable threat from three if Chip Engelland was still with the Spurs and not in OKC.

Today: Tre is making 28.4% of his threes, no better than the previous season. Despite that, the team is simply much better when he is on the floor than off it. An article at mysanantonio.com summed it up well:

“It’s remarkable just how much a good distributor on the floor and a little reshuffling of the deck has done for the team and Wembanyama. Lineups featuring Jones at the point and Wembanyama at center have a +8.1 differential ranking in the 87th percentile.”

6. Can the Spurs improve their defense?

My October prediction: Easiest question of all of them. The Spurs were 30th out of the 30 NBA teams last season. I suppose the real question is how much the Spurs can improve their defense.

Today: Well, the Spurs defense is better, both because of Victor and a more stable rotation, but it’s not as good as we would have hoped after adding a potential Defensive Player of the Year finalist. With a defensive rating of 117.8, the Spurs are tied with the Mavericks at 23rd. Better than 30th, but far behind the league-best Timberwolves at 108.6. This year, the Hornets are in the 30th and last spot with a 121.4 rating.

7. Will the Spurs veterans still be on the team after the trade deadline?

My October prediction: A contender looking for a shooter may cast their eyes, and future draft picks, towards San Antonio for Doug McDermott. He can still shoot the ball, and his movement off the ball is exquisite.

Now: With a few days left before the February 8 trade deadline, the Spurs have yet to trade any of their vets. A recent Ringer article did not list a single Spur on the top 40 possible trade targets. Pounding the Rock’s own Jeje Gomez agrees with my pre-season take on the most likely Spur to wake up with a new team, saying this about McBuckets and his expiring contract: “It will likely take one — or at most two — second-rounders to pry him away from San Antonio, so he’s a good, cheap option for teams that need spacing and forward depth.”

8. How will the Toronto Raptors do this season?

My October prediction: The Spurs have the Raptors’ top-6 protected first round pick next year as part of the Jacob Poeltl trade. As a result, the Spurs want the Raptors to be moderately bad this season, but not one of the six worst teams in the NBA. A pick around 9th or 10th would be just fine.

Now: The Spurs would be thrilled if the Raptors finished 9th or 10th, but that ship has sailed. The Raptors have the 6th worst record at the moment and have traded away two of their best players. If the Raptors remain in that spot, the Spurs will need some more lottery luck — a team at 7th or worse leap-frogging the Raptors on lottery night. That would push the Raptors’ pick to 7th and therefore to the Spurs. Two lucky years in a row for the Spurs? Sure, let’s do it.

9. Can Jeremy Sochan improve his offensive game?

My October prediction: He will be a very good player for years to come and could be a valuable member of a contending team if he improves his offense. I bet he will.

Now: Sochan’s offensive game has improved. While his two-point percentage is essentially the same as his rookie year, his three-point percentage has increased from 25% to 35% (on more attempts) and his free throw percentage has increased from just under 70% to 77% — better than I could do shooting one-handed. While his points per game has not materially increased, he has had several games where he has shown the potential to become a valuable offensive player in addition to his defensive prowess. And people forget that at only 20 years old and not turning 21 until May, Jeremy is barely older than Victor Wembanyama.

10. Will this be a fascinating season for the Spurs?

My October prediction was one word: Yup.

Now: If forced to give a similar one-word response to describe this season this far, these are some candidates: Tantalizing, disappointing, encouraging, infuriating, exciting — and yes, fascinating. And every once in while, Victor Wembanyama will swallow up an opponent's shot, control the ball, lead the break himself and drop a dime to Tre, Keldon, Devin or Jeremy — amazing.