The San Antonio Spurs are able to properly tank for the first time since the beginning of the Tim Duncan era. Will they do it? It’s hard to imagine Gregg Popovich’s team openly giving up, but the ability to draft Victor Wembanyama, a 7’2″ talent many see as a generational prospect, could be at stake. Either way, the Spurs don’t seem like a very good team. This season will be about development and another lottery win – maybe a lottery choice — in 2023.
- Key losses: Dejont Murray (traded to Atlanta), Lonnie Walker (free agency) Jock Landale (traded to Atlanta)
- Key additions: Jeremy Sochan (9th overall pick), Malachi Branham (20th overall pick), Blake Wesley (25th overall pick), Isaiah Robie (decided), Gorgy Dieng (free agency)
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|Three Jones||watch over||22|
Top of the Key: Keldon Johnson and Devin Wassell
With the release of DeMar DeRozan and the trade of Dejonte Murray for consecutive summers, the Spurs have officially committed to building a youth movement. We’ll get to the rookies shortly, but first let’s see what the Spurs actually have in Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, two non-rookies that the Spurs are most looking to develop as this rebuild takes hold. form.
Johnson established himself as a minor option; ace in catching and shooting/cutting who can move into pick and roll. But what can it do with those numbers that cause a significant spike in usage?
Financially, San Antonio appeared to be ahead of what it believes will be a strong season for Johnson, who he signed to a four-year, $80 million rookie deal this summer. If he builds on a youth campaign in which he scored over 17 points, six rebounds and two assists per game on 40 percent three-point shooting—something in the 20-22 range with similar performance—that contract would look like like a deal and the Spurs will know they have a real foundation to move forward with.
Is he more than just a 3D guy to Vassel? He wants to be one, but 80 percent of his buckets last season were assists. This season he should get more opportunities for creativity. He has spoken about his belief in the value of mid-range performance, and indeed, last season he hit 43% of balls from 14-24 feet, according to Cleaning the Glass. In my opinion, this is where Wassell can grow: using the increased threat of his three-point shot (36 percent last season) to put the ball on the floor and get to his midpoints. We saw DeAndre Hunter make that leap in Season 2. Vassel has already begun the process.
Even if Vassel, who is likely to move into a full-time starting role this season, just further solidifies himself as a 3D weapon by adding a few more drops of self-creation – Mikal Bridges type, if you will – he will go a long way towards Spurs’ advancement. ” given its defensive versatility and overall potential.
The Spurs had a great 2022 draft. Everyone is raving about Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio’s 2022 top pick in the 2022 first round (9th overall), but don’t fall asleep on Malachi Branham and Blake Wesley, the latter of whom could compete for the starting point guard spot with Tre Jones. .
Physically, Sochan is very similar to Obi Toppin, a college graduate: 6-9 years old, and he is extremely athletic when running on the floor and finishing around the ring. What is Sochan’s offensive advantage? Can he develop a jumper? These are key questions, because protection becomes elite over time. A scout once told me that lateral movement is one of the hardest things to learn in a player; You either have it or you don’t, but Sochan has it. It’s a guy come to life, like a tutorial video, sliding his feet around the perimeter. This is an invaluable skill in today’s era of big-man changeovers. Combine that with Sochan’s elite length and athleticism as a blocker and defender that stays connected to the hip penetrators and it gets pretty impressive pretty quickly.
Meanwhile, Branham is right in my alley. Many writers these days love to explore the nuances of different skill sets and end up appreciating the little things more. From time to time I can be dissatisfied with this kind of assessments, but mostly I like big things. For example, throw the ball into the basket. It’s not hard to imagine Branham as Chris Middleton. Not very explosive, he creates his own jumper with footwork and a handle that can be easily combined with each other. He can spot, pull up, catch movement and shoot, and his back-to-basket work for clean disappearances is silky smooth. Having studied this guy a lot in the past week, he has become one of my most intriguing newcomers to watch.
That’s what this season means for the Spurs. Can Johnson and Wassell make their next moves, and are these well-known newcomers worthy of optimism?
And one more thing: will the Pop tank accept?
On Monday, Popovich cracked the following joke: “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’ll say it anyway… what the hell, no one here should go to Vegas with the thought of betting that we’ll win the championship.”
With that one obvious joke, Popovic more or less set the tone for a Spurs season that won’t be judged by wins and losses. Well, actually you can judge by the losses. But not victory. There will be very, very few of them. There is a real chance that San Antonio will end up with the worst record in the league, and again, this is largely by design. That’s why Derrick White was sent to Boston last February and Dejount Murray was sent to Atlanta this summer. No more DeRozan or Rudy Gay. All of these guys have been sent elsewhere so the guys mentioned above can get what amounts to a proper test as the organization quietly targeted Victor Wembanyama at the top of the 2023 draft.
All things considered, is Pop the right fit for this approach? The man is determined to win. My guess is that the Spurs are playing straight most of the season and just won’t be good enough for it to matter. They will be in line to win less than 20 games, and over the course of the season you will likely see at least Keldon Johnson missing many games, allowing Pop to coach with the honest intention of getting the most bang for his buck. from the guys on the playground. Keep this in mind if you’re thinking about getting Johnson into your fantasy league; he can be a classic guy with big numbers and a bad team if you can counter the DNP at the end of the season.
- November 4: Kawhi Leonard returns to San Antonio with the Clippers
- March 19: Dejonte Murray returns to San Antonio with Hawks