The 2022-2023 season has come to an end for the San Antonio Spurs, and they achieved what they set out to do at the beginning of the year:
Lose plenty of games.
It’s no fun watching your team lose 60 times a year, but the torture of tanking has gifted the Spurs a top-3 chance at the prized French prospect Victor Wembanyama. Mustering only 22 wins had them tied for both last place in the western conference as well as the second-worst record in the NBA with the Houston Rockets. This marks the fourth straight season the Spurs will miss out on the playoffs and finish with a losing record.
The Spurs were not predicted to make many waves this season. Most, if not all, preseason outlooks, including our own written by Rob Korensky, had the Spurs as a high lottery team and entering a full-scale rebuild.
They started with very few high-level players on purpose. Prior to the regular season, ESPN ranked their top 100 players in the NBA, and the Spurs had no players listed. Homegrown players like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, 9th overall pick Jeremy Sochan, and veteran center Jakob Poeltl were the primary talent for the Spurs coming into the year. And some, like Poeltl and swingman Josh Richardson, were auditioning for new teams. Yet, the Spurs bottomed out in spectacular fashion. Applying their usual dynastic attention to detail on the court in losing games proved worthy this season.
Offensive Grade: D
Grading on a curve with the added context that they were trying not to be good, the Spurs still are likely the worst offensive team in the NBA. They ranked 23rd in points per game with 113 per game, with bottom-five shooting percentages. Analytically, they faired far worse. The Spurs were 29th in the NBA in offensive rating. Indicative of that is the Spurs had only one player, Johnson, averaging over 20 points per game.
The best thing about the Spurs’ offense was that it was fast. They actually led the league in pace rating this season. That playing style suits them because of their youth and athleticism on the wings. However, it has its limits. They were hindered by inconsistent outside shooting.
The Spurs sent away all of their guard depth in trades last season. Filling their roles were supposed to be former lottery pick Joshua Primo, Duke University product Tre Jones, and rookie Malaki Branham. Primo was released early due to allegations of workplace misconduct. That put an already depleted backcourt in more uncertainty. Although Jones and Branham showed flashes this season, neither is projected to be more than role players long-term.
While the goal was to tank, it’s still sad that San Antonio lost key players in Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV within a year. Similarly, San Antonio dealt Poeltl at the trade deadline along with Richardson in separate trades. The Spurs had to constantly figure out or reinvent themselves offensively by integrating new players into the lineup. There was no continuity.
Defensive Grade: F
Much of what was said about the Spurs’ offense can be applied to their defense. A league-worst 120.0 defensive rating paired with a lack of size and on-ball defenders made the Spurs a welcome sight for any opponent. Young teams are inherently a step behind defensively, but the Spurs took that to a new level. That defensive rating referenced earlier is the highest defensive rating of all time, according to data on Statmuse. In fact, looking at their game logs, the Spurs allowed over 120 points 49 times this season. Forty-nine times!
All of this is tempered with the fact that, once again, they tried to lose. But this sets a new precedent for it.
The only individual defender that exhibited some promise is rookie Jeremy Sochan. Sochan turned on his offense in the second half of the season, but his defense was there from the start. At six-foot-seven inches tall and equipped with a stretchable wingspan, the Baylor University alum has the size to match his counterparts. Like any rookie, the game’s speed still challenges, but it will be fun to see if Sochan can develop his defense into something the likes of Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges.
Overall Grade: C+
It feels very counterintuitive to spend two sections bashing a team, writing about how bad they are, and then deciding that the outcome was pretty positive, but welcome to the NBA. Tanking is an approved practice in many ways, and the Spurs did their absolute best to follow the formula laid out before them.
The prize for tanking this season is a predicted generational talent reminiscent of Lebron James. Therefore the risk looks better this season.
The Spurs could have better prepared for a potential lottery pick to be placed on their roster next year. This team will probably be in the bottom half of the league next year, regardless of who they draft. They will definitely need more pieces to become a competitive team. Their journey to that point is cloudy right now. That’s not to mention the possibility of their coach and freshly named Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich retiring. What sort of void will that leave?
Hope and uncertainty are a tough pair of qualities to manage, and for a once prosperous franchise to get back to competing, they need to make all the right decisions.
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