On Friday, March 19th, the San Antonio Spurs were riding high at 22-16 after getting their third straight road win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just one week later, they’re suddenly spiraling into a potential fifth straight loss after playing two of their worst games of the season.
There’s not much going right for the Spurs right now, as they tallied an embarrassing 30 second-half points against a skeleton crew version of the LA Clippers on Thursday. Now, San Antonio is in danger of falling to the bottom rung of play-in tournament seeds before they know it.
Going into their game against the new-look Chicago Bulls, the Spurs now sit at 22-20 and can finish the night anywhere from 7th through 9th depending on if they can take care of business. Nikola Vucevic, who scored 26 in San Antonio earlier this month, is expected to make his Bulls debut in the contest.
After having been a dominant home team for decades, the Spurs suddenly haven’t been able to rely on any semblance of homecourt advantage this season, with their current three-game home skid now putting their home record at 10-13. So, what exactly is going on? I took to Twitter and my own confused brain to ask and answer some common burning questions.
Next: No. 1
1. What is wrong with the San Antonio Spurs?
This is a loaded question in that there are several answers. Fortunately, they’re all addressable if the players and coaching staff are able to make some changes. I’ll start with the most problematic one: simply hitting shots. The Spurs have been on quite a skid of not being able to put the ball in the hole.
Part of what made San Antonio so successful earlier in the season was their accuracy from downtown, but that has plummeted lately. In their back-to-back against the Clippers, the Spurs shot just 15-of-45 from the outside for 33.3 percent. Many of those were wide open, as L.A. used a basic strategy of packing the middle to cut off drives from guys like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson.
As a result, Johnson finished with just five points in each contest while getting up just 12 total attempts. Opponents are forcing the Spurs to beat them from the outside, and they haven’t been answering that challenge at all lately. Strangely, they’ve particularly been poor at shooting wide-open threes at home, shooting at a rate of 35.9 percent, which is the third-worst in the league.
On top of not shooting well at home, they’re also letting opponents drain threes at an alarming rate. Teams are making it rain at the AT&T Center at a 39.7 percent clip, which has been the worst in the league for a while until the Kings recently passed it at 40.1.
The Spurs still have six games left on a homestand that now sees them at 0-3, so they need to start reversing at least one and hopefully both of these trends if they want to remain in the thick of things in the Western Conference.
Next: No. 2
2. How can the San Antonio Spurs be fixed?
We’ve already established plenty is going wrong with the Spurs right now, but as I said before, there are adjustments that can be made. San Antonio’s offensive has gotten way too predictable lately in the halfcourt, particularly with their starting unit.
Of the starters, only Derrick White shoots threes at a rate of over five per game. The rest can all more frequently be found in the paint trying to dish a slip-pass to Jakob Poeltl or create their own shot. An easy solution that opponents have figured out is to load the paint and take away most of San Antonio’s offense.
If you’re curious as to why the Spurs keep coming out flat to start games, predictability is one of the biggest reasons. To address this, Gregg Popovich should seriously consider inserting at least one more 3-point shooter into the starting unit.
As solid as he is, Keldon Johnson is the only option to replace in the starting unit that makes sense. Opponents have figured out that the majority of his offense is predicated on bulldozing his way inside and getting hustle points. At 33.3 percent on 2.8 attempts from 3-point range, he’s not much of a floor-spacer, particularly sharing the court with DeMar DeRozan.
Something tells me Johnson would still keep his positive attitude and energy when coming off the bench if it was needed to help the team. In his place, Lonnie Walker or Devin Vassell would make the most sense. Vassell is a longshot, being a rookie that’s averaging fewer than 18 minutes per game. Still, his defensive abilities would also help starting wings not get off to hot starts, as has also been happening recently.
Walker has already started in 30 games and has been steadily improving more and more, especially with his outside shot. His ability to space the floor would help guys like Murray and White get to the hoop to create plays for themselves and others.
Short of changing their starting lineup, San Antonio could also benefit from always keeping at least two shooters on the floor at all times to prevent the long droughts they keep going on. And when they do hit those droughts? For the love of God, stop going to Rudy Gay isolations.
Next: No. 3
3. What can we expect of the San Antonio Spurs for the rest of the season?
This is the biggest question, and I’m going to put it as simple as I can. Don’t expect too much from this team, but also don’t expect them to lay down. Another trade deadline passing without the Spurs doing much seems to have triggered many fans to believe the organization is comfortable staying in limbo for years, and that’s just not true.
The bigger play for this team has always been the upcoming offseason, as they’ll be going into it in one of the best positions in the NBA in regard to cap space.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 26, 2021
If you’re frustrated with the Spurs not dealing Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan at the trade deadline, I understand. Still, their reluctance to not be stuck with another crippling contract shows me perhaps they finally learned their lesson. But if they bring back all their veterans and make minimal other improvements this summer, I’ll grab my pitchfork and be right there along with you.
The ceiling for this particular group of guys is probably a play-in to the first round of the NBA playoffs. As I’ve written before, this team is a virtual lock to fall in the 7th – 10th range and at least get a shot at securing a playoff seed. Anything short of that would be a disappointment just like anything beyond a first-round appearance would be a surprise.
This group of guys certainly has loads of potential but are still missing one superstar that can take them to the next level. The good news is the front office will have more money to work with than just about everyone, and they’ve done a fantastic job of building a young foundation full of promise.
We’re not in the dark days of a full rebuild by any means, but we also shouldn’t expect the Spurs to be the perennial contender they were for two decades without some changes this summer.