The San Antonio Spurs have finally made it to the other side of a tough, five-game West Coast roadtrip, but came out on the other side with five more losses than when they started. Suddenly, the Spurs have the fifth best odds in the league of landing the top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, per tankathon. Considering that the upcoming draft is shaping up to be one of the most talented in years, I don't mind moving further up the board.
Many of us anticipated tough times ahead before the Spurs tipped off their season last month, and accordingly, we've made it a point to find the positives in what may seem like a sea of negatives. And even in a five-game losing streak, there have been some positive takeaways. Jakob Poeltl had one of the best offensive games of his career against the Portland Trail Blazers, Jeremy Sochan has shown some incredibly impressive flashes of defense (and caught a body in Sacramento), and Devin Vassell has continued to display some extraordinarilly tough shotmaking.
But even though some Spurs players have given some good individual performances and the chances of a good draft pick are increasing, five losses are still five losses. In this stretch of bad games specifically, some genuinely concerning developments have arisen that we'll have to continue to monitor as the season goes on. Here are the problems we noticed, why they're so concerning that we feel the need to point them out, and what they could mean for the team moving forward.
The Spurs' defense is in free fall
The lowest final score from a Spurs opponent in the past five games was 117, and all but that game in Portland was a blowout loss. The team's defense has looked bad to the eye test in that players are overhelping and leaving shooters open, missing rotations, and getting lulled to sleep before getting blown by in isolation. But what's just as concerning is how obviously the advanced stats back up that eye test.
On the surface level, the Spurs currently hold the worst defensive rating in the entire NBA, and when diving a bit further under the surface, it's easy to see why. Teams are scoring at will against the Spurs on all three levels, with the team placing 19th in the league in rim field goal percentage allowed, 29th in the league in midrange field goal percentage allowed, and dead last in three-point percentage allowed per Cleaning the Glass.
Furthermore, looking at the Spurs' defensive RAPTOR ratings from the '21-'22 season compared to those of this season (as of 11/22), Tre Jones is the only player on the team whose rating has stayed the same or increased. All of the Spurs' current starters who were also with the team last year (Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl) have all seen a relatively significant drop. Most concerningly, Jakob Poeltl has seen the largest drop, going from a +2.4 rating last season to a -1.3 rating this season.
Are stats like these the end-all and be-all of a team's defense? No, but they seemingly confirm in a big way that the poor defense we're seeing with our eyes is having a strong negative impact on the scoreboard. Moving forward, at the very least, I need to see some more signs of life on an individual level from Devin Vassell, who was drafted largely for his defensive versatility, along with Jakob Poeltl, who was advertised as one of the better rim protectors in the league last season.