With their loss to the New Orleans Pelicans this past Friday, the San Antonio Spurs have now hit their 10th consecutive loss, tying their second-longest losing streak in franchise history in the 1986-'87 season. The team is quickly approaching the franchise record of 13 consecutive games loss set two years later in the 1988-'89 season. It should go without saying that the Spurs have been having an incredibly tough time on the court.
So, naturally, we're going to be focusing on some of the positive developments from last night's game instead. Don't get me wrong, there's been plenty of not-so-fun things to talk about from the Spurs' recent struggles--some of which we've talked about at length--but this season is partially about shining light on positive developments, even if they're being overshadowed by losses.
In no world is an 18-point loss an ideal outcome, but despite the loss, there were a few positive developments in last night's game. Here's what stuck out the most.
Devin Vassell is becoming a model of scoring consistency
Devin Vassell is looking more and more like the Spurs' primary scoring option and appears to only be getting better. Over the past five games, Vassell has put up 22.8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and just a hair under 1 steal per game, shooting 43% from the field, 39% from three, and 91% from the free-throw line. And what's perhaps even more encouraging is that he's doing a lot of his damage off the dribble.
Vassell hasn't been perfect, as his overall defense has left a bit to be desired, but I'm partially chalking that up to him figuring out the balancing act of effort on both ends of the floor. He's been experimenting and generally exerting himself far more on offense this year compared to his rookie and sophomore campaigns. And being that Keldon Johnson has been significantly struggling lately, his offensive workload has likely only increased in recent weeks.
In attempting to hone in on which non-rookie Spurs players will be "safe" from trade talks next season and beyond, Vassell leads that race in my mind by a significant margin.
The Spurs have something in Charles Bassey
Read that headline one more time. The Spurs quietly made a great roster move by adding Bassey after he was waived by the Philadelphia 76ers this past October, and at this point, I'm comfortable in saying that the Spurs have found... well, something in him. He isn't a model of consistency on either end of the floor quite yet like Vassell is proving to be, but it's worth reminding fans that this is the first season he's found himself on an NBA floor with regularity since being selected in the draft nearly a year and a half ago.
My favorite part of his game in the early going, outside of his obvious talent for shot-blocking, is his eagerness to run the floor. Bigs that keep up in transition offense and establish themselves early in transition defense are often rewarded individually and prove to be great assets for their teams. He did that often last night, and in a game where the Spurs lost by 18, he posted 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks on perfect 4/4 shooting with a plus/minus of 8. He was the only Spurs player to end the game with a positive plus/minus.
Coach Popovich has been adamant up to this point that Bassey has been playing off of pure feel for the game, noting earlier in the season that he was being extraordinarilly productive despite being very new to the team. And because he's still very new to the team, fans shouldn'y come to expect standout performances from him every night. But if he can continue to run the floor with purpose, keep things simple for himself, and continue to build his game from there as he gains more experience with his new teammates, his signing could end up looking like highway robbery.
The game is slowing down for Malaki Branham
Look at last night's box score and you may not come away too moved with the numbers that Malaki Branham put up, but being that he's only just beginning to be given regular NBA minutes, he'll need to walk before he can run. Thankfully, he's showing signs of walking the walk. He flashed signs of what made him so prized as a freshman coming out of Ohio State, using his body well to create space shot opportunities.
Beyond that, though, he also showed a bit of his playmaking repertoire, on one occasion finding Zach Collins on a cut after drawing two defenders in. Playmaking will be a key swing skill for Branham on offense moving forward, and seeing him growing more comfortable with putting the ball on the floor and making a higher-level this early on is quite encouraging. In the moments he's been more patient, good things have happened.
Branham hasn't shot the ball well quite yet, but this was a clear-cut strength of his coming into the draft, having shot impressively close to the coveted 50/40/90 mark on a decent volume of shots in his freshman season at Ohio State (53/42/83). His release point is a bit low, but his lightningfast trigger gives him an edge. With more time, I'm expecting his shooting to come around without any issue.