The preseason is well underway, and the arrival of an extraterrestrial talent, revolutionary facilities, and development from a promising young core have done little to convince anyone outside of the 2-1-0 that the San Antonio Spurs are ready to return to their winning ways. ESPN predicts the Silver and Black will finish with a league-worst 26.4 wins this season. Other outlets have set the line closer to 28 or 29 wins, not that it makes much of a difference.
Wherever you get your preseason predictions from, chances are you have seen experts label the Spurs as an inexperienced squad with no ambition to compete and every desire to add another lottery pick next to their core of young players surrounding Victor Wembanyama. Adding more high-end talent at the top of the 2024 NBA Draft would not necessarily be a terrible outcome for San Antonio's long-term future. But no one should count out a legendary coach leading a hungry group featuring fascinating pieces across the roster.
Given the context around this rendition of the Spurs, competing means exceeding the expectations of the national media and sportsbooks; in this case, the goal is winning at least 30 games and perhaps pushing for a play-in spot — a difficult proposition in a seemingly loaded Western Conference. There is a very recent precedent for this, as the Orlando Magic went from 22 wins to landing the first overall pick and winning 34 games last season.
The front office improved this roster in several noticeable ways this offseason, and they have given the San Antonio Spurs a chance to put the world on notice.
1.) Better pecking order on the offensive end
Last season, the Spurs often built a lead they couldn't hold onto. Other times, it was a struggle for San Antonio to get started in the first place, falling behind and finishing further in the dumps.
This trend was somewhat expected from a young squad finding their footing offensively. The team needed to learn what it could do well and where its limitations were. Not having an established hierarchy of offensive responsibilities repeatedly exposed issues, especially once Devin Vassell was out of the lineup for most of the season with a knee injury.
When Vassell was healthy, the Spurs at least had one burgeoning shot creator and midrange maven who they could flow through for stretches offensively. Without him, the team asked Keldon Johnson to pull points out of the mud as a de facto number one option. Johnson certainly made strides last season, but he was occasionally limited in what he could individually manufacture on offense due to his lack of consistent on-ball wiggle and cramped spacing shutting off his driving lanes.
With Vassell back and ready to take the next step in his development, plus a talent in Wembanyama who will be force-fed touches to learn how to deploy his prodigious gifts, the Spurs can now position their players in more suitable roles. Regardless of rookie season highs and lows, Wembanyama should steadily gain comfortability as a lead option whose size and skill naturally draw plenty of attention from opponents and unlock openings for himself or teammates, crevices most players cannot access.
Vassell should have an easier time flowing into his favorite midrange areas as the second option beneath the towering Frenchman. Everyone behind them can fall in line, taking turns hitting any mismatches that arise from the defense focusing on Wemby and Vassell. The likes of Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Zach Collins, and Malaki Branham are each capable of punishing defenses if left unattended, and they will only get better at identifying gaps to exploit as they get more accustomed to how opponents will try to take away San Antonio's top scorers.
Easy offense will emerge more frequently as this group gels over time; the first step is executing effective and repeatable actions with your most reliable players at their best spots on the floor and building from there.