Can Gregg Popovich’s coaching excellence backfire on the Spurs?

Jeremy Sochan, Gregg Popovich
Jeremy Sochan, Gregg Popovich / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

The San Antonio Spurs are about to enter a stretch where they play Toronto, the Clippers, Denver twice, Memphis, the Bucks, the Warriors, and Portland. For all the feel-goodness that the team has going on right now after a 5-2 start—including surprising wins against playoff-bound teams in four of those victories—there’s a decent chance the Spurs are sitting at 5-10 after this upcoming 8-game minefield.

But who knows? Though it’s early, Keldon Johnson is currently making an All-Star case for himself. Also, despite the awful situation happening off the court in San Antonio and the news that Blake Wesley has torn his MCL, the Spurs are playing good basketball right now. I wrote recently about San Antonio breaking records with their ball movement, and that trend has only continued— the good guys are up to 218 assists on the season.

It’s obvious that Gregg Popovich is coaching his butt off right now. The Silver & Black were projected to be the worst team in the league in the preseason, and many thought they were tanking. The team currently sits as the 4th seed in the West. According to former Spurs assistant (and current coach of the recent WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces) Becky Hammon, “you’re never going to coach or play to lose.”

Hammon’s words align with Devin Vassell’s “we hoopin'” proclamation from earlier in the season. The guys are playing hard and the coaches are leading the team to wins, at least for the time being. Now comes the question that defines this article: is winning games in the Spurs’ best interest? Every fan of this team is aware of the talent that resides at the top of the upcoming draft.

Former Spur (and NBA champion with the 2011 Dallas Mavericks) Ian Mahinmi is enthralled by the talents of Victor Wembanyama. He, along with current Timberwolves Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes, was at the game as part of the 50 years of Spurs basketball celebration. When asked on the broadcast about the team winning so much, Mahinmi replied “I don’t understand what you guys are doing!” 

Keldon’s continued development proves that San Antonio has star talent. As does Devin Vassell’s growth. Jeremy Sochan is just 7 games into his young career and has plenty of potential himself. At the moment, however, none of the three seems to be that guy. Nor does anyone else on the roster, especially following the sudden (and justified) release of Josh Primo.

Throughout NBA history, players referred to as “that guy” have typically been selected near the top of their draft. The aforementioned Wemby will likely go #1, but as has been discussed plenty, there are other names (Scoot Henderson, the Thompson brothers) worthy of consideration at the top of the 2023 draft. With their current record, the Spurs won’t be picking anywhere close enough to select one of those guys.

So what do the Spurs do? The good thing is, as fans, there’s little that we can do to control it. So why worry, right? Hahaha. I wouldn’t be writing this if I wasn’t at least a little concerned. Seriously though, as I mentioned above, it’s so early. Three of San Antonio’s surprising wins came against the 76ers and Timberwolves, each of whom is clearly working out early-season chemistry issues. 

I also brought up the Spurs' next stretch of games earlier in the article. I think insider Matthew Tynan put it perfectly in this tweet. If the Spurs go 4-4 against that tough schedule? Maybe they truly are a lot better than most projected them to be. Personally, I’m not counting on it. And even if they do, maybe the front office still decides the tank is the best path forward for this franchise.

Next. 3 Spurs players who must step up after Primo’s sudden release. dark

Trading Jakob Poeltl and/or giving one of the young wings mentioned before significant time off for an injury would pretty much ensure a bottom 5 record.