The San Antonio Spurs finished tied with the Houston Rockets for the worst record in the Western Conference and only ahead of the Detroit Pistons for the fewest wins in the NBA last season. Many fans are going into this year looking for some tangible improvement. There are greater expectations of the Silver and Black for a couple of notable reasons, the first of which should be glaringly obvious.
Heightened expectations are all but guaranteed when you land the first overall pick in the draft, and they only become more lofty when the guy you select is a generational prospect. The Spurs will also have a healthy Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Jeremy Sochan after that trio missed 89 games last season. Based on comments from Head Coach Gregg Popovich at media day, fans aren’t the only ones wanting to see winning basketball.
ESPN gives Spurs the lowest wins projection in the NBA
Most readers probably did a double-take at that header. All the nice words in the lead-up made it seem like San Antonio is ready to make a leap of some kind! However, Kevin Pelton, who performs an annual leaguewide projection for ESPN (subscription required), has the Spurs with the lowest total in the entire NBA. Wins shouldn’t be the barometer of success this season, but being that low on this team is shocking.
Pelton says, "San Antonio is building slowly around Victor Wembanyama, whose offensive projection is conservative as he learns the NBA game." That logic and the various data points utilized to predict team success led the Senior Writer to project 26.4 wins for the good guys. When you round down, that number would only be a four-win improvement for a team that seemingly tanked the back half of last season.
It is fair to assume the Spurs will be steady in the development of Wemby throughout the season— San Antonio is not likely to immediately put the team on Victor’s back in the way they gave the lead role to Tim Duncan or David Robinson right off the bat. In that same breath, we cannot assume health—one of the most influential inputs for the projection model—for a franchise that might have rested several players over the last few seasons to raise their lottery odds.
These young Spurs are ready to win right now
One projection from a single media outlet should not fool you. Coach Pop is not the only who wants to put wins on the board. Keldon Johnson, in particular, seems confident that this team will perform. The fifth-year forward recently spoke to Kelly Iko of The Athletic about becoming a leader and go-to option on a team with increasing expectations.
The Spurs have plenty of top-end talent after four consecutive seasons of picking in the lottery. The energy and pace of their young core will be difficult for opponents to handle, but their inexperience could cause connectivity issues, particularly in tight games. And that likely factors into ESPN's projections. The difference for San Antonio is that most of their guys have seen their fair share of crunch-time scenarios over the last few years. It also helps that Wemby has been the closer for every team he's been on since he was about 14.
Some of San Antonio's best players missed considerable time due to an array of nicks and bruises, and Vassell sat out 44 games last year with nagging knee soreness that required arthroscopic knee surgery. But fresh off a new contract and with injury issues in the rearview, Vassell is ready to drive team success with a massive leap. That growth, combined with a 7-foot-3 addition to the roster and development from the rest of the guys, has me ready to hammer the over on that win total from ESPN.