Popovich discovers potential future weapon in Spurs Atlanta letdown

Despite a second-half surge, the San Antonio Spurs fell to the Atlanta Hawks, but Coach Popovich may have found a game-changing secret weapon.
Blake Wesley, San Antonio Spurs
Blake Wesley, San Antonio Spurs / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

At halftime, the San Antonio Spurs were down 35 to an Atlanta Hawks team that is currently on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference play-in race. The good guys posted a measly 34 points against one of the worst defenses in the NBA. There was a lack of energy on both sides of the ball and visible frustration up and down the roster. Everyone deserved a share of the blame—that includes superstar Victor Wembanyama, who ended the half with zero points.

Head Coach Gregg Popovich would have none of it and decided to send a message to the team by starting the second half with a lineup consisting of three reserves alongside starters Jeremy Sochan and Julian Champagnie. That left Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, and the aforementioned Wembanyama on the bench. If you watched the game, you’re aware of what happened next. The bench squad, led by Blake ‘Energy’ Wesley, took over.

Blake Wesley may be a diamond in the rough

Blake, who has received more minutes recently as he finally looks to be recovered from the MCL injury he suffered in 2022, came out of the half firing on all cylinders. He added burst to the offense, and most importantly, he was giving it to Trae Young (who put up 29 points in the first half) on defense. Following a possession where Wesley forced Young into an eight-second violation by picking him up in the full court, everyone—from the TNT broadcasters to Trae himself—took notice. 

Pretty quickly, this bench unit brought the Spurs back into the game. More impressively, the starters who were watching from the bench seemed to be really into it! After every big defensive stop or energy play, the cameras cut to Wemby celebrating. About six minutes into the half, Pop appeared to believe that the message was received and subbed Wemby, Vassell, and Jones back into the game.

Victor turned it on from there, putting up 26 points and 9 rebounds, as well as blocking a pair of shots, in his 15 second-half minutes. The Spurs fought until the end, getting the score within six—it was 99-93 with three minutes and 21 seconds left—before some end-of-the-game miscues led them to the 10-point loss. But Wesley stuck around! Blake played seven minutes in the second half, and though he didn’t add a ton in the way of counting stats, the toughness in his defense of Young added a much-needed boost that spread across the rest of the roster.

Although the team has played a lot more competitively in its last 10 games, winning is not the main focus of the current Spurs. The organization is still in information-gathering mode as it looks to build out the long-term (hopefully championship-contending) roster. Small break-out performances like Blake Wesley's versus Atlanta are important! Any Spurs fan could tell you how much Popovich values a defensive-first guard. Let’s see if he gets more run moving forward!