3. Crunch time defense showed significant improvement
On paper, this Spurs team probably should've been a top 10 team in terms of defensive rating. With Jakob Poeltl anchoring the defense, Dejounte Murray's overall defensive excellence, and other standout defenders like Devin Vassell and Tre Jones, they at least should've been ranked in the top half.
Instead, San Antonio finished 16th out of a possible 30 with a 112.3 defensive rating and gave up 113 points per game (23rd).
In a way, though, it's not surprising that an inconsistent team yielded some results inconsistent with what you'd expect. The Spurs struggled mightily in crunch time situations through the first half of the season, which led to some growing pains and losses that should've never happened.
The good news is San Antonio did a significantly better job defending in the clutch than they did last season. Last season, the Spurs allowed 111.7 points per 100 possessions in close late-game situations. That had them tied for 11th-worst. This season, their rating in the same scenario was 105.0, good for 10th-best.
What really bit the Spurs this season in close games was their offense collapsing, which is somewhat to be expected when you consider they lost one of the most clutch players in the game in DeMar DeRozan. They had a last-ranked 92.7 rating on offense in those situations.
It's a miracle the Spurs even won the 15 crunch time games they did with that low of a figure, but that should improve with experience. The fact that San Antonio defended well when it mattered most is very encouraging going forward.
4. This squad was much more competitive on a nightly basis
The 2020-21 San Antonio Spurs were downright painful to watch on some nights. Given their awkward spacing, their offense stagnated often while their defense finished in the bottom third of the league. This season, the Spurs still had those nights on occasion, but they were much more consistent in their competitiveness.
Despite finishing with an underwhelming 34-48 record, the Spurs ended the season with a +0.2 point differential per game in the 2021-22 season. Last year, that figure was at -1.74. In fact, their differential this season was better than that of the New Orleans Pelicans and LA Clippers, both of which finished with a better record than San Antonio.
Unfortunately, the inexperience and uncertainty that comes from having such a young squad led to several late-game collapses in close situations, particularly in the first half of the season. Luckily, the Spurs fared much better in the second half of the season in those scenarios, so that should help them avoid another situation in which their point differential is way better than their results.