The San Antonio Spurs took what may have been their toughest loss of the season in San Francisco this past Monday, falling to the Golden State Warriors sans Klay Thompson with a final score of _ to _. The Spurs had an incredibly rough shooting night, having only shot 25% from beyond the arc on 40 attempts, and they recorded 18 turnovers, leading to 27 points for the Warriors. The Silver and Black were also missing their primary initiator on offense in Tre Jones, resulting in the team only recording about half as many assists as the Warriors (18 assists to 35, respectively).
Despite some fears that the current squad may be "tank-proof," this combination of lackluster production on the court will rarely lead to wins, and in yesterday's case, it lead to a game that was more or less already over well before the beginning of the 4th quarter. While I'm certain that the Spurs will return to having better, more competitive games sooner rather than later, I also hardly think this is just a game to brush off. This season will be full of learning experiences for Spurs players and fans alike, and I think there are several takeaways that can be had from such a deflating loss.
As much as I'd love to dive into how impressive Tre Jones has been through the first few weeks of the season and how important he is to the current roster's success, I think it's fair to say that the result of this game makes those things pretty obvious. Instead, I think it's more worthwhile to investigate what the Spurs' roster lacks independently of Jones.
The Spurs struggle to manipulate opposing defenses
Last night's game highlights may not be the best indicator, but outside of Tre Jones' absence and the Spurs' turnover woes, what struck me as being most problematic starting from the jump was the sheer number of difficult shots that were being taken. The Warriors played an aggressive, in-your-face brand of defense that rarely allowed the Spurs to move the ball around well, create separation in isolation, or get easy opportunities for points around the rim.
While Jeremy Sochan is just getting his feet wet, several of the Spurs' more established young players have improved in one way or another; Jones has become a more efficient three-point shooter, Devin Vassell is quietly becoming a master of the midrange, and Keldon Johnson is slowly becoming more cognizant of when to shoot, drive, and make plays for others. But unfortunately, none of them have quite met the threshold yet to qualify as primary three-level scoring threats, meaning defenses rarely have to make quick adjustments for any given Spurs player.
More specifically, the Spurs have collectively struggled to create rim pressure this season, meaning opposing teams can confidently pressure them on the perimeter to either force them into difficult three-point shots or run them off the line entirely. Per Cleaning the Glass, only eight teams in the league took a smaller percentage of their shots within four feet of the rim, and yet 18 teams make those shots more efficiently than the Spurs.
In fact, only three Spurs players rank higher than the 50th percentile in rim efficiency relative to their position (Langford, Poeltl, and Sochan at the 72nd, 84th, and 88th percentile, respectively). Meanwhile, the Spurs' two highest-usage players--Johnson and Vassell--rank at the 43rd and 22nd percentile in rim efficiency while simultaneously only ranking at the 28th and 23rd percentile in rim attempts. In other words, they aren't getting to the bucket much, and when they do, they aren't making many shots there.
Put simply, the Spurs are lacking an unpredictable advantage creator that can manipulate defenses to create better shot opportunities for themselves and others. If Johnson or Vassell is to ever become such an advantage creator, the next step in their development will be to become a more consistent threat at the rim. The Spurs will also surely look to the 2023 NBA Draft to find a player that fits the bill.
The Spurs will have an opportunity to bounce back from their latest loss in the second night of their back-to-back later tonight in Portland beginning at 9:00 PM CST.