The San Antonio Spurs are officially at the midway point of the 2021-22 season and we now have a much better idea of how good (or bad) the team is. The results have definitely been mixed, which was expected, especially for such a young team heading into the first year of a rebuild.
It can be hard to gauge whether the Spurs are doing well relative to expectations when they are also the 7th-worst team in the NBA. So, is San Antonio exceeding or failing expectations? Let's examine.
San Antonio currently sits at 15-26, which obviously isn't great, but they've managed to pull out several wins against teams that are more talented than them. On the other hand, they've also had some bad losses in which they clearly underperformed relative to their talent.
While it's hard to get a read on just how good this team is when they've been so inconsistent, that may actually be a sign that things are going according to plan. Young teams are notoriously inconsistent and can go toe-to-toe with a good team one game only to get blown out by a lesser team the next.
Still, San Antonio is on pace to win 30 games after initially appearing as though they might not reach the 26 Coach Popovich needs to become the all-time winningest NBA head coach.
With that number set as many fans' artificial floor in regards to expectations, the Spurs are likely to exceed that measurement of success. In addition to their wins being more than enough to help Popovich set a record, it could also result in San Antonio ending up with a high lottery pick. After all, according to projections, the Spurs could still finish with the 6th-worst record in the NBA.
There’s a silver lining to that, however. If San Antonio were to finish with the 6th-worst record, they would have a high chance of their pick being in the top four. That’s important because of the level of talent in the 2022 NBA Draft. Of course, being a lottery team probably wasn't a goal for the organization prior to the season even if it seemed likely.
That said, with the Spurs in rebuild mode, they can use all the talent they can get. Moreover, a chance at selecting in the top four without actually tanking could be seen as a win-win, being that it could drastically alter the future of the franchise while also not having to compromise the team's values.
Where the Spurs are Thriving: Player Development
Another metric in which to gauge whether the Spurs are exceeding expectations, or falling behind, should be player development. There, the Spurs have seen several players make big jumps forward in their development.
Dejounte Murray is playing like an All-Star while other players like Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson are also averaging career highs in several categories. Additionally, Devin Vassell has looked great in his sophomore season after being selected 11th overall in 2020. Popovich has done a terrific job of finding minutes for the many young players on the roster and has even benched veteran players or limited their minutes to do so.
That playing time not only helps speed up development but can also be useful in determining which players should be in the Spurs' long-term plans. It can also help them determine which players are replaceable ahead of the offseason where they can make changes to improve the roster.
Overall, the Spurs have done a good job of remaining competitive in the first year of a rebuild, and have rebounded nicely after winning just four of their first 17 games. Since then, San Antonio has gone 11-13 even as they’ve been forced to shuffle players in and out of the lineup.
That resiliency shows the Spurs are slowly but surely improving and that is a crucial part of determining whether this season can be viewed as a success or as a lost year. Therefore, halfway through the season, San Antonio has actually exceeded expectations thus far.