The Unintentional Tank: Why The Spurs Are Playing So Poorly

Derrick White, Deandre Ayton
Derrick White, Deandre Ayton / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

It may be hard to believe but the San Antonio Spurs are underachieving this season. At just 10-17, they're currently the sixth-worst team in the NBA and have certainly looked like it at times. While some of the team's struggles were to be anticipated, San Antonio has been worse than expected due to several unforeseen factors.

However, the end result is that they are losing a lot of games that they probably should've won and are unintentionally tanking. That statement isn't likely to sit well with many Spurs fans, but it's true. After all, based on their net rating this season, they have an expected record of 14-13 but are already four games behind that pace. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at why the Spurs have been so inconsistent this season.

The bulk of the Spurs' issues has been on the offensive end, where they currently rank just 20th in offensive rating. The biggest issue has been 3-point shooting, where the Spurs collectively can't hit the broadside of a barn. Some of this can be attributed to the team's best shooter, Doug McDermott, missing seven games, but other shooters like Lonnie Walker haven't and instead have just shot terribly.

Meanwhile, shooters like Bryn Forbes and Joshua Primo have played smaller-than-expected roles. On a positive note, Devin Vassell has shot the ball well from three and on a high volume. Still, he can't make up for the fact that the Spurs have five other players who've played at least 250 minutes and have hit a combined five 3-pointers.

Scoring Disparity Keeps Biting the Spurs

If that weren't enough, San Antonio ranks 29th in the NBA in free-throw attempts as well as free-throw percentage. As a result, they simply can't keep up on offense mainly due to the discrepancy between their 3-point shooting and their opponents. In the Spurs' loss to the Nuggets, they gave up 20 threes while only hitting 10 themselves. Factor in that they hardly ever get to the line, and they're not exactly scaring teams with their scoring ability.

This is despite the best efforts of Dejounte Murray, who has played like an All-Star while his supporting cast has been inconsistent, especially Walker and Derrick White. Both haven't lived up to expectations thus far, but White has at least been on a hot streak of late. Still, it's hard to say whether will last or if he'll revert back to his indecisive play from earlier this season.

As for Walker, who's in a contract year, he's definitely been worse. Walker leads the team in 3-point attempts but is shooting just 29.5% from three, which is within "stop shooting! It never goes in!" territory in the NBA. Not surprisingly, his shot selection has torpedoed his efficiency.

Without him knocking down threes, he doesn't provide much else on offense, and without scoring, he just doesn't bring much else to the table. Now in his fourth season, his lack of development is concerning and he now appears to be San Antonio's fourth draft miss dating back to 2013 with Livio Jean-Charles.

The Spurs' Defense Has Started to Collapse

On defense, San Antonio has also been surprisingly bad after initially playing like a top 10 defense. Instead, they rank below league average and have played well below their defensive potential. Without a good defense to fall back on, it's been much harder for them to compete. After all, they can't stop their opponents or keep up with them on offense.

With San Antonio now seven games under .500, the season is at risk of going off the rails, and it's doubtful that they can get back on track. On the other hand, San Antonio is well on their way to finishing the season with one of the six worst records in the NBA, and their inability to win could actually pay off.

Losing Might Be The Spurs' Best Option

The Spurs currently have a 27.4 percent chance of landing a top-three pick and, were that to occur, they'd be able to select from Paulo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, or Jabari Smith. And were they to land one of those players, it could help jumpstart the rebuild by forcing the team to focus on building around the players that actually fit the team’s long-term plans.

Fortunately, despite their disappointing play, they do have a better idea of who those players are. Murray, Keldon Johnson, Vassell, Joshua Primo, and Jakob Poeltl all have a future with the Spurs and could serve as a strong supporting cast to whoever they select.

Ultimately, San Antonio's terrible play isn't the product of tanking but the results are the same. While it's definitely disappointing considering the team should be better than this, it was always highly unlikely that they'd make the playoffs this season.

With the team already playing poorly and an upcoming road-heavy schedule against mostly .500 teams, things could get worse before they get better. To their credit, they play hard, but that can only take a team so far. Ultimately, we'll have a much better idea of where they stand in about a month when they end their seven-game road trip, but I'm not exactly encouraged by what I've seen.

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Things can always change for the better. Players can play better, and this team may respond well to being metaphorically punched in the face by the season. But at this point, the Spurs are playing badly enough to unintentionally tank.