A month into the 2021-22 NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in an unfamiliar spot, at the bottom of the league standings. The Spurs are currently 4-11, rank as one the worst teams in the NBA, and have a difficult remaining schedule.
Still, things aren't all bad, players like Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, and Devin Vassell have played well. Additionally, coach Greg Popovich is just 22 games away from becoming the winningest coach in NBA history. With all of this being said, should Spurs fans be encouraged or discouraged after week four? Let's examine.
It goes without saying that the Spurs finishing with a poor record would benefit the team by potentially netting them a high lottery pick. Still, the Spurs aren’t tanking, though their struggles (particularly in late-game situations) have essentially produced the same result of a team doing so.
A glass-half-full view would be that the Spurs are still competitive even as they struggle to actually win games. On the other hand, the glass-half-empty view would be that the lack of wins is a result of a lack of talent and underperforming personnel.
So which one is it? Personally, I believe that San Antonio is right where they need to be. After all, the team's young players are finally getting significant playing time and many of them are exceeding expectations, though others aren’t. In either case, that's helpful information the front office can use going forward.
Additionally, San Antonio has the 4th-worst record in the NBA, and if that holds, they’d have a very good chance of moving up into the top four in the 2022 NBA Draft. A top-four pick would put them in a position to draft Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, or Jabari Smith, each of whom would be a terrific talent infusion and could pair well with Murray, Josh Primo, Vassell, and Keldon Johnson long-term.
It would also help with their rebuilding efforts and perhaps even push up their timeline. Though, it could mean that San Antonio would cut bait with players who don’t appear to be long-term fits with their core sooner for financial reasons. The two most likely players in that scenario would be Lonnie Walker and Derrick White.
Both Walker and White have failed to live up to expectations this season and their lack of improvement has been concerning. Moreover, they've been part of the reason the Spurs have been so inconsistent from game to game. Walker was expected to be the team’s sixth man, however, that role has gone to Vassell, who has thoroughly outplayed him.
He has also struggled shooting the ball, which has contributed heavily to his poor play. Despite leading the team with 5.7 3-point attempts per game, he's shooting just 28.2% from beyond the arc, which is well below league average. As for White, he's averaging just 10.9 points while shooting below 40% from the field, a far cry from what many expected from him entering the season.
San Antonio can respond accordingly and opt not to re-sign Walker this off-season, with Primo waiting in the wings to replace him. Or, perhaps, Walker is retained for cheap given his age and talent level while White eventually gets moved for future assets.
Cutting ties with either would be disappointing considering their potential, but it's a part of the process of figuring out who's a part of the core. After all, the Spurs already determined that former first-round pick Luka Samanic wasn't a part of the team's core going forward and will have to make tough decisions sooner than later.
Overall, I believe Spurs fans should be excited considering the Spurs are finally relying on their young talent, and many of them have played well thus far. Furthermore, this season has given the front office a much better idea of who to build around. As for how the year will play out, San Antonio has a difficult remaining schedule which could result in a poor record.
That's not likely to sit well with many fans, though it could ultimately result in a high pick and San Antonio drafting a game-changing player in next year's draft. Therefore, Spurs fans should be encouraged rather than discouraged one month into the season.