Recapping the Spurs’ Disastrous Loss in Minnesota

The Spurs’ game against the Timberwolves on Wednesday could have gone better. It could have gone much better, actually.

San Antonio lost 128-89 on the road, but it was actually more lopsided than the score indicated. The Spurs trailed by as many as 48 points, which ties the biggest deficit the team has had in 22 years under Gregg Popovich, per ESPN Stats & Info.

From the Spurs’ end, there are a lot of things discuss after their disastrous performance. Let’s break it all down with three observations, two questions and one prediction.

3 Observations

The Spurs failed in every aspect of the game

On offense, the Spurs jacked up jumper after jumper without much success. They took a lot of shots from behind the arc and especially from the midrange for the first two and a half quarters. At halftime, the Spurs were 4-of-15 from midrange but only 5-of-10 inside the paint.

With 6:09 left in the third quarter, the Wolves led 46-12 in points in the paint and 8-3 in free-throw attempts. Minnesota definitely played solid defense, especially Robert Covington, but San Antonio also just couldn’t be bothered to attack the rim with any conviction until the game was out of reach. Even though the Spurs mostly just passed the ball around the perimeter, they still had 19 turnovers.

The defense was just as bad. San Antonio offered half-hearted closeouts on the hot-shooting Timberwolves (18-of-41 from three-point range) and allowed all sorts of dribble penetration while failing to help properly in the paint.

Late in the third quarter, Popovich switched to a 2-3 zone. The Timberwolves ripped it to shreds.

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The Spurs evened out the rebounding battle in garbage time, but it was 39-25 Minnesota at one point.

San Antonio needs a consistent bench spark

The play of Derrick Rose off the bench was key in the Wolves jumping out to a first-half lead on Wednesday. Rose had 10 points, two assists and zero turnovers on 4-of-4 shooting (2-of-2 from three) in his first nine and a half minutes on the court.

Even though the team as a whole is 4-9 in its last 13 games, the Spurs bench hasn’t been too bad. But it is missing that consistent creator off the bench who can make things happen when the offense isn’t flowing, like Rose does for the Wolves. Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans are streak shooters who aren’t self-sufficient enough on offense to fill that role.

Ideally, Derrick White can fulfill some version of that role, but he wasn’t getting consistent minutes or touches when he was a reserve, and now he’s back in the starting lineup (more on that later). Rudy Gay has also been less involved in the offense recently. Maybe the Spurs could try to get the veteran forward going with more minutes as the first option with the reserves?

Jakob Poeltl continues to progress

Poeltl has woken up offensively. His teammates are learning where he likes the ball, and he’s been been assertive enough to take shots inside when they are available.

After 14 points in 21 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting against Minnesota, Poeltl is now at 22.3 points per 36 minutes with a 70.6 true shooting percentage in his last eight games. Prior to that, he was at 7.5 points per 36 minutes and a 45.1 true-shooting percentage.

I’ve been pessimistic about Poeltl’s role with the Spurs in this space before. He’s not a natural fit with the way the league is headed. But if he and the team actually utilize his soft touch around the rim and surrounds him with versatile players, he can be useful.

Pau Gasol is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot. Expect Poeltl to keep getting around 14 to 18 minutes per game in his absence.

2 Questions

What is going on with Derrick White’s role?

I would love to hear Popovich’s thoughts on White’s role. The way things have gone are just so confusing.

I took a deep dive on White’s role earlier this week. He began his season as a starter and key ball-handler for the first unit. Then, he stopped getting significant ball-handling reps, and he and the starting group as a whole slumped. Then, Pop moved him to the bench, and he got even less time with the ball. He started again on Wednesday, but his reps remained pretty low until he came back in for garbage time.

Consistency is huge for young players trying to find their niche in the NBA. Unfortunately, White’s role has been just the opposite of that so far.

What can Spurs fans be excited about this season?

The Spurs have spoiled their fans for so long by playing such good, fundamentally sound team basketball. With so many key players of the past gone, though, they’ve lost that culture.

This season will not be fun for Spurs fans to watch. Their team is probably not going to be good, and it doesn’t have any young stars or prospects playing significant minutes.

San Antonio’s style of play isn’t pretty, either. The Spurs play a slow pace, take a lot of midrange jumpers and don’t perform many highlight plays. The beautiful ball movement of the 2013-14 championship team comes only in spurts from the bench unit.

Spurs fans will have to find joy in the small things. That joy may come from the development of Derrick White or Jakob Poeltl. It could be watching LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan occasionally take over games on offense.

And maybe it’s even just thinking about next year, when Dejounte Murray, two 2019 first-round picks and other potential difference-makers enter the mix.

1 Prediction

The Spurs won’t tank, but they may not need to

The Spurs are a team on the decline with a need for exciting young talent. An early lottery pick to go with the Raptors’ likely late first-rounder next summer could revitalize the franchise.

But I refuse to believe Gregg Popovich will ever entertain the thought of tanking. Pop has always been a champion for maintaining the integrity of the game. It’s hard to imagine him shutting down veterans for several weeks at the end of a season to let young guys run the show.

This Spurs roster may be flawed enough to get a decent draft position without tanking, though. If the season ended today, San Antonio would have the 12th-best lottery odds. The team’s net rating is ninth-worst in the NBA, which suggests some potential of moving further up (or down, depending how you look at it). The league’s lottery reform means the Spurs’ chances at getting a high pick from that 9-to-12 range are greater.

The Western Conference is tight and totally unpredictable right now. But the Spurs’ perimeter defense is putrid without Dejounte Murray and the offense is relying on a steady diet of inaccurate midrange jumpers. And they have relatively few young players in the rotation, which lessens the chances of in-season progression.

37-45 or 38-44 seems like a reasonable end-of-season record prediction for the Spurs at this point.

Note: Statistics are courtesy of 

Photo by David Sherman/Getty Images

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