It’s not too often that the San Antonio Spurs find themselves playing in meaningless games during April, but here we are. After years of being in denial, trying to remain in the NBA’s dreaded middle ground, the Spurs finally decided to embrace the tank by trading away Dejounte Murray this past offseason, essentially handing over the keys to the franchise to Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell.
Only time will tell if the Spurs’ tanking efforts manage to bear fruit similar to when they punted the 1996-97 season and came away with Tim Duncan for their troubles. But at the very least, the Spurs have managed to secure the best possible odds at the number one overall pick, which should, at the very least, nab them a coveted blue-chipper in what many view as a stacked 2023 NBA Draft.
Beyond setting their sights on a future of contention, however, the Spurs are already trying to separate the wheat from the chaff to end the campaign. There’s a reason why the Spurs are giving ample opportunities to a plethora of fringe NBA talent to see who could stick on their roster. After all, losing may be what’s best for the franchise at the moment, but losing still sucks, and losing will be all for naught if players can’t build habits that bode well for them in the long run.
Thus, adding a few more quality players here and there won’t hurt at all, to raise the level of competition on the roster. Iron sharpens iron, as they say. But which of the Spurs’ many glaring needs should they address in the most urgent fashion when the 2023 NBA offseason — a potential watershed few months for the franchise — kicks off?
Spurs’ biggest need: A transformative ball-handling presence
If one would rattle off everything the Spurs need to regain their franchise’s former glory, the list would be extremely long and, aside from the most diehard of fans, would be extremely unreadable. They may not have the worst record in the NBA (that distinction belongs to the 16-63 Detroit Pistons), but they might as well be the worst team in the league.
Not including their blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, the Spurs have put up a putrid 109.3 offensive rating and a 119.6 defensive rating, good for an inexplicably terrible -10.3 net rating.
Sure, random rest days for some of their best players have not helped matters. It’s incredibly frustrating for some to witness the likes of Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Zach Collins pop off on one night and be ruled out of action the very next game, as it doesn’t provide a clear picture of where the Spurs stand in the NBA.
Even then, it’s clear that the Spurs are facing a talent deficit almost every night, making every game an uphill climb. This makes the prospect of drafting Victor Wembanyama so enticing for them (or for any franchise, for that matter); not only can he become a game-changing presence on the defensive end due to his size, length, and defensive instincts, he can also become a dynamite offensive weapon given his unprecedented ball skills for his physical stature.
Alas, there are no guarantees that Wembanyama lands with the Spurs. Drafting the 7’4 French center would drastically change any team’s plans, including the Spurs. But planning for a 14 percent chance isn’t ideal given how competitive today’s NBA landscape is.
Therefore, Wembayama or not, the Spurs must set their sights towards adding a do-it-all ballhandler, preferably one with size — a must for any team with competitive ambitions.
For all of Johnson and Vassell’s talents, lead ballhandlers they are not. Johnson is at his best attacking the open spaces his teammates create, and Vassell, for all of his improvements this year, projects to be a secondary playmaker and scoring option. Having someone to ease their ballhandling responsibilities would certainly have a trickle-down effect, making the lives of everybody easier on offense.
Tre Jones has had his moments. But he isn’t particularly adept at shooting from deep, and his slashing game isn’t the best. This is not to say that Jones doesn’t have his place on the roster, because he certainly does. But for the Spurs to take the next step, they will need more dynamic play from their lead ballhandlers.
Beyond drafting Wembanyama, selecting Scoot Henderson also looms as such a tantalizing possibility for the Spurs. Henderson has the potential to be one of the best point guards in the league due to his combination of athleticism and floor vision. The development of Henderson’s jumpshot will be crucial, but at the end of the day, it’s difficult to bet against his talent.
Spurs fans will definitely be hoping that the lottery odds shine upon their favor on May 16, when the fates of 14 franchises would be decided by the ping-pong balls.
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