The 2022-2023 NBA season marks the 50th anniversary of the San Antonio Spurs as an NBA franchise. The franchise set a standard for competing at the highest level while maintaining a winning culture that spanned decades. As a San Antonio Spurs fan, it may be hard to see the current state of the team after becoming so accustomed to winning throughout the years.
With the NBA regular season at the halfway point, the San Antonio Spurs are one of the lowest ranked teams in the league. The Spurs are currently in 14th place out of 15 teams in the western conference with a record of 14-40 and 28th of out 30 in terms of the league.
With the departure of all-star guard Dejounte Murray in the offseason and the loss in the play-in tournament for the second straight year in a row, the franchise has gone into full rebuild mode and is focusing on the development of its young players.
Much to the surprise of San Antonio and the league, the Spurs’ young core started the season strong. Spurs forward Keldon Johnson and guard Devin Vassell have both seemingly taken a leap in terms of their on-court production that Spurs fans were hoping for.
Keldon Johnson is fresh off signing a four-year, $80 million deal with the Spurs in the offseason. Currently in his fourth year, Johnson is now the longest tenured player that was drafted by the Spurs currently on the roster.
Johnson was the 29th pick in 2019 and has improved every year in all facets of his game. Johnson brings physicality and spirit on the court. Spirit may sound broad, but that vigorous energy manifests itself on the court in the manner of difficult finishes at the rim and intensity on defense or clutch shots. This energy affects the momentum of the game while invigorating the team as well.
In terms of tangible results, Johnson is no slouch either. Last year, he averaged about 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists per game. So far in the season, he is at 21 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game. Johnson’s strength allows him to penetrate the inside and finish through contact. He has been shooting more consistently from three, though. This year, he is shooting 34% from three, which is a slight decline from the previous season, but his three point attempts have increased by nearly two shots per game. He’s getting more opportunities to shoot because he’s more likely to knock down the shot.
Vassell has made a significant jump in his third season and is making a steady case for the Most Improved player of the year. Before undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee on Jan. 11, Vassell was averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, all career highs. He is shooting 44% from the field while shooting 40% from three, also career highs. These counting stats are taken on a higher volume of shots taken by Vassell, showing the trust that Coach Gregg Popovich and the rest of the team have in him.
Barely in his third season, his scoring capabilities are not limited to shooting. The Spurs guard has explosive athleticism bolstered by a 6’5” frame and anchored with a smooth handle on the dribble. Flashes of Vassell’s finishing ability have erupted when in transition or coming off pick and roll actions.
The newest addition to the Spurs roster has added a bit of color to the team. With the ninth pick in the 2022 draft, the Spurs selected forward Jeramy Sochan out of Baylor University. Sochan is the highest drafted player by the Spurs since Tim Duncan at No. 1 in 1997. Sochan was selected for the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend.
The Rising Stars game is an exhibition game that showcases rookie and sophomore players selected by the NBA’s assistant coaches and league office.
Sochan has established himself as a starter from the beginning of the season. The Poland-born forward made history as the youngest player to ever start for the franchise on opening night at just 19 years old. He is currently averaging 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game while shooting 45% from the field. A small sample size to judge his full potential, but when he takes the court, Sochan’s ceiling seems quite high.
As a rookie, his defense is already at a high level. Despite his large size at 6-foot-9, he is light on his feet and is often given the toughest defensive assignment for each game guarding the opposing team’s best player. Sochan has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on both ends of the court. He has great court awareness for a rookie and, in the open court, he can run the floor and use his athleticism to finish at the rim with intensity.
In the half court, he’s just as dangerous, Sochan judges spacing well, finding the opening in the opponent’s defense for quick opportunities to score. As much as he’s on the receiving end, the Spurs forward is also a facilitator on offense. Popovich has said in interviews that Sochan is the point guard and will run plays. Popovich sees the potential and puts the ball in Sochan’s hands to further develop his playmaking abilities.
The most intriguing factor in his game has to be his fluidity and willingness to try anything. When the year began, he was shooting 45% from the free throw line, to help improve his shooting, he switched to shooting one-handed free throws. Since switching his form, he has been shooting an improved 76%.
Another playmaker on the rise is guard Tre Jones out of Duke University. Drafted in the same class as Vassell, Jones has taken the starting point guard position with the departure of Dejonte Murray. Another young player having a career-high year in all statistical categories, Jones has taken advantage of this opportunity, proving he can become the Spurs’ main facilitator.
Being a lower ranked team means better odds in the next draft, giving the franchise the opportunity to pick from the top young talent coming into the league. The Spurs are currently one of three teams with the highest odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft, at 14%.
Winning culture doesn’t end and begin with one individual player; it starts within the organization as a foundation to build upon. Accompanied by other young prospects, the Spurs are showing fans that their dynasty days may be in the past, but the future is far from bleak.