Anticipation for the San Antonio Spurs’ season was palpable in June when the NBA team drafted teenage French phenom Victor Wembanyama. But that excitement has cooled as the team works through an unprecedented 18-game losing streak.
Jake Fischer, senior NBA reporter for Yahoo Sports, says the team is young and will need to readjust its tactics to give themselves, and Wembanyama, a greater chance to succeed. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s cut right to the chase. What went wrong with the Spurs this year?
Jake Fischer: You know, the Spurs weren’t exactly accustomed to winning games last season. That put themselves in position to win the draft lottery in May. That landed them this grand 7-foot-4 French prize.
When you see Victor Wembanyama actually come stateside, he actually laces his shoes and he reaches the NBA shores, he is still a 19-year-old teenager. This is a team that is not loaded with a lot of veteran talent.
And after 20 games where they try to do this unorthodox experiment with their point guard, Jeremy Sochan at 6-foot-9, trying to run that position for the first time, and they ran – nowadays an unconventional – two big man lineup with fellow center Zach Collins next to Victor Wembanyama. They’ve changed all that now. They have put Victor at the five. They have brought their other past first round pick, Malaki Branham, into the starting lineup to try to create more spacing.
But all those changes, all those tweaks, it is difficult to win NBA basketball games when you play with a lot of young talent. And no matter [Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich’s veteran history, they are certainly finding that out right now.
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Well, you know, this is the thing about the Spurs. When they have had these championship seasons – and they’ve had a lot – it has been as a team, more than as having one superstar. I wonder if the Wembanyama mania sort of built up expectations unrealistically, not just among fans, but maybe among coaching staff. What do you think?
I think so. I think any thought that he was going to instantly lift this team into the playoff picture clearly was unfounded. Now he is already, and by any metric you look at, an elite defensive player: he is leading the league in block percentage right now, which is a very specific stat that shows he’s blocking 8.2% of any two-point field goal attempt for any opponent on the floor.
The game I was just at on Wednesday night against the Lakers was a loss, but he had six blocks. He is, at worst, a defensive player of the year candidate already. But on offense, where the game’s current battles are truly won, he is still figuring out how to use his body, which is absolutely longer and more elastic than his opponents. But he does have a lot of strength deficiencies and muscle deficiencies that really do matter at this stage.
What does this 18-game losing streak do to a club like Spurs?
It’s hard to separate these losses from overall beneficial lessons you can learn for the future. That’s the big challenge here. You need to be able to figure out and sift through all the data and all the experiences and find the silver linings that you can carry forward to hopefully win some games in the future
Is there a way to pull out of this slump at this point in the season?
It sounds so simple. It is a make-or-miss league, and Spurs coaches and officials, they are looking at their shot profile right now – the actual baskets and attempts they’re taking –and the three-point shots just aren’t going in. They’re 29th in the league and converting from outside right now. That can and hopefully will change with just a couple different bounces of the ball.
The Spurs, as you point out, didn’t do so hot last season, which set them up to draft Wembanyama in the first place. I wonder if we’re on our way to draft time being the silver lining here?
It’s certainly possible to get another top pick. However, there is no Victor Wembanyama or Zion Williamson or Anthony Davis down the list in this year’s class right now. Talking to NBA scouts, there’s not a ton of optimism there’s a true franchise change in talent. But the good news for San Antonio is they are already employing one.