The San Antonio Spurs have been consistently good for so long that it feels like a fool’s errand to predict their demise. Even last season, when a 11-14 record in December augured trouble ahead, the Spurs rebounded to make the playoffs and give No. 2 seed Denver a seven-game scare in the first round. That’s why it’s difficult to predict doom for this current San Antonio iteration. Even though the Spurs are 12-17, they’re tied in the loss column for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
San Antonio has been an average team for most of the season, but the Spurs are still trying to claw their way back from an eight-game losing streak that included losses to the Grizzlies and Wizards. Their defense has perked up in recent weeks, but it still seems like they’ll peak as a middle-of-the-pack squad on both ends of the floor. With that in mind, here’s what San Antonio should be wishing for this holiday season.
#1: Abolition of the three-point line
It becomes weirder with each passing season that Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, among the earliest advocates for the corner three, refuse to incorporate the three-pointer as a meaningful feature in their offensive system. For the second straight year, the Spurs are last in the league in three-point shooting frequency (27.5 percent of all shots), and they lead the NBA in long midrange jumpers outside of 14 feet (22.5 percent). Considering they shoot 44 percent on midrangers and 36 percent on three-pointers, they’re leaving a lot of points on the board with that shot distribution.
San Antonio got away with that archaic shot profile last season because they were shooting the lights out from everywhere on the court. Now that their percentages have normalized, they can’t sustain above a league-average offense. The Spurs seem to value stylistic diversity and allowing their players to focus on what they do well, but their offense will lag behind the best teams in the league unless the NBA redraws the court and makes every shot worth two points again.
#2: A trade suitor for DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has become emblematic of all that ails the Spurs. He has a throwback offensive game that relies on isolation rather than ball movement, and he isn’t getting to the rim or the free throw line often enough to be efficient. DeRozan has taken 302 of his non garbage-time shots in the midrange this season compared to 135 at the rim and 18 beyond the arc. His presence on the floor crowds the paint for his teammates, and it’s not like he offers world-class defense on the other end to compensate.
The best thing to happen to the Spurs would be if another team actively courted DeRozan in a trade, which would free up minutes for Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV. The Spurs could use a player with small forward size to help beef up their perimeter defense. They could also use a willing shooter to space the floor for LaMarcus Aldridge and clear the lane for Murray and the other young guards.
In another offensive environment, perhaps a different coach would accentuate DeRozan’s best tendencies, like Dwane Casey did in Toronto. By all accounts, DeRozan is a well-liked teammate and gets along well with Popovich, but the fit hasn’t been as snug as possible over the last year-plus.
#3: A crowded Western Conference playoff picture
The only thing preventing this season from being an abject disaster for the Spurs (aside from defeating the Rockets in the protest game) is that the Western Conference playoff picture is wide open, allowing San Antonio to be right in the mix despite being five games under .500. It’s hard to picture the Spurs tanking, so they’ll continue to push for the playoffs even if it makes more sense to sell off their veterans at the trade deadline. As a result, they need Portland, Phoenix, Minnesota, and Sacramento to continue struggling and leave an opening for San Antonio in the eighth seed. The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, and the best gift they can receive this holiday season is to continue that mark of excellence.