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Should the San Antonio Spurs Compete for the Playoffs or Tank for the 2023 NBA Draft?

The San Antonio Spurs have missed the NBA playoffs in the last three seasons. Do they have the talent now to push for a return to the playoffs? Or is it time for the Spurs to tank in order to get a franchise player that would lead the team to the NBA Finals in the near future?

Before the start of the 2022-2023 NBA season, the Spurs were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league. Gregg Popovich and the front office didn’t make any significant move in the offseason aside from sending All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for Danilo Gallinari and 3 first-round picks. They got rookies such as Jeremy Sochan, Blake Wesley, and Malaki Branham but these prospects will take some time to develop. Fans were expecting that promising sophomore Joshua Primo would help fill the void at the point guard position after Murray’s departure, but the Spurs have just recently waived Primo.

Read More: 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings

For many observers, the Spurs are on the path of a full rebuild with their young roster and they are very far from being a playoff team. They believe that San Antonio does not possess the star power and the frontcourt that could compete with the elite teams in the Western Conference. The general expectation is that the Spurs will be tanking this season for a bigger prize in the 2023 NBA Draft, and this could the best option for the Spurs if they are looking for long-term success.

Considering that San Antonio could hardly land a superstar, the Spurs need a franchise player that they could build around. They attempted to look for that player while also competing for the playoffs near the end of their record-tying streak of 22 straight NBA playoff appearances. Unfortunately, the search continues and the Spurs have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons.

From 2016-2021, Spurs have drafted first-round picks such as Dejounte Murray (2016), Derrick White (2017), Lonnie Walker IV (2018), Luka Samanic (2019), Keldon Johnson (2019), Devin Vassell (2020) and Joshua Primo (2021). Popovich has spent time developing these players but all of them are not with the team anymore except Johnson and Vassell. The Spurs" management must have realized now that it’s hard to find a franchise player from the draft especially if you do not have a top 5 pick.

Popovich definitely hates losing and no one wants to lose. But it would be a waste of time to fight for the last spot in the playoffs or just compete in the play-in tournament because the Spurs have tried to do that with Derozan and with Murray but they failed somehow.

Why not push the reset button and join the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes?

Tank to the Top of the NBA Draft?

Tanking is just a small price if the Spurs will consider the bigger chance to have a generational talent like Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson who could make a significant difference for the franchise. This is how they got a Tim Duncan who turned the Spurs into a championship franchise.

In the 1996-97 NBA season, San Antonio had the third-worst record in the regular season with its 20-62 win-loss record. However, that losing record helped the Spurs in selecting Tim Duncan as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft. And the rest is a history of a winning culture in San Antonio.

The Spurs also had a 28-54 record in the 1986-87 season and they entered the lottery with a 14.29 percent chance to land the No. 1 selection. They won the lottery and they got David Robinson as the no.1 overall pick in the 1987 draft.

Still, tanking is not a guarantee of a team’s success in the following seasons. Several teams have tried to tank to get a top 5 pick, but after that, the struggle for playoff contention remains.

Popovich on Winning Games

Gregg Popovich has always wanted his players to perform to the best of their abilities and he will not purposefully lose games in order to have a bigger chance of getting the first pick in the 2023 draft. This is how he turned Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into two of the best competitors in the franchise.

Popovich definitely wants his squad to compete this season. Tanking is not his style. He wants to instill a winning culture in his young players.

Surprisingly, San Antonio is currently 4-2 and leads the league in assists with 31.8 per game. The Spurs are third in points per game with 119.8 and they are shooting 39.3% from beyond the arc.

Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell are having excellent numbers. Johnson is averaging 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 32.8 minutes while shooting 42.3% from the 3-point range. Devin Vassell, who is expected to make the leap this season, norms at 19.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists.

Can the Spurs Sustain the Early Success?

Once the schedule gets tougher and teams will be familiar with how the young Spurs play, can they sustain this early success? Can they maintain their good execution and continue to hit contested shots at a higher clip? It remains to be seen.

Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell should be consistent as shot creators. We are yet to see how good is Tre Jones as a starting point guard against the top 5 point guards in the league and how will Jeremy Sochan develop into a modern-day power forward that the Spurs have badly needed for years.

The championship is not coming to San Antonio this season but Gregg Popovich will still compete while utilizing the regular season games to develop his players.

After the 2023 All-Star break, the Spurs" management should be able to decide which path should give them a better chance to return to the championship in the near future. By then, General Manager Brian Wright may realize that it’s not every year that a talent like Victor Wembanyama is available in the NBA Draft and Scoot Henderson could be the next point guard for the Spurs.

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