For the first time in more than three decades, the San Antonio Spurs have fully committed to a youth movement. In the offseason, DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay departed and now the franchise is leaning on a group of youngsters headlined by Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson.
While it’s possible that the Spurs may be better than expected, San Antonio’s preseason play hasn’t changed the minds of prognosticators. After beginning preseason action with a dominating win over the Utah Jazz, the Spurs have lost two of their next three exhibition games, including a demoralizing loss against a depleted Miami Heat team. Since you can look up championship odds for the NBA all day long, you can see that the Silver and Black are expected to be one of the seven worst teams in the league.
How Have the Spurs Played in the Preseason So Far?
On paper, it may look like the Spurs are doing well in preseason, as their 2-2 record is better than the record of a number of contenders. In fact, the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers are a combined 0-10 in preseason play yet all four teams are expected to make the playoffs.
But despite their respectable record in preseason, it’d be fair to say the Spurs have underwhelmed for the most part. They’re relatively healthy and their key players have gotten plenty of playing time, yet there are still long stretches where San Antonio has struggled. Once the regular season begins and all teams are giving maximum effort, it’s quite possible that the Spurs could prove the prognosticators right.
Which Other NBA Teams are Expected to Struggle?
The Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves both have 300-to-1 odds of winning a championship. Below the Spurs and the Timberwolves are five teams that have 500-to-1 championship odds: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic.
The Sacramento Kings have 250-to-1 championship odds. Every other team in the league has odds of 150-to-1 or better.
How Do the Spurs’ Championship Odds Compare to Recent Seasons?
After the Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili retired and the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors, prognosticators predictably soured on San Antonio. Their best championship odds since then were their 60-to-1 odds prior to the 2019-20 season. Last year, their championship odds dipped to 250-to-1.
What Would Need to Happen for the Spurs to Become Contenders Once Again?
With the current team, the Spurs would need multiple players to take big leaps forward this season. For example, if Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson play well enough that they’re talked about as potential All-Stars, that could be a sign that San Antonio’s rebuilding project is moving along quicker than expected.
Right now, the Spurs have a collection of useful pieces but no one on the team is regarded as a star or anything close to a star. That would need to change for prognosticators to be wrong about San Antonio’s championship odds.
The other most probable road back to contention for the Spurs is to struggle enough to land a high draft pick and then find a superstar in the draft. For that reason, it could be advantageous for the Spurs to bottom out this season, finish near the bottom of the standings and then hope to strike gold in the 2022 NBA Draft.
What Does a Successful 2021-22 Season Look Like for the Spurs?
If the Spurs are much better than expected and make the playoffs, that would have to be considered a success. Even if the Spurs aren’t a championship threat, making the playoffs would mean their youngsters are rapidly improving — and that would be a win for the franchise.
The other scenario that would have to be considered a success is if the Spurs finish with one of the worst records in the league. The Spurs haven’t had a top ten pick since they drafted Tim Duncan in the 1997 draft. A top ten pick — or, even better, a top five pick — could be exactly what the franchise needs to become contenders once again.
When Will Fans Know if the Spurs are Better Than Expected?
It won’t take long to get a good read on the 2021-22 Spurs. Their regular season schedule begins with a winnable home game versus the Orlando Magic. After that, though, the schedule gets a lot more difficult. In the next seven games, San Antonio plays difficult teams including the Milwaukee Bucks (twice), Dallas Mavericks (twice), Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
Eight games into the season, if the Spurs are at .500, that’d be a sign that the team is better than expected. Conversely, if the Silver and Black have only one or two wins, it’d be a sign that the prognosticators are correct and the Spurs are in for a season in which they’ll be near the bottom of the standings.