Progress Report 2.0: An In-Depth Look at the Spurs After 25 Games

When I wrote the first Progress Report of the season, the San Antonio Spurs were 6-7 and looked capable of being better than anyone expected. Since then, the Spurs lost 11 straight games before finally getting a win — a 118-109 victory over the Houston Rockets

As it stands, the Spurs are 7-18 and they’re tied with the Rockets at the bottom of the Western Conference. While three teams in the Eastern Conference have more losses, the Spurs have an average point differential of -11.0. That’s by far the worst mark in the league and a sign that San Antonio is likely to finish near the bottom of the standings at the end of the season. However, considering the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In Progress Report 2.0, let’s take an updated look at how each Spurs player is performing.

Keldon Johnson

At the time of the first Progress Report, Keldon Johnson was playing excellent basketball. I even wrote how he had a path to become an All-Star level player down the road. Unfortunately, Johnson experienced a horrendously ugly stretch since then that had me wondering if he is even a long-time starter in the NBA.

Over a forgettable span of nine games, Johnson averaged only 15.3 points while shooting 18.8 shots per game. During that time, he hit 29.6% of his shots from the field, including 24.0% of his three-pointers. He looked even worse than those numbers suggest. When Johnson wasn’t chucking contested threes, he was driving to the lane with blinders on and tossing up unimaginative shots within thickets of defenders. To put it bluntly, he was the worst player on the worst team in the league.

Thankfully, in Johnson’s last two games, he has seemingly reclaimed his glory from earlier in the season. In those two contests, he has 59 points on 25-for-44 (56.8%) shooting from the field and 4-for-11 (36.4%) shooting from downtown. 

Which version of Keldon is the real one? Is he the player who is a few more steps away from being an All-Star candidate or is he the mindless chucker who doesn’t have a varied enough arsenal to be a featured scorer? I’m hopeful Johnson’s true self is closer to the former but we’ll have to see.

Between now and the end of the season, the most important plotline for the Spurs is probably whether or not Johnson has the wherewithal to be a primary scorer. If he can, San Antonio has a sublime building block. If he can’t, the Spurs may have to rethink the entire construction of their team.

Devin Vassell

I’ve been very impressed with Devin Vassell’s offensive play this season. Even when Johnson was in the midst of his struggles, Vassell’s production level wasn’t impacted. Instead, he kept chugging along and looking like a possible No. 1 option in his own right.

Since the previous Progress Report, Vassell is averaging 20.1 points on 44.4% shooting from the field, 40.3% shooting from three-point land and 84.8% shooting from the free throw line. His high release, quick trigger and his ability to shoot off of movement make him a deadly three-point threat. With the ball in his hands, he has a sneaky amount of skill. He’s a tricky ball-handler with a myriad of dribble moves and step-backs that he uses to create space to get to his jumper. Vassell is also getting better at driving all the way to the lane and finishing among the trees.

The only limitation right now for Vassell offensively is he’s not much of a self-creator — but even that is changing. The coaches are putting the ball in his hands increasingly more often and Vassell is proving to be a smart passer who understands timing and spacing. All told, there’s a very real possibility that Vassell will be the team’s go-to scorer by the end of the season.

Defensively, I’ve been disappointed with Vassell for much of the year. He has great defensive instincts but with his newfound focus on offense, he hasn’t been as locked in on D as he was in previous seasons. 

Jakob Poeltl

Jakob Poeltl has been steady this season. At the time of the last Progress Report, Poeltl was averaging approximately 13 points, ten rebounds and three assists. Since then, he has been averaging approximately 13 points, ten rebounds and three assists. So, yeah, he’s been dependable.

Per 36 minutes, Poeltl is averaging a career-high in points (17.0), rebounds (13.0), assists (4.6) and steals (1.2). Even though he’s taking on a larger scoring role, his true shooting percentage of 63.4% is the highest of his career since he’s become a full-time starter. 

However, this season hasn’t been all sunshine and strudels for the center out of Austria. His blocks are way down, his turnovers are way up and he continues to struggle at the free throw line (51.8%). Moreover, his on-off splits aren’t as drastic as one would assume. In fact, the Spurs have played slightly better when Poeltl has been off the court, as strange as that sounds.

Despite his flaws, Poeltl has definitely been a bright spot this season. During a difficult rebuild, he’s a piece who the franchise would love to keep around in the future. As I previously reported, Poeltl is considering signing an extension with the Spurs and San Antonio has been hesitant to trade him despite plenty of interest.

Tre Jones

Overall, I think it’s clear that Tre Jones has gotten better as the season has progressed. His assists are trending up and his turnovers are trending down. He’s become better at running the offense within halfcourt sets. In transition, he has developed into a nightmare for opponents to deal with. Jones’ defense has also gotten better and his relentlessness has been kicked up a notch or two.

When it comes to putting the ball in the basket, there’s good news and bad news since the previous Progress Report. The good news: His two-point percentage is much improved as he has remembered how to finish consistently at the rim. He is also shooting more three-pointers than he ever has in his career. The bad news: His three-point percentage has cratered. The last time we checked in, he was shooting a sizzling 41.9% from three-point territory. Since then, while he’s shooting more often from deep, his percentage has dropped to 20.6%. That is … unfortunate, to say the least.

While Jones isn’t going to be a 42% three-point shooter, he also can’t be a 20% three-point shooter if he wants to have a long career in the league. He needs to at least settle around the 33% to 35% range to be a player coaches will feel comfortable relying on. Jones also needs to continue working on his floater. Last season, his floater was money in the bank. This season, it’s still missing in action.

Jeremy Sochan

From Day 1, Jeremy Sochan exhibited his promise on the defensive end. He has excellent instincts as a team defender and is almost always in the right spot. Individually, the eye-test says he’s going to be really, really good. He moves his feet amazingly well for his size and can defend fullcourt without breaking a sweat. Sochan, 19, is vulnerable to veteran ploys and chicanery but he’s learning quickly and all evidence points to him being an extraordinarily valuable defender sooner rather than later. 

Sochan’s offensive fit isn’t nearly as clear. However, since the first Progress Report, he is starting to figure out where he fits. The most notable development is the fact that the coaches have started to utilize Sochan at point guard. It may sound insane to have your rookie power forward playing point guard but he seems to be able to handle the backup point guard gig. Sochan sees the court well and he can rocket on-target passes with either hand.

Scoring-wise, Sochan has also progressed. Since the first Progress Report, his scoring rate is up nearly 18%. Since he has started to play point guard, his assist rate is up more than 45% in the same time span.

Regrettably, I can’t report that Sochan’s outside shooting has improved. His three-point percentage has actually dropped and he’s now shooting 18.2% from three-point territory on the season. Strangely enough, though, Sochan is hitting 55.6% of his shots from between 10 feet and 16 feet and 62.5% of his shots from between 16 feet and the three-point line. Is that a sign that his three-point shot will come around eventually? Let us pray that that is indeed the case because once Sochan can shoot, watch out.

Doug McDermott

Doug McDermott has lived up to expectations this season — and then some. Despite a move to the bench, McDermott is actually having a better season than he had last season. Considering the bench unit has been devoid of playmaking for much of the season, it’s shocking that he hasn’t seen his production dip.

Compared to last season, McDermott is scoring more on a per minute basis and has better true shooting percentage (60.2%). He’s also shooting three-pointers more often than he ever has in his career and he’s averaging more assists per minute than ever before. 

Without McDermott, San Antonio’s bench is painfully limited. When he’s on the court, they actually have a purpose. McDermott never stops moving and he’s used as a pressure relief when the offensive begins to bog down.

Unfortunately, McDermott’s defense keeps him from being more impactful. He’s a really poor defender and there’s no hope that will ever change. A contender may think about acquiring him at the trade deadline but McDermott’s lack of defense could keep potential suitors away.

Josh Richardson

Due to an ankle injury, Josh Richardson has only played in six games since the first Progress Report. In those six contests, Richardson has been ice cold. In 22.8 minutes per game, he’s averaging 8.5 points on 34.5% shooting from the field and 27.6% shooting from three-point range. 

In addition to his wayward shooting, Richardson has proven that he can’t handle full-time point guard duties. He’s fine as a secondary ball-handler and a secondary or tertiary playmaker but it’s asking too much of him to run the show. His handle isn’t tight enough and he doesn’t pass well enough on the move to thrive in that role.

When it comes to intangibles, Richardson gets high marks. He plays hard, stays even-keeled and communicates well. In a rebuilding situation like he finds himself in, Richardson is useful. He can play a valuable complementary role and then seamlessly try to do more if the youngsters aren’t up for the task.

I also think he’ll be a target at the trade deadline. His archetype is valuable on a contending team. He’s well-rounded enough to play in the postseason and his ability to hit contested three-pointers becomes more useful when the stakes elevate.

Keita Bates-Diop

Keita Bates-Diop remains a difficult player to assess. Statistically, he’s having a strong season. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging a career-high 15.7 points while shooting 52.3% from the field and a respectable 36.7% from three-point range. Compared to last season, Bates-Diop is shooting more often from every spot on the court and he has an impressive true shooting percentage of 59.9%. 

When the going gets tough, Bates-Diop has at times taken the reins and shouldered the scoring burden. He’s not notably skilled on offense but he’s long, slippery and has a soft touch around the rim. His three-point shooting is also getting better and better as the season progresses.

However, despite these positives, Bates-Diop has the worst on-off splits on the team — and it’s not even close. The Spurs are 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse when Bates-Diop is on the court compared to when he’s off the court. (To put that number in perspective, the second worst player in terms of on-off splits is Romeo Langford at -3.4.)

Why do the Spurs struggle with Bates-Diop on the court? First of all, he’s a really bad passer. He has minimal court vision and is slow to make passing decisions. I’d rate him as far and away the worst passer on the Spurs. Considering this edition of the Spurs really relies on passing to score, Bates-Diop’s deficiency in that department sticks out like a sore thumb.

Secondly, the closer you watch Bates-Diop, the more you realize he’s a really bad defender. Even though his arms are so long that it looks like he could palm the moon from the comfort of his living room couch, his length is rarely a positive attribute on defense. His rebounding rate has been awful this season. He rarely contests shots in the paint. He’s dreadful defending out on the perimeter. His rotations are glacial in nature and often incorrect.

Overall, I don’t see Bates-Diop being capable of being an everyday cog on a winning team. On a talent-starved team like today’s Spurs, he can eat some minutes. But once the Spurs become serious about winning again, I think they need to move on from Bates-Diop. That said, hopefully he turns a corner at some point this season and begins to prove the sentiment wrong.

Zach Collins

To begin the campaign, Zach Collins was playing well. From excellent passing to three-point shooter, and from hard-nosed rebounding to finishing with athleticism, the 25-year-old looked like he may have some long-term starting center upside potential. 

Sadly, after missing ten games due to a non-displaced leg fracture, Collins has been bad in the six games he has played. During that stretch, which has included four games that he started at center, he’s averaging a whopping 4.5 fouls in only 22.3 minutes per game. To make matters worse, he’s 3-for-18 on three-pointers, his turnovers are up and his points, assists, steals and blocks are down. 

On one hand, you don’t want to judge the man too harshly considering he’s coming off of an injury. A non-displaced fracture doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience. On the other hand, I’m starting to question whether the Spurs should guarantee his contract next season. An injury prone backup center who can’t hack it as a starter isn’t worth much in today’s game. 

Then again, I think it’s fair to be patient with Collins. Right now, he’s struggling. Once he stops fouling every other possession and regains a semblance of shooting accuracy, he’ll be better. But, still, his contract situation doesn’t look as clear as it did earlier in the season. He has to show more between now and the end of the season to keep the Spurs invested, I’d assume. 

Charles Bassey

Even though Charles Bassey is only 15 games into his Spurs career, he has already experienced his share of ups and downs. In his first handful of games, he looked like one of the greatest steals in recent San Antonio history. He dominated a couple of games in the G League and he transferred that domination to the NBA level instantaneously. He was a beast on the boards, altering almost every shot attempted in the paint and finishing everything around the rim.

Then, after his glorious start, Bassey hit a rough patch. He looked lost offensively and was basically just getting in the way constantly. Defensively, he was out of position most of the time and looked to be in over his head. During this stretch, he looked like a C or D athlete who couldn’t move his feet well enough to thrive in the modern day NBA.

Thankfully, Bassey has seemingly turned it around. After another short stint in the G League, he returned to San Antonio and he once again looks like the guy who was so, so good early in the season. In the last few games, he’s back to being a great rim protector, a rugged rebounder and a powerful finisher. 

On a per minute basis, Bassey is the best rebounder on the team and the best shotblocker. He’s also shooting better than 70% from the field. Passing-wise, he continues to be shockingly good. He has a real feel for timing and anticipating where the ball needs to be. He’s not quite as good as Poeltl or Collins at passing yet — but he’s closer to those two than anyone would have expected when he was signed.

Going forward, it’s still difficult to figure out exactly what to make of him. The only negative things I have to say about Bassey’s outlook are that he’s a bit stiff in open spaces and he’s an underwhelming leaper when he doesn’t have time to load up. Otherwise, the book on him is wide open. If he can continue to expand his shooting range (it looks promising), keep rebounding like he’s hungry for leather and keep blocking shots with a mean streak, Bassey definitely is a keeper with a pathway to becoming a starting center.

We’ll see if his ups and downs continue or if he’ll keep producing at his current level from here on out. Hopefully the Spurs have realized that if Bassey slumps again, the quickest way to get him back on track is to send him to the G League for a couple days.

Romeo Langford

I was almost ready to give up on Romeo Langford as a prospect due to his complete inability to impact the game on the offensive end — but Langford has recently begun to show signs that he’s capable on that side of the court. After scoring less than ten points in each of his first ten games of the season, he has scored in double figures in three out of his last four outings. Furthermore, after hitting only one three-pointer in his first nine games, he has a three-pointer in three of his last five games.

Per 36 minutes, Langford’s recent hot stretch has him averaging career-highs in points (11.4), rebounds (5.3) and assists (1.9). That said, he still has a ton of room for improvement, as his scoring and assisting rates are anemic for a perimeter player.

The first obstacle Langford has to overcome offensively is his timidness. His natural tendency is to blend into the background and not do anything with the ball unless he’s wide open. In recent games, he’s been better at attacking — even against set defenses. The second obstacle for Langford on offense is correctly his iffy outside shot. He’s only 4-for-20 on the season from three-point range. For Langford to make it, he’s going to have to shoot it straighter.

I haven’t discussed his defense yet because there are actually no worries at the end of the court. He’s a really strong defender already. He’s tough, moves his feet well, plays with great anticipation and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the paint. He’s never going to become an elite defender because he’s only 6-foot-4 and he’s not a high-end athlete but Langford is impactful enough on D to carve out a niche in the NBA … as long as his offense can at least become average.

Isaiah Roby

If you just watch his highlights, Isaiah Roby looks like a phenom. He’s mobile for his height, he can jump out of the gym and his shooting form is enviable. On top of those physical traits, he plays an unselfish brand of basketball and seems like a great kid who wants to play a winning brand of basketball.

Unfortunately, Roby hasn’t put it all together and doesn’t look like he’s close to putting it all together. He really struggles to make decisions on the fly. When he has time to think, Roby can do good things. But when a situation calls for a split second decision, things typically go awry. For that reason, his elite physical tools aren’t showcased nearly as much as they should be.

In the 12 games since the previous Progress Report, Roby is averaging 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game, while shooting 42.9% from the field and 33.3% from three-point range. Those numbers are okay-ish but combine them with his decision-making woes and it becomes clear why he has failed to gain more traction in the rotation — even though the Spurs have been hit with a swarm of injuries. 

Malaki Branham

Malakii Branham is a rookie playing like … well, a rookie. He has had a steady role in the rotation in the last six games but he hasn’t found his footing in the league. It’s understandable that a 19-year-old hasn’t hit the ground running in the NBA but, if we’re being honest, we’d all hope that Branham would have shown more shooting touch than he has to date. So far in his rookie campaign, he’s shooting 43.8% from two-point range and 23.1% from three-point range.

Right now, Branham plays with a nervous energy and his confidence is extremely fragile. He second-guesses each decision he makes. Again, that’s completely understandable given his age. Plus, he wasn’t a top-flight recruit out of high school, so the jump to the NBA is an even bigger leap for him than most. 

Through the clangs, there have been some bright spots for Branham. He has been forced to play point guard recently and he’s done surprisingly well. Out of Ohio State, he was regarded as a sub par ball-handler and a sub par passer. As a pro, his ball-handling looks good and I’ve actually been really impressed with his passing. He has a healthy amount of court vision and processes the game quickly.

Defensively, Branham was absolutely terrible early in the season but he has gotten better as of late. He’s an average-at-best athlete with average-at-best length, so he’s never going to become a defensive monster. However, Branham is doing his work on defense earlier, rotating quicker and he’s beginning to understand advanced concepts. 

Alize Johnson

In 30 minutes this season, Alize Johnson has seven points, ten rebounds, four turnovers and three fouls. He has hit 2-of-4 two-pointers and has missed a pair of three-pointers. 

I haven’t seen much that distinguishes Johnson from your run-of-the-mill undersized hustle big man that is always floating around the periphery of the league. He can handle the ball a little bit, which is a nice surprise. Defensively, his energy is palpable. If he can knock down threes, maybe the Spurs will have something here.

Realistically, though, at this point Johnson looks like a filler piece who’s only useful during times of widespread injury. 

Gorgui Dieng

Gorgui Dieng has basically turned into the 17th man on the roster who is only called upon to play basketball in times of emergency. And that’s okay. Ask around and Dieng is regarded as the best leader on the team. He connects with the young players and helps keep their heads up even when negativity is mounting. Not many people in the league could command that kind of respect as an end of the bench guy, so it’s safe to say Dieng is earning every penny of his contract.

When Dieng gets on the court, he’s not bad. He rebounds, shoots threes and unleashes creative passes. He moves too slowly to be someone a team wants to rely on but he’s fine in spot duty.


Despite the extended losing streak, I think Pop has been coaching well. He has continued to rely on the youngsters, even when the going gets tough. Rarely have we ever seen him put the vets on the court in hopes of stealing a win. I’ve also been impressed with his play-calling and his overall enthusiasm this season. He’s coaching hard — even though wins aren’t possible on most nights. Well done, Pop.