Grades: San Antonio Spurs at Detroit Pistons – Game #56
It got scary at times but the San Antonio Spurs successfully lost their 11th straight game, a 138-131 double overtime defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons. The Spurs loss and the Pistons win catapulted San Antonio to sole possession of the second worst record in the NBA. At 14-42, the only team with a worse record than Spurs are the 13-43 Houston Rockets.
Honestly, this was one of the most entertaining games of the season. The good guys were without Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Tre Jones and Romeo Langford due to injuries. They were also without the recently traded Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson. Despite all the absences, the Spurs gave a great effort and nearly pulled off an improbable victory on the road.
Spurs at Pistons – Final Grades
For the third time in five games, Branham notched a new career-high. The coolest part of Branham’s 27-point outing was the fact that he did it so effortlessly. This rookie is a natural scorer with sophisticated moves and instincts that are wise beyond his 19 years of existence. Branham shot with confidence from deep, drove the ball into the teeth of the defense and illustrated deft touch throughout. He made mistakes but effort and focus were never lacking. Defensively, Branham got his hands dirty more than usual and had a handful of strong plays on that end.
This was quietly one of Bates-Diop’s best games of the season. He usually doesn’t really use his ungodly length to his advantage on a consistent basis — but he certainly did against the Pistons. Despite his go-go gadget arms, he only had nine blocks coming into this game. In Detroit, he had three blocks including a couple key ones. Bates-Diop’s passing was also excellent — and that’s usually a weakness for him. Scoring-wise, he rarely had clean opportunities but he was able to slither way to the basket well enough to put 15 points on the board.
Jakob Who-ltl? In his first game as San Antonio’s full-time starting center, Collins cruised past his previous career-high of 18 points and posted 29 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. Offensively, he was marvelous; I don’t even know if he made a mistake on that end. He fought to get low post position and scored again and again versus a lot of length and muscle. Collins also mixed in a three-pointer and the threat of his jumper created space for his teammates. Unfortunately, Collins’ grade can’t be higher because his defense was lacking. Specifically, he wasn’t boxing out well and struggled at times to hold his ground in the paint. Rookie Jalen Duren had 30 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons, with much of that production coming against Collins. All in all, though, this was a successful debut for Collins in his new role.
Roby got a start but it was a forgettable evening for him. He was 1-for-7 from the field and also passed up a couple of shots he needed to shoot. His decision-making was shaky and he rarely used his athleticism to his advantage. Recently, I’ve been praising Roby for just playing instead of overthinking. On Friday night, he was overthinking again.
Yikes. I guess we can chalk this up as a learning experience for Wesley. The rookie didn’t do much right in his 24 minutes. On offense, he had four turnovers, was out of control on his drives and his passing accuracy left a lot to be desired. On defense, he was even worse. He lacks fundamentals on that end, compounds misplays by fouling and can oftentimes be found trying to do too much. The silver lining is that none of Wesley’s struggles are due to a lack of confidence or a lack of heart. He just needs to learn more about how this sport is played at the highest level.
Well, damn. In his career, Graham is primarily known for being an elite volume three-point shooter who has a flair for the dramatic. In his first game in Fiesta Colors, Graham went 6-for-16 from three-point range and nailed a handful of big-time buckets. The 27-year-old point guard looked really good. He has a quick trigger from deep and his trigger finger is fearless. Graham is also a very good ball-handler and his drawing of fouls was impressive against the Pistons. Considering this was his first game on a new team and the fact that he was in the middle of unrelenting chaos, it’s stunning that he didn’t have a turnover in 37 minutes. Defensively, I thought he held up well despite his 6-foot-1 frame. Overall, no one could have asked for much more from Graham in his debut. In fact, he set a franchise record for points in a debut with 31 — and the Spurs probably win this game if he doesn’t run out of gas late in the first overtime.
The good: Johnson’s defense was stout. He was once again the best perimeter defender on the team. He was also a major asset on the glass. On offense, I liked how hard he took the ball to the basket and how he shot when he was open. The bad: Johnson didn’t shoot straight enough. He had a couple easy shots that rimmed out. Johnson also had a few mental mistakes that proved costly on both ends. A little more focus on the small details would do wonders for him and assure him a spot in the league.
I didn’t have a problem with McDermott’s shot-selection against Detroit. He didn’t shoot well but there was nothing wrong with his looks. I also thought his passing was much better than usual. Defensively, he wasn’t much of a liability. Unfortunately, McDermott exited after a Pistons player landed on the back of his leg. Let’s hope he can bounce back quickly.
Mr. Inextinguishable was back on the basketball court for the good guys. Dieng … wasn’t too amazing. He had a few heady plays here and there but I can’t say he had a positive impact. His lack of foot speed on defense sticks out like a sore thumb. He was better on offense, where he drained a three, made a couple good passes and helped orchestrate the proceedings.
Barlow got his first real minutes in the NBA and I thought the two-way player showed some promise. We have to set the bar low due to his newness to anything resembling this level of basketball but the 19-year-old had a few legitimately positive possessions. He’s quick, fluid and athletic for a big. Barlow seems to have a good nose for rebounds and loose balls. His hands look better than they looked in preseason and he didn’t hesitate to bang his body. Obviously, though, Barlow needs to get stronger to survive in the paint in the NBA. Right now, he gets bumped out of the way and is forced to reach — which usually results in a foul. But, yeah, Barlow might just have a future in the league. I didn’t see anything that indicated he’s not capable.
Pop almost got a win with two hands and about eight starters tied behind his back. Strategically, the Spurs needed to tank this game for record-related purposes … but Pop almost got in the way. In the end, though, this was a fun game that was a fantastic learning experience for many of the players. I loved how Pop leaned on Graham and Branham. He also called plays early and often for Collins — and that strategy paid dividends right away.