Spurs Rumors

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Vassell, Sochan

Spurs No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama missed his first regular season game on Friday night against the Pelicans. The 7’4″ big man has been dealing with right hip tightness and considers himself “day-to-day,” writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

Friday was the second of back-to-back games for San Antonio, which lost to the Hawks on Thursday night. Wembanyama was questionable for that contest, but wound up playing, Lopez notes.

In 18 games (30.0 minutes) in 2023/24, the 19-year-old has put up very impressive counting stats of 19.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and a league-leading 2.7 blocks per night, though like many rookies he has struggled at times with turnovers (3.5) and scoring efficiency (.437/.271/.829 shooting line).

Here are a few more notes on the Spurs, who have lost 13 straight games entering Friday’s contest:

  • Devin Vassell hasn’t gotten much recognition this season because San Antonio is just 3-15, last place in the Western Conference. But the fourth-year wing is shooting career highs of 58.0% on twos and 41.9% on threes, and the spacing and attention he draws are essential to the team’s offense, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic, who says Vassell “increasingly looks like the perfect complementary piece to Wembanyama.”
  • Vassell has missed five games this season due to an adductor injury, causing the Spurs to place him on a minutes restriction and bring him off the bench of late. He was a reserve again on Friday night, but head coach Gregg Popovich said Vassell will return to the starting lineup in the near future, tweets Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News.
  • Transitioning to point guard after playing power forward as a rookie last season has been a bumpy adjustment for Jeremy Sochan, but he had his best game of the season on Thursday, McDonald writes for The Express-News (subscriber link). The 20-year-old had a career-high 33 points (on 12-of-14 shooting) while also contributing eight rebounds, six assists and a steal. “It’s a process,” Sochan said. “But as every day goes on, it’s getting easier. I’ve just going to keep going. And if I have the trust of my coaches and my teammates, that’s the most important thing.”

Western Notes: MPJ, Alexander-Walker, Wemby, Morant, A. Holiday

With Aaron Gordon unavailable for the Nuggets‘ past three games due to a right heel injury, Michael Porter Jr. has seen more action at power forward and said the transition has been a smooth one, per Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette (Twitter links).

“It’s easier for me, I think, at the four. It’s more of a matchup for me,” Porter explained. “Those bigger guys guarding me, they don’t want to chase around screens. They don’t want to close out all the way. I can get by them easier. So, it’s fun playing the four. It’s fine playing the three, too, but it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment, because our offense is very fluid.”

Porter scored a season-high 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting in Denver’s victory over Houston on Wednesday. It remains to be seen which position he’ll spend the most time at on Friday, as Gordon is listed as questionable for the Nuggets’ contest in Phoenix.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker didn’t have much of a role for the rebuilding Jazz last season, but after a trade to Minnesota, he’s playing key minutes for a contending Timberwolves team, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Alexander-Walker had his best game of the season in a win over his former team on Thursday, racking up 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and five steals in 36 minutes.
  • Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama has been on a tear lately, averaging 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and 2.5 steals per night in his past four games. However, all four of those games were losses. The Spurs know they need more production out of other players on the roster to help the young phenom, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required).
  • Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has been subpoenaed to testify next month in an ongoing civil case related to an incident that occurred during a pickup game at his house during the summer of 2022. Lucas Finton of The Memphis Commercial Appeal has the details.
  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Rockets guard Aaron Holiday discussed a handful of topics, including his new role as a locker room leader, his early impressions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks as teammates, Alperen Sengun‘s development, and whether he and brothers Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday have talked about playing on the same team. “Yeah, but everything has to work out perfectly for that to happen,” Aaron said of his teaming up with his brothers. “It would be tough for that to happen, but obviously we’re all for it.”

NBA Waiver Order Now Based On 2023/24 Records

As of December 1, the NBA’s waiver priority order is determined by teams’ current-year records, rather than the previous season’s results.

That means, starting today, the waiver order for this season is based on teams’ 2023/24 records, with the worst teams getting the highest priority. In other words, if two teams place a claim on the same player, the team lower in this season’s NBA standings will be awarded that player.

Up until today, the waiver claim order was based on which teams had the worst records in 2022/23.

Waiver claims are relatively rare in the NBA, but it’s still worth noting which teams will have the first crack at intriguing players who may be cut over the next few weeks or months.

[RELATED: 2023/24 NBA Waiver Claims]

Here’s what the teams at the top of the NBA’s waiver order look like as of today:

  1. Detroit Pistons (2-17)
  2. San Antonio Spurs (3-15) (tie)
    Washington Wizards (3-15) (tie)
  3. Memphis Grizzlies (4-13)
  4. Chicago Bulls (6-14)
  5. Utah Jazz (6-13)
  6. Portland Trail Blazers (6-12)
  7. Charlotte Hornets (6-11)
  8. Los Angeles Clippers (8-10)
  9. Golden State Warriors (9-10) (tie)
    Toronto Raptors (9-10) (tie)

In instances where multiple teams have identical records, head-to-head record for the current season is used to break ties — the team with the worst winning percentage in head-to-head games gets the higher priority.

If the tied teams have yet to face one another or if they’ve split their head-to-head matchups, a coin flip determines priority for those teams. That would be the case for both the Spurs and Wizards and Warriors and Raptors right now, since those two pairs have yet to go up against each other this season.

If a waived player can’t be claimed using the minimum salary exception, a team must use a trade exception, a disabled player exception, or cap room to absorb his salary. So a club with a top priority won’t be in position to nab just anyone who reaches waivers.

The Pistons, for example, have no cap space or exceptions available to place a waiver claim on any player earning more than the minimum, so despite their spot at the top of the waiver order, their ability to claim players is somewhat limited.

Schedule For NBA Tournament Non-Qualifiers Set

The NBA in-season tournament will reach the quarterfinal stage next week and the eight qualifiers and their seeds were finalized on Tuesday. The 22 teams that failed to advance had two holes in their schedules that needed to be filled.

Those matchups were determined late Tuesday evening, with each team receiving a home and away contest, NBA Communications tweets. The newly-scheduled games will take place next Wednesday (December 6) and Friday (Dec. 8).

The Cavaliers and Magic, who missed the quarterfinals despite their 3-1 tournament records, will face each other in Cleveland on Wednesday. Cleveland will then visit the Heat (2-2 tournament) on Friday.

The Nets, who also had a 3-1 tournament record, wound up with a road game against the Hawks (1-3) and home game against the Wizards (0-4)

The Sixers, who finished 2-2 in the tournament, drew a road game against the Wizards and a home game against the Hawks.

In the West, the Timberwolves were the only 3-1 tournament team that didn’t reach the quarterfinals. They’ll host the Spurs (0-4) and visit the Grizzlies (0-4).

The defending champion Nuggets will visit Los Angeles to face the Clippers (1-3), then head home to take on the Rockets (2-2). The Warriors, who were knocked out of contention by Sacramento on Tuesday, drew a home game against the Trail Blazers (1-3) and a road contest against the Thunder (1-3).

Here’s the full schedule for next Wednesday and Friday:

Wednesday, Dec. 6

  • Orlando at Cleveland
  • Memphis at Detroit
  • Miami at Toronto
  • Philadelphia at Washington
  • Brooklyn at Atlanta
  • San Antonio at Minnesota
  • Charlotte at Chicago
  • Oklahoma City at Houston
  • Utah at Dallas
  • Portland at Golden State
  • Denver at LA Clippers

Friday, Dec. 8

  • Toronto at Charlotte
  • Detroit at Orlando
  • Atlanta at Philadelphia
  • Washington at Brooklyn
  • Cleveland at Miami
  • Minnesota at Memphis
  • Golden State at Oklahoma City
  • Chicago at San Antonio
  • Houston at Denver
  • LA Clippers at Utah
  • Dallas at Portland

Two more regular season games will be added to the NBA’s schedule after the quarterfinals of the in-season tournament are complete, since the four teams that lose those matchups will require an 82nd game on their respective schedules.

Texas Notes: Holmes, Mavs, Rockets, Sochan

Mavericks reserve center Richaun Holmes, playing over Dwight Powell with rookie starter Dereck Lively II hurt, made an impact in his first real rotation minutes this year, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. Lively is dealing with a lower back contusion.

Across 23 minutes in a 104-101 win over the Lakers, Holmes notched 10 rebounds, four points and a block. The 6’10” big man had suited up for a total of 30 minutes across the last five games he had played for Dallas.

“I’m prepared to do whatever the team needs,” Holmes said. “Hopefully Dereck gets back quick. He’s young. It feels like he’s already bouncing around after a hard fall like that, like he’s feeling pretty good… So hopefully he doesn’t miss too much time, but whatever the team needs, I’ll be ready.”

Holmes, 30, currently has two years and $24.9MM remaining on his current contract. He holds a player option for next season.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • The Mavericks’ 107-88 blowout loss to the Clippers last night serves as further evidence that the club needs more out of its non-All-Star players, Townsend writes in another piece. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving were the only Dallas players who connected on their field goal tries until 19 minutes into the game. John Hollinger of The Athletic tweets another damning stat about the Mavs’ supporting cast Saturday, noting that, prior to head coach Jason Kidd putting in subs with the game out of hand in the fourth quarter, only two Mavericks buckets were not scored or assisted by the club’s backcourt stars.
  • The 8-6 Rockets have enjoyed an ascendant start to their 2023/24 season, and it all started on the defensive side of the floor. Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle details how Houston has developed the league’s top-ranked defense so far this year. A big hallmark of the Rockets’ approach is avoiding help defense except in the case of major mismatches, and being open to switching everywhere.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has seen strides in Jeremy Sochan‘s development as a play-maker after shifting him to a full-time point guard role this season, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “He’s got to embrace it, and I think he was a little nervous about it … because it was so new to him,” Popovich said. “And I don’t think he understood, or maybe I didn’t do a good enough job of relaying to him, all the responsibilities therein.” As a rookie out of Baylor in 2022/23, the 6’9″ Sochan had served as San Antonio’s starting power forward.

Gregg Popovich Doesn't Regret Plea To Spurs Fans

  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t regret grabbing a microphone Wednesday and imploring fans to stop booing Kawhi Leonard, per Janie McCauley of The Associated Press. “It’s pretty easy to understand,” Popovich told reporters Friday. “I listened to it for a while and it just got louder and louder and uglier and uglier, and I felt sorry for him, and I was embarrassed for our city, for our organization.” The crowd’s defiance of Popovich’s request shows there are limits to his influence, contends Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, who suggests the response stems from the Spurs’ poor record and Popovich’s outspoken political statements.

Southwest Notes: Popovich, Leonard, Spurs, Nance, Thompson

In an extremely unusual — perhaps even unprecedented — move, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich took a microphone from the scorer’s table while Kawhi Leonard was shooting free throws to urge the home crowd to stop booing, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscriber link).

Excuse me for a second,” Popovich said after telling referee Tyler Ford he was going to interrupt the game to make an announcement. “Can we stop all the bull and let these guys play? It’s got no class. That’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”

His words had the opposite effect, as Leonard was booed even louder after Popovich stopped speaking (Twitter video link via Nate Ryan of KENS 5).

After Wednesday’s game, Popovich claimed that he didn’t want Leonard to be motivated by the booing, but that’s obviously a much different reason than what he told the fans, notes Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News (via Twitter).

Anybody who knows anything about sports, you don’t poke the bear,” said Popovich, who declined to clarify those comments.

Leonard asked to be traded from San Antonio back in 2018 after spending his first seven years with the club, and has been relentlessly booed by Spurs fans ever since, Orsborn adds. The two-time Finals MVP said he was nonplussed by the incident, tweets Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times.

They’re probably going to boo me the rest of my career…They’re one of the best fans in the league and very competitive,” Leonard said (Twitter link via Orsborn). “Once I step on this court, they show that they’re going for the other side. When I’m on the streets or going into restaurants, they show love.”

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • Prior to their loss to Memphis last weekend, the Spurs held a players-only meeting, Orsborn writes in another subscriber-only story for the Express-News. There was “no drama” involved in the meeting, according to Orsborn, and guard Devin Vassell said he hopes to step into a leadership role — something the young team has been lacking early in 2023/24. “We addressed a lot of stuff,” he said. “I think there’s going to be changes as the year goes on and stuff like that.”
  • After missing the past four games with a rib fracture, Pelicans forward/center Larry Nance Jr. was able to suit up on Wednesday against Sacramento, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. Nance finished with four points, four rebounds and a steal in 12 minutes during New Orleans’ victory.
  • Rockets head coach Ime Udoka said first-round pick Amen Thompson has been able to do more individual on-court work in recent days and may be able to practice in the next week or two, according to Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter links). Thompson, the fourth pick in June’s draft, has been battling a Grade 2 right ankle sprain.

Southwest Notes: Vassell, Spurs, Udoka, Gilyard

Spurs wing Devin Vassell, who has battled a left adductor injury in the season’s first month after signing a lucrative long-term contract extension in the offseason, told reporters that he’ll return for Wednesday’s game vs. the Clippers (Twitter video link via Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News).

The groin injury has sidelined Vassell for five of the Spurs’ first 14 games, including the past three. He has been effective when he has played, averaging 17.3 points in just 28.9 minutes per night through nine appearances, with career highs in field goal percentage (49.6%) and three-point percentage (43.1%).

Here are a few more notes from around the Southwest:

  • Although the Spurs have a talented young core headed by No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama, they’re the NBA’s youngest team and are still in search of leadership, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required). “When a team is that young, each is hesitant to play that role,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Usually your leaders are your best players, and they’re usually All-Stars. We don’t have that right now.”
  • Rockets head coach Ime Udoka spoke to Kelly Iko of The Athletic about the defensive system he brought to Houston, Popovich’s influence on his coaching style, and whether the expectations with his new team are different than they were in Boston. “For me, the expectation is the same, the standards are the same,” Udoka explained. “You want to play at a certain level, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a championship-level team or a young team. You want to build those habits and fundamentals from day one.”
  • Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal takes a look at Jacob Gilyard‘s journey from undrafted free agent to G League standout to two-way player to Grizzlies‘ starting point guard. While injuries and Ja Morant‘s suspension have forced Gilyard into the rotation, his teammates have been impressed with how he has handled the opportunity. “I knew he was a hooper from the minute I watched him,” Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “I felt comfortable playing with him, like I have been playing with him for years.”

Pacers, Lakers First Teams To Clinch Tournament Quarterfinal Spots

The first two quarterfinalists for the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament were determined on Tuesday, as the Pacers‘ win over Atlanta and the Lakers‘ blowout of Utah ensured that both clubs will advance to the knockout round of the tournament.

Indiana, the winner of East Group A, is 3-0 in round robin play and holds the tiebreaker over the 2-1 Cavaliers due to their head-to-head record. Cleveland remains in the hunt for the East’s wild card spot.

As for the Lakers, they’ve played their full round robin slate in West Group A and won all four games, with a +74 point differential. The club has secured home court advantage for the quarterfinals and is in strong position to claim the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.

Only two other undefeated teams are left in the West and those two clubs – the Kings and Timberwolves – will have to face each other this Friday. If either Sacramento or Minnesota finishes with a 4-0 record in group play, point differential would be the tiebreaker to determine seeding — the two clubs are only +16 and +10, respectively, through two games and would probably need a pair of blowout victories to pass the Lakers.

By making the quarterfinals, the Pacers and Lakers have clinched per-player bonuses worth at least $50K. The value of those bonuses would increase to $100K if they advance to the semifinals, $250K if they make the final, and $500K if they win the entire tournament. The Lakers haven’t been shy about referring to that prize money as a motivating factor, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN notes.

“It’s not a run-of-the-mill regular-season game,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said after Tuesday’s win. “They’re well aware. That purse is pretty attractive. … Guys like money. … Not like it, they love it. That incentive right there — it’s huge.”

Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and head coach Rick Carlisle said this week that they appreciate the fact that the in-season tournament has given a young club – which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020 – a chance to compete in meaningful games.

The Pistons, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, and Spurs have been eliminated from quarterfinal contention, but every other team technically remains alive. The full in-season tournament standings can be found here.

And-Ones: Wembanyama, Amazon, Mitrou-Long, NBA Vets

The minimum salary for a first-year player this season is a little under $1.2MM. Contrast that with Victor Wembanyama, whose uniform can fetch more than half that amount.

A jersey worn by the Spurs’ big man in his NBA debut just sold at the Sotheby’s for $762K, BasketballNews.com tweets. It’s the highest amount ever paid for a rookie jersey.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Amazon is bidding for an NBA rights package and the company isn’t just looking for regular season games. Amazon Global Head of Sports Jay Marine told John Ourand and Andrew Marchand in a podcast (hat tip to RealGM) that the company would want to add playoff games to its Prime Video service beginning in 2025. Amazon Prime currently holds right for most Thursday NFL games.
  • Former NBA guard Naz Mitrou-Long has signed with Greece’s Olympiacos, according to a team press release. Mitrou-Long appeared in 20 NBA games, most recently with Indiana during the 2019/20 season.
  • The underrated impact of veteran NBA players who see little action but provide sage advice and leadership on the bench and in the locker room is detailed by The Athletic’s John Hollinger.