HomeOther SportsSpurs’ 2023/24 Season: Some Parallels with 1996, But Not Enough

Spurs’ 2023/24 Season: Some Parallels with 1996, But Not Enough

Parallels have been drawn with Victor Wembanyama and Tim Duncan.Also pictured, fellow Spurs’ no.1 Draft Pick David Robinson.

As the NBA season trundles into the winter, there is already a sense of acceptance among San Antonio Spurs fans that the miracle turnaround is not about to happen. The Spurs are not the worst team in NBA at this point – that “honor” belongs to the Detroit Pistons – but the numbers, including that horrendous losing streak that started on November 2nd against Toronto. Of course, we have been here before: Last season saw 16 and 11-game losing streaks, as the Spurs contrived to their worst win-loss record (22-60) since the 1996/97 season (20-62).

Of course, it’s natural that some fans look back to 1996 as evidence of how and when the team can bounce back. They search for a narrative, and they perhaps look at the catalysts that turned the team’s fortunes around in 1997 and beyond. Back then, it was the arrival of Tim Duncan through the Draft Lottery, as well as the appointment of Greg Popovich as head coach after the Spurs’ 3-15 start to the 1996 season that paved the way for unprecedented success. Less than two seasons later, the Spurs were NBA champions.

Wembanyama has started well

The arrival of Victor Wembanyama has caused many to hope for a similar impact. Indeed, within minutes of Wembanyama’s debut, sports reporters were at pains to stress the similarities between Duncan and the young Frenchman. Wembanyama scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field in his debut (a loss to the Mavericks), just like Duncan did in his first game. The narrative of the Spurs having a second no.1 Draft Pick to transform the team’s fortunes is a strong one.

But Wembanyama is not Duncan, at least not yet, and it’s unfair to heap that expectation upon him.  As no.1 Draft Pick, it’s natural that there are high expectations, but expecting a player to galvanize an entire organization and bring it back to the top is another matter altogether. Wembanyama’s career in San Antonio will be better served by patience from the fans.

Wembanyama has started well. He is among the favorites for Rookie of the Year, an accolade Duncan won in 1997, and online betting markets give him a fighting chance to win Defensive Player of the Year (Rudy Gobert is the current favorite), but he, as Duncan did, needs a team around him to deliver championships.

Pop’s retirement in focus

Questions are being asked of Popovich, too. “Pop” has delivered so much success over the years that he is almost immune from fans’ criticism. Yet, some are asking whether he should set out his blueprint of what he wants to do before his much-talked-about retirement. Rumors and theories of his retirement have been discussed for years, but Popovich has held his cards close to his chest. He will be 75 in January, however. So, if as is accepted wisdom, Popovich wants to stick around to complete one last rebuild – how long does he believe that will take?

Most sportsbooks and pundits predicted that the Spurs would finish the 2023/24 season with a losing record; the average from Vegas was somewhere between 25-30 wins. At the current rate, they won’t reach it. And it’s entirely possible that the Spurs finish on fewer than 20 wins, making it their worst-ever finish in a full 82-game season. In short, it’s likely that the rebuild requirements are going to be much more substantial than in the mid-1990s. Some parallels are there, but, for the moment, there isn’t enough.


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