The San Antonio Spurs did not opt to go all-out with a small ball lineup on Monday.
The San Antonio Spurs’ offseason moves were quiet but not unnoticed. The team sacrificed depth at center and power forward, with Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee out. Joffrey Lauvergne, a journeyman center, was the only prototypical big man signed.
This lack of frontcourt depth made it evident the Spurs were going to a small ball lineup, at least on paper, which everyone is doing in the modern-day NBA. Whether it is three guards and two forwards or four guards and one forward, starting lineups are being constructed to put the best five players on the court, no matter what position they play. The “Big 3” Miami Heat of 2010-14 and the Golden State Warriors can be thanked for that.
For Monday’s preseason game against the Sacramento Kings, Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol started. Starting both Gasol and Aldridge was not a surprise, as the Spurs used them together for much of the 2016-17 season. Other lineup combinations displayed that the Spurs won’t go all-out on small ball, at least for the preseason.
All 12 minutes of the first quarter saw two big men playing for the Spurs. There were pairings of Lauvergne and Aldridge and Lauvergne and Amida Brimah. Once this change was made at the 6:30 mark, the Kings’ frontcourt had nine points and four rebounds.
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The second quarter had a spurt of Lauvergne and Davis Bertans as the center-power forward duo, if the latter can be called that. Four of his five shot attempts were from long-distance, so technically this was a “small” lineup for the Spurs. The same went for the Gasol-Bertans combination, until Popovich went back to his starting big men for a few minutes and let Lauvergne finish the quarter with Aldridge.
The rest of the game was a wash for how the frontcourt sets could look, with Aldridge and Gasol done for the night, while Lauvergne only played a few minutes in the third quarter.
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Through this, players like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein (until he fouled out at a world-record pace) had their way around the rim. They looked more athletic than most of what San Antonio had the offer, including Lauvergne. The Frenchman looked like a serviceable big on the offense end, but can he hold up against quicker stretch fours and fives?
As J.R. Wilco of Pounding the Rock noted, the wait will continue for a small ball lineup:
“Pop started the same five that began the Silver and Black scrimmage for the Black team: Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray and Danny Green. So anyone who, like me, was looking for the Spurs to give some early clues as to how ready they are to play significant stretches of small-ball … Well, we can keep on waiting.”
No Rudy Gay or Kawhi Leonard may have impacted this. If not, the closest lineup that will not be the typical set-up is with Bertans as the power forward. He can stretch the floor and provide more size (6-foot-10) than a fourth guard or smaller wing player. So maybe that was San Antonio’s “small ball” set-up, for now.
It will be more indicative once Gay returns, not Leonard. With the UConn product potentially playing off the bench, he will not always break through the hold the Claw has at the three spot, if ever. That leaves him for the handful of minutes the Spurs star sits for, unless they roll the former in the stretch four role, something he has not been known for through 11 years.
Game 2 of the preseason will not provide full clarity of the frontcourt situation, as the Spurs face the Kings, again. The potential look they give against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Oct. 8 will be more indicative.