San Antonio Spurs: 5 observations from 2017 preseason
It’s only the preseason but the San Antonio Spurs have shown a few intriguing trends in the first four exhibition games.
Through four preseason games, the San Antonio Spurs sit at 2-2. The record doesn’t mean anything, as it will be wiped out when the regular season starts on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Player performances in these preseason matchups can’t be deemed meaningless, however.
Some Spurs stood out through four preseason games and before the final tilt on Friday, Oct. 13 against the Houston Rockets. Some showed bright futures, while others have questions surrounding them for the 2017-18 season.
With that in mind, let’s look at some preseason observations for the Spurs, and what it could mean for the regular season.
5. The starter at point guard isn’t in question
As noted throughout the summer and into training camp, Tony Parker will miss the start of the 2017-18 season, while dealing with quad rehab. He tore it in the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals.
When the San Antonio Spurs re-signed Patty Mills (four years, $50 million), it looked like a way to get point guard insurance for Parker and to potentially start this player on Opening Night. That wasn’t the case.
Through four preseason games, the Dejounte Murray was the starting point guard in all of them. He flashed upside as a distributor, with 11 assists in the past two games. The same goes for the defensive end. Despite struggles guarding De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, the Washington product has totaled 5 steals and 7 blocks. It represented the length and size he brings to the position, something Parker and Mills don’t have.
Murray’s scoring touch is a work in progress. He scored 15 points against the Orlando Magic, the only game has totaled double-digits. It was the only game he attempted a 3-pointer, too, which he missed. It’s one of the underused and inconsistent parts of his repertoire.
Despite the potential development questions, there’s no doubt Murray will start the season at point guard. Unless it’s a ruse for the other 29 teams, it looks like this second-year pro will receive his fair share of playing time.
Next: High clip of 3-pointers
4. Spurs are shooting 3-pointers at a higher clip
The San Antonio Spurs, in terms of 3-point percentage, were the best at outside shooting in the 2016-17 season, according to Basketball-Reference. They were 25th in 3-pointers attempted (23.5 per game), however, which showed how efficient this team was from behind the arc.
The 2017 preseason still has the same 3-point shooting Spurs, but with a few interesting trends.
In the preseason opener against the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio shot 33 3-pointers. The following game, also against the Kings, saw the total lower to 31. Then, it dropped to 28 against the Denver Nuggets. Finally, the tally went to 16 against the Orlando Magic. It’s a sharp drop from Game 1 to Game 4, with the Spurs looking their best in Game 2 and 3 (wins and higher 3-point percentages).
Through these four games, the Spurs averaged 27 3-pointers. If placed in the 2016-17 season, this total wouldn’t even crack the top 10, despite it seeming like a hefty amount of outside shots.
The total number of 3-pointers shot isn’t everything, as the Brooklyn Nets had the fourth-most attempts in 2016-17. It’s about efficiency, however, which the Spurs have always been under Gregg Popovich. They will need to keep that up in the 2017-18 season since it looks like the team will be shooting more, especially with the changes to make the roster smaller (Rudy Gay, Brandon Paul).
Next: A future for Costello
3. There’s a future for Matt Costello
Joffrey Lauvergne was technically the only signing the San Antonio Spurs made at center or power forward. He will play significant minutes behind Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge and has no threat of losing playing time.
Matt Costello, while a power forward, was signed, too, except on a two-way contract. He can’t be on the Spurs roster for more than 45 days. Otherwise, he will be on the Austin Spurs in the G-League.
While San Antonio will only get a limited dose of Costello in the regular season, he’s looked impressive in the preseason. Whether it’s in the Alamo City or somewhere else, he might have an NBA future.
Most of the first four preseason games saw Costello work as an energy player off the bench. He grabbed a handful of rebounds, similar to what he did at Michigan State. It resulted in 21 total boards, while never playing more than 18 minutes in a game.
Costello received consistent preseason playing time, as well, which didn’t go for the other two-way player, Darrun Hilliard; that may be from all the guards the Spurs are currently rostering. Maybe, with Popovich, it means he sees something in this 6-foot-10 forward. Will he grow into a starter? Maybe not, but there’s a future role player, here.
Next: No Kawhi Leonard means questions for everyone else
2. No Kawhi Leonard means questions for every wing player
No Kawhi Leonard opened opportunities for players like Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes, Brandon Paul and other players at shooting guard and small forward to get extra playing time. That could only last for so long, though, until Leonard hits the court for the regular season (a timetable for that is still unknown).
Once the Claw gets back, he’ll consume 30-35 minutes, as he should. What that means for the players above and others at the two and three is unknown, but probably not a good thing.
Anderson obviously moves out of the starting lineup for Leonard. He played in 22 minutes against the Magic, a number that’s likely to fall. Average work was made out of this opportunity, with 7 points on 3-for-5 shooting.
Forbes has received double-digit minutes of playing time in the preseason. He made the most of a chance against the Nuggets, with 20 points in 17 minutes. It looked like the version we saw in the Summer League. If the Michigan State product can keep this up, it will be hard to keep him out of the rotation. Either way, though, the potential amount of minutes he receives is in jeopardy, and won’t be known until Leonard returns.
Paul’s minutes sunk to a preseason-low of six against the Magic. Does that mean he’s already looking at a DNP-COACH’DS DECISION for Opening Night?
This part of the rotation won’t be ironed out until Leonard returns, whenever that may be. Until then, nothing is certain.
Next: Center depth is a concern
1. Center depth is still a concern
Center depth was a concern for the San Antonio Spurs in the offseason. Center depth remained a concern as training camp neared. And as of Thursday, center depth remains a concern after four preseason games.
Opposing centers and power forwards are mostly having their way with those at the four and five for the Spurs. Athletic players like Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Bismack Biyombo looked impressive in their performance against the Silver and Black. Gordon and Biyombo combined for 45 points and 16 rebounds in Tuesday night’s preseason game against the Magic. Labissiere and Cauley-Stein were all over the paint, scoring with ease in the first and second games.
The Spurs’ only true bigs are Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joffrey Lauvergne. All three looked solid on the offensive end. Defensively is another thing, as Gasol ages and inevitably loses mobility, while Lauvergne has never been known for his play on the other end of the court.
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It’s not the regular season, so nothing technically means anything. So maybe this shouldn’t be a concern. If it lingers against a team with talented big men like the Minnesota Timberwolves (the Opening Night matchup), then look for this to be a season-long storyline.