The San Antonio Spurs traded baskets with the Miami Heat in the first preseason game of the year. What did we learn from Sunday’s showing?
The San Antonio Spurs opened up the 2018 preseason against the Miami Heat at home in front of a lively AT&T Center crowd. Despite being the team’s first live game action since a first-round playoff exit nearly five months prior, the Spurs looked sharp and in synch.
It was a back-and-forth game for the better part of four quarters, but San Antonio came away with the victory, 104-100. The usual suspects gave us exactly what we expected while some fresh faces shined bright in their Spurs debut.
Although preseason performance rarely translates to regular season success, game one gave fans some insight into San Antonio’s key questions and concerns. What can we take away from this first matchup? Let’s take a look.
Next: Dejounte has made some major improvements
Murray made major strides this summer
Guard Dejounte Murray absolutely dazzled Spurs fans in the team’s preseason opener. Between an expanded offensive arsenal and a noticeably improved jump shot, it was hard to stay seated when he took to the court.
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Of course, you can’t talk Dejounte Murray without mentioning his stellar defense. The 22-year old guard is already the youngest All-NBA defender in league history and he reminded everyone in attendance just how dangerous he can be when you’re loose with the ball.
San Antonio’s point guard of the future looked more like a present-day star on Sunday. Though he won’t be competing for any MVP hardware any time soon, I wouldn’t rule out an All-Star appearance in the near future.
It’s only one game, but Murray showed signs that should reassure Spurs nation. The key to a great team is its point guard and the franchise is in good hands.
DeRozan looks right at home in San Antonio.
Sometimes NBA players take a little time to adjust to their new surroundings following a trade; that doesn’t look to be the case for DeMar DeRozan.
While it wasn’t a perfect outing for DeRozan, he laid a good foundation on which to build upon for the rest of the preseason. The All-Star two-guard shot 3-for-6 from the field and finished the game with 7 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 minutes of work.
DeRozan will undoubtedly look to be more assertive on offense as we head into the regular season, but his passing chops were on full display. The natural born scorer showed encouraging signs of chemistry with fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge including a picturesque pick and pop play at the top of the key.
He won’t receive many more minutes as the preseason goes on, but you can expect him to play about as much as he did on Sunday. As hard as it is to wait for the regular season to arrive, DeMar will make it worth your while.
Next: Rudy Gay has got his swagger back
Gay boasts rediscovered bounce.
Where was THIS Rudy Gay last year? The six-foot-eight small forward was aggressive, engaged and efficient in his preseason debut. Despite his well-rounded production , what was most impressive was Gay’s ostensibly restored athleticism.
Gay was quick with his feet on defense, elevated beautifully off the court on his jumper and shuffled around the perimeter to find himself open looks. He never broke away for any thunderous throw downs, but you better believe he’ll rock the rim if given the chance.
Rudy Gay had a little fun with DeMar DeRozan before today's game, DeRozan's 1st NBA home game outside Canada: "I asked him if he was preparing for the Canadian national anthem. He was lining up. I said, ‘We don’t do that here, brother.’ This is as American as you can get.”
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 1, 2018
His recaptured mobility should have Spurs fans optimistic for a better season than his first go-round in San Antonio, but his refined shooting stroke should give hope for more than a regression to the mean this season. Gay ended the afternoon a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and led the Spurs in scoring with 13 points.
We knew Rudy was in the gym honing his craft from all the social media posts he made this summer, but no one could’ve predicted he’d explode out of the gate the way he did in the first exhibition. Here’s to hoping he maintains his stellar level of play.
The second unit looks lethal.
Although San Antonio’s starters showed promise, it was the second unit that stole the show. The Spurs bench struggled to create their own shot at times last season, but those woes look to be behind them.
Guards Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills are the brains on the bench that head the entire operation. While Mills failed to find a rhythm from downtown, his range will reappear and his knowledge of the Spurs structure makes him an invaluable asset.
— NBA (@NBA) September 30, 2018
Despite the fact Derrick White, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes haven’t been a part of San Antonio’s system for as long as the aforementioned vets, it doesn’t make them any less essential to the Spurs game plan. The trio of sharpshooters fired away from deep on Sunday and they’ll need to continue to bombard the basket with treys if the Spurs hope to stay afloat in the cutthroat Western Conference.
Much like I predicted in the preseason preview, center Jakob Poeltl is already challenging Pau Gasol for his starting gig. The Austrian big man traversed the court with ease, held his own in the post and brought down more rebounds than anyone named Hassan Whiteside.
He hasn’t earned the starting spot just yet. However, if he keeps up the good work, you can pencil him into the starting five sooner rather than later.
Next: The new veterans need some adjustment
Veteran signings struggle to find their role
If you tuned in for Sunday’s matchup, you should like what you saw from the Spurs sixth men. As for newcomers Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter, the journeymen looked a little lost in their Silver and Black debut.
In all fairness, the two veterans combined for merely 14 total minutes of action. Though we weren’t exactly sure of what their role would be in San Antonio, you had to imagine they’d make more of an impact with prized rookie Lonnie Walker IV resting on the pine and several starters on preseason minutes restrictions.
The two new arrivals hardly made a mark against Miami. Lucky for them, they’ll have four more preseason games to carve out a role within coach Popovich’s rotation.
Blossomgame makes the most of his minutes
Let me start off by saying I’m a huge fan of forward Jaron Blossomgame. His entire game is sort of a work in progress, but he’s the kind of relentless effort guy all coaches love to have. What he lacks in size and skill he makes up for in heart and determination.
He may not excel in any one area, but you’ll never catch him taking a single play off. His high motor was laid out for all to see and he took advantage of every minute coach Pop allowed him to play
In spite of spending just seven minutes on the floor, Blossomgame battled for boards, cut to the rim and racked up five points on a flawless 2-for-2 shooting afternoon. He was incredibly active and his teammates rewarded his hustle.
Pondexter hovers ahead of Blossomgame on the depth chart for now. Nevertheless, if the undersized combo forward continues to outplay his competition, he may actually see NBA minutes in the 2018-19 season.
I wouldn’t be surprised either way, but four games remain on the preseason schedule and anything can happen. Your San Antonio Spurs suit up again this Friday at home against the Detroit Pistons, so keep an eye out for updates on the impending encounter.