The San Antonio Spurs look like the team we expected in their 117-93 preseason rout of the Detroit Pistons.
“You guys lose Danny… Kawhi and Danny, but still defensively–”
“They’re gone, who cares?”
Guard Dejounte Murray cuts the reporter off and rolls his eyes as if to say, well, exactly what he said. It’s not unlike being asked for the 561st time after a breakup, “Did you see your ex’s Instagram story?”
They’re gone. Who cares?
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) October 6, 2018
It’s perhaps the simplest, yet most alleviating mantra that Spurs fans could adopt going into the season. It’s tough to gauge where fan morale is around the league post-Boogie windfall, but in the wake of the Kawhi drama it’d be fair to say that the Kawhi-DeMar trade outcome inspired some semblance of intrigue.
As for hope? It depends on what you’re hopeful for. Just look over the team payroll and you’ll see a franchise in flux. Flux isn’t always a bad thing, and we needn’t use it to assemble a capacitor and travel back to the good ol’ days of 1999 to feel a modicum of excitement about where this team is heading. Maybe hope is fine; let’s just keep it in glimmers.
In watching the Spurs take down the Pistons 117-93 on Friday night, those same ideas of intrigue, curiosity and hope echoed throughout the contest. Perhaps the highlight of the Spurs preseason so far has been the evolution of Dejounte Murray. As Kendall Garriss stated in his Murray season preview, “In his first full season as the conductor of the offense, expect Murray to make huge strides, both offensively and defensively.”
So far, we’ve seen just that.
In 21 minutes, Murray played the unlikely but not never-before-seen role of Master of the Mid-Range and God of the Glass, pulling in 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting and 11 rebounds. Of those seven field goals, only one came at the rim. Oh, and that one was spectacular:
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 6, 2018
He controlled the flow from just inside the arc, spreading the floor for Aldridge and Gasol to work their own mid-range magic.
LaMarcus finished shooting 7-for-11 for 14 points, while Gasol sunk every shot to add another 13. Gasol turned the ball over and was something of a defensive liability, often times found on the opposite end of the court from Drummond with Rudy Gay providing defense on the Pistons big. It’s looking more and more like the Spurs will be working matchup-dependant lineups as the team heads into the regular season, and it’s really too early to tell who — if anyone — will reign supreme at center.
Another bright spot for San Antonio came from Marco Belinelli, who once again looked fantastic on the offensive end with the limited minutes. He finished the game with 12 points, shooting 2-for-4 from three and moved well off-the-ball. At this point, it’s tough to imagine what this team would like without him as he and Patty Mills are the only completely reliable three-point threats on the roster.
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Of course, the real reason why we even bother with watching preseason games (besides clicking ‘Yes’ on a League Pass pop-up asking, ‘Have you been classified as a ‘social deviant’ by any local or state municipality?’) is to watch the young guys take the floor in what ultimately falls somewhere between a Spurs-Hornets March matchup and an Austin Spurs playoff elimination game. The Spurs’ young bucks didn’t quite superkick their way through Dwane Casey’s lineup, but they certainly looked good grappling.
Lonnie Walker Version 4.0 performed well in his ultra-limited five minutes, shooting a fast-and-furious 3-for-6 from the field, which ironically compliments the ratio of watchable Fast & Furious films in the pre-Fast 7 era. If you were able to watch Tokyo Drift and not be constantly reminiscing about a young Lucas Black repeatedly pelting his mom’s drunk boyfriend with empty beer cans and bottles in Sling Blade, well, you probably haven’t seen Sling Blade. There’s your homework assignment.
Chimezie Metu had a fine game, pulling in four rebounds, one block and one steal in twelve minutes of action. He looked the part that the Spurs certainly anticipated: a long-reaching big man with raw skills that could develop into a defensive presence in the rotation.
It’d be crazy to doubt his ability to swat balls, and the combination of him and Poeltl should keep the Spurs functioning in the defensive post. There shouldn’t be much worry about Drummond’s 18-10 performance; he had some put-backs rebounding over the likes of Rudy Gay in small-ball lineups. The team seemed content letting him get his and shutting down the rest of the offense.
In terms of the game itself, San Antonio got out to an early lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Spurs led the Pistons by 32 points. They accomplished this through a combination of owning the glass (outpacing the Pistons 53-39 on rebounds) and nailing their mid- and short-range shots (making 58.8% of two-point shots as a team). The second unit was responsible for a large part of the damage on the offensive end.
The turnover battle, which San Antonio lost 15-to-8, isn’t particularly troublesome. Belinelli (2), DeRozan (3), Aldridge (2), and Gasol (3) were the primary culprits, but each of the vets averaged more turnovers against Detroit than their career or previous season averages. As Coach Popovich stated after the game, “Whatever happened, happened. I don’t evaluate it too much as far as… what lineups are out there. It’s just watching people play and over time we’ll figure out who plays best together”. Once the lineups are further solidified in the regular season, expect greater cohesion.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) October 6, 2018
If you were ever to worry about a preseason game and you’re truly in need of something to dwell on, the team noticeably lacked a presence from deep. While they made 42.9% of shots from behind the arc, they only took fourteen of them as a team.
While it’s one (preseason) game, in a lot of ways the offense felt like a microcosm of expectations heading into the season: a hyper-efficient mid-range team that can move the ball with creative screens, but lives and dies within the perimeter. Here’s hoping for a little less death.