The San Antonio Spurs host the Orlando Magic on Saturday for the first pre-season game of the 2019 NBA season. Here are three things to watch for as the Spurs take the court for the first time since April.
At long last, we are almost ready to see the San Antonio Spurs take the court again. It is only pre-season basketball, but it’s basketball none the less. It was a great off-season for the Spurs but it’s finally time to get back to what we all love, watching the Silver and Black in live-action.
The first action of the NBA pre-season comes against the Orlando Magic. The Magic were an intriguing team last year. After spending much of the post-Dwight Howard years hovering around 30 wins per season, they took a sizeable step forward.
Led by a cadre of rangy forwards, Orlando jumped up to a record of 42-40, good enough for the 7th seed in the East. That allowed them to put a nice scare into the Toronto Raptors in the first round. That taste of playoff action will have fueled them all summer. This is a team that has greater post-season aspirations than a first-round exit.
The Spurs and Magic are an interesting matchup. Orlando is full of promising new age big men and short on guard play. The Spurs are a near-polar opposite. Their forwards lack the wingspan and bounce of Orlando’s but San Antonio has the decisive edge in backcourt power. It’s sure to be a fun game. Here are three things to keep an eye out for in the first real action for the Spurs.
Next: The return of Dejounte Murray
Dejounte Murray is back
As an organization, the San Antonio Spurs are not prone to hyperbole. They won’t over-hype players and they won’t manufacture headlines just to stir the pot. But last year, before he got injured, San Antonio was over the moon about the promise Dejounte Murray had shown.
His injury was surely a setback, but one that he’s used to fuel his growth. He’s impressed throughout training camp, Popovich recently said that he has looked “fast as hell” on the court. It’s time to see it in real game action.
The two things that I want to see are his improved jumper and how he impacts the Spurs defense.
His jumper has been something that he has been working on a lot over the past year-plus and it’s been coming along well.
“His jump shot from 15 feet, 18 feet is money now,” said Bryn Forbes of Dejounte Murray to the media today.
Murray’s form last year in preseason was looking much improved before he got injured. That’ll be a good shot for him when defenses go under on screens.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) October 1, 2019
Players ducking under screens was always the issue for Murray in pick and roll situations. If his jumper is as good is Forbes is saying then that should no longer be a worry for the Spurs. If he can hit a few jumpers in a row, maybe knock down a three-pointer or two, it would be a very encouraging sign of things to come.
Murray is sure to be a key part of the San Antonio defense. When we last saw him he was rising to be one of Spurs’ best defenders and looked like he could end up being the best defensive guard in the league.
The Magic’s backcourt of D.J. Augustin and Markelle Fultz won’t push Murray as hard as some of the duos in the Western Conference but they do present a nice warm-up. Murray should be able to lock these two down.
Next: Jakob Poeltl's defense
Poeltl’s defensive versatility will be tested
In last year’s playoff matchup with the Denver Nuggets, we got to see Poeltl at his defensive best. He wasn’t able to lock down Nikola Jokic but he held his own more often than not.
The Orlando Magic don’t have any players of Jokic’s caliber but they do have quite a few players of differing sizes and play styles. This group could push Poeltl’s comfort zones and draw him into situations where he’s had trouble in the past. How he handles these situations will give us a view of how he’s improved as a defender over the summer.
Nikola Vucevic is the most traditional of Orlando’s big men. He will test the traditional low post defense that is probably the strongest area of Poeltl’s defensive game. Vucevic is coming off an All-Star year and is a very versatile offensive player. He can draw Poeltl out to the perimeter or play him down low. It’ll certainly be a test for Jakob.
The players I want to see Poeltl match up against are Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac. Bamba is still a work in progress but his absurd length could be a problem for Poeltl. Isaac has the size to be a center but Orlando deploys him as a four more often than not.
If Orlando goes to a small ball lineup with Aaron Gordon at the four and Isaac at the five I would like to see Gregg Popovich leave Poeltl in to match up with Isaac. Poeltl has never been the quickest player, it’s an area he could improve in. If he’s able to hold his own a bit better against Isaac is could mean that the Spurs could trust Poeltl with similar assignments in the future.
Next: The Summer League star, Lonnie Walker IV
The start to Lonnie Walker’s sophomore season
My excitement to see Dejounte Murray on the court again is only passed by my excitement for Lonnie Walker. This guy, well, this guy is just different. We’ve been hyping him up since he tore up the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas Summer League’s and now it’s finally time to see him in real NBA action.
If Walker plays up to the level he did in Summer League throughout the pre-season he could be in line for a serious role in the Spurs rotation.
A couple of specific things that should be looked for are his ability to shoot the ball from deep, how he runs in transition, and his defensive ability.
Lonnie’s shooting percentage from Summer League seems unsustainable. If he can shoot 55 percent from the field this year that would be great but it’s hardly the benchmark he should be measured against. But if he’s able to hit catch and shoot three’s at a consistent rate it will bode well for his future prospects.
In transition, keep an eye out for Murray running alongside Walker. As much as Popovich was raving about Murray’s speed in training camp he said that Walker might be even faster. If that is the case then these two will be a terror for opposing defense to try to contain in when they’ve got a full head of steam.
Finally, it’ll be interesting to see how Walker does on defense. As good of an offensive player as Walker can be, he won’t see the floor until he proves he can contend on defense. A solid showing in the first pre-season game of the season will go a long way to helping Walker establish himself in the rotation.
The San Antonio Spurs are finally back y’all. Tip-off is at 7:30 pm CT.