San Antonio Spurs: What to watch for as Zion and the Pelicans come to town

Zion Williamson (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

After a slow start to the preseason, the San Antonio Spurs will look to collect their first win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The start of the preseason has not gone the way the San Antonio Spurs had hoped. After losing games against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, the Spurs will be trying to get back on track as they host the New Orleans Pelicans.

While the Spurs have been trying to find their groove, the Pelicans have been coming together. After a near-total organizational overhaul over the summer, the new-look Pelicans have looked like a team that could be one of the surprises of the season. It’s still too early to tell but this Pelicans team looks legit.

The obvious player to keep your eye on in this contest is the generational Duke product, Zion Williamson. The most hyped prospect since LeBron James, Zion has looked every bit as good as the Pelicans could have hoped. Through three games he’s been near unstoppable, flying up and around opposing defenders on his way to the rim.

Coming off of games where he put up 29 and 26 points, Williamson is going to be a tough matchup for every player he comes up against. Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll will likely be the primary defenders but both will have heavily rely on the Spurs rim protectors to have their backs.

One of the best athletes the NBA has ever seen, Zion is like a freight train coming through the lane after he’s built up a bit of speed. New Orleans has done an impressive job of using dribble handoffs and off-ball screens to free Zion up and let him build up some momentum. Even with a small window of space, he can get going quickly. By the time the defense is on him, it’s already too late. He’s going around you or through you.

As impressive as Zion is, he’s not the only reason this Pelicans team has looked so dangerous. After acquiring a boatload of young players and picks in the Anthony Davis trade, New Orleans roster depth that rivals San Antonio’s. The matchups between the opposing backcourts will be particularly interesting.

The duo of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White can be one of the best defensive guard pairs in the league. As good as they can are, Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball are just as good. Both are hounds on the defensive end of the floor and they compliment each other well offensively as well. Ball and Holiday are both comfortable playing on or off the ball.

Lonzo from deep for the third time this half ?

— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 8, 2019

Lonzo has tightened up his shooting motion since last season. He’s not bringing the ball across his body as much and the result is a tighter, faster, more accurate shooting stroke. Last year the Spurs defenders would have been able to ignore Ball behind the arc, not anymore.

The Pelicans have an interesting group of forwards as well. It starts with Zion but he’s got plenty of help. Off-season acquisitions Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors bring an interesting combination of wing and post scoring. They’re complemented by Jahlil Okafor who, after a slow start to his career, has found his footing in New Orleans.

They’re an interesting group but the Pelicans forwards are not the best group of defenders. The Spurs can find a clear advantage by letting LaMarcus Aldridge slow the pace of the game and use his skill and low-post technique to consistently get high-percentage looks.

The Pelicans are made to run. Alvin Gentry’s group was third in the league in pace last year and has even more speed coming into this season. To win San Antonio will have to minimize turnovers and fast-break opportunities for the Pelicans, slow down the speed of play, and work methodically through their half-court offense.

Thanks to an interesting scheduling quirk, this will be the only time the San Antonio faithful will be able to see the squad take on the Pelicans until January. New Orleans is as young and interesting of a team as you will find in the NBA. As it’s only the preseason, just sit back and enjoy the show in what is sure to be an exciting matchup.

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A talented and young group, the Pelicans are sure to test the Spurs. This will be a great showdown between two teams who will likely end up jockeying for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.