The 2019 -20 NBA regular season is almost upon us. Here are our final thoughts from the San Antonio Spurs preseason.
The NBA is pretty much a year-round sport. Between the regular season, playoffs, draft prospecting and selection, free agency, pre-agency, and training camps, there is hardly a lull in coverage. But there’s nothing quite like the tip-off to another San Antonio Spurs season. And after long last, we’re finally almost there.
The Association tip’s off on Tuesday night with matchups between the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the Toronto Raptors and New Orleans Pelicans. The Spurs don’t get their chance to shine until Wednesday night when they host the New York Knicks. San Antonio rolls into their season opener on a nice little hot streak.
After a slow start to the preseason, the Spurs turned it around and finished well. They floundered in their first three games. Head coach Gregg Popovich was so upset that he was already calling the team soft after they dropped a road game in Miami.
As a team, the Spurs began the preseason looking out of sync and relatively sloppy. It makes sense. And after all, that’s what the preseason is for. After shaking off the rust and finding their groove the Spurs came together to close their warm-up games out with wins at Houston Rockets and over the Memphis Grizzlies at home.
We came into the preseason with quite a few questions. How would Pop play Dejounte Murray and Derrick White together, what role would the rookies have, would DeMar DeRozan finally start shooting three’s?
Before we get fully engrossed with the 2019 regular season let’s wrap up our preseason coverage with a few final thoughts.
Next: The Spurs will go as far as their guards take them
The young guards are the key to success
The San Antonio Spurs are fortunate to have such consistent stars like DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge on the squad. The two are battle tested veterans who can both go out and get the Spurs combined forty-ish points per night. They’re a steadying force that will keep San Antonio in most games. But they won’t be the deciding factor in how the season goes.
The true keys to the season-long success of the San Antonio Spurs lay in the hands of San Antonio’s group of young guards. DeRozan and Aldridge will set the team’s floor, but how great this team can be is largely dependent on the play of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker IV, and Derrick White.
It looks like Dejounte and Bryn will be San Antonio’s preferred starting pair along with DeRozan. This is a great combination for San Antonio. The shooting that Forbes brings, combined with Dejounte’s improved offense and stellar defense, will give San Antonio a one-two punch that can play both on and off the ball alongside DeRozan.
Forbes has filled out as a defender and is improving. But it’s still the weakest part of his game. Pairing him with Murray will allow him to hide on the opposing teams’ weaker offensive guard and conserve his energy for what the team really needs him for, hitting clutch shots from deep.
Out of this young group, Walker is the one to keep your eye on most. For the most part, we know what we’re going to get from Murray, Forbes, and White. Walker is the one who could really surprise people and elevate the potential of this team.
His contributions have been streaky and hard to predict. On offense, he’s had moments where he looks like he could be a dominant scorer but a closer look at his shooting percentages isn’t encouraging. Below 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from deep won’t help him crack the rotation.
On defense, he’s been equally hard to predict. In the game against Houston, he had several possessions where he was able to either lock James Harden up or force him into difficult shots. His agility and lateral quickness were on full display. He showed what a disruptive defender he can be when fully engaged.
The key is consistency. If Walker can pull it all together and be a consistent contributior he can elevate the overall potential of this team like few players on the roster are capable of doing.
Next: The Spurs bench is going to be destructive
The bench mob can be dominant
This plays off of the first preseason takeaway in that it involves one of the Spurs young guards taking another step in their development. After taking over the starting role last year, it appears that our late summer prediction of Derrick White leading the bench mob is going to come true.
White came off the bench all preseason and was handed control of the second unit. Popovich clearly prefers to stagger the play of White and Murray, both of whom are most effective with the ball in their hands and creating for teammates. White struggled to score the ball throughout the preseason but the other areas of his game are still strong.
In the final preseason game against the Grizzlies, White only tallied two points but brought down six rebounds and dished out four assists. The scoring will come but as long as White continues to rebound well for his position and create opportunities for others the second unit should be quite dangerous.
White doesn’t need to carry a scoring load with the second unit. He will have Patty Mills, DeMarre Carroll, and possibly Rudy Gay to lighten that load. Gay has been impressive in his limited playing time. Carroll as well.
The Spurs starters can fall into a bit of isolation, mid-range centered heavy offense at times. The second unit plays a much more flowing style together and having excellent ball movement. That works well for Carroll and Gay, both of whom are deadly in catch and shoot situations.
Carroll’s assimilation to the Spurs seemed like it was going to be easy but so far it’s looked almost seamless. Maybe it was his time with former Spurs coach Mike Budenholzer that helped him acclimate so quickly but in any case, Carroll has quickly found his role within the team. He’s hitting three’s and defending at a high level. He’s doing exactly what the Spurs asked him to do. His ability to slide between small and power forward will help the bench handle a variety of matchups over the course of the season.
Lacking the star power of other Western Conference teams, San Antonio will count on their bench early and often.
Next: An interesting group of forwards
Spurs forward rotation’s
The Spurs young group of guards will be the difference-maker for this team but their forward depth will also be an intriguing point of focus as the season goes on. With a few new faces and multiple different skill sets, it will be interesting to see how Popovich decides to deploy his frontcourt.
LaMarcus Aldridge is obviously entrenched as a starter but the other starter remains up in the air. Pop has rotated between starting Jakob Poeltl and Trey Lyles so far. Lyles is the newcomer and has a bit more outside shooting to his game but so far his offensive contributions have been limited. Poeltl could be in line to be the starter.
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No matter who the starter is, it would be best for Pop to kind of play it by ear. San Antonio has so many forwards who can all bring different skillsets to the table, they shouldn’t lock themselves into anything quite yet. There will be nights when Poelt should get the majority of the minutes and then there will be nights where he’s relegated to the bench.
San Antonio’s ability to bring both Gay and Carroll off the bench together is going to be very dangerous. The two can throw a combination of defensive versatility and outside shooting that not many team’s second units can match up against.
And then there is the rookie, Luka Samanic. Of the Spurs three rookies, he seems like the most likely to see playing time. Not because he’s the most NBA ready, that title may go to Keldon Johnson, but he has the shortest most direct path to playing time. He will play mostly in garbage time but don’t be surprised if Samanic carves out a role as a stretch four by the end of the season. His shooting ability could end up pairing nicely with Aldridge.
This year’s San Antonio Spurs team is deep and well balanced. They’re going to be a tough matchup for any team and should be back in the playoffs when all is said and done.