San Antonio Spurs: 3 areas of focus for the season opener vs. New York
By Dylan Carter
The San Antonio Spurs kick off the 2019-20 NBA regular season at home with Marcus Morris and the New York Knicks coming to town.
After an eventful offseason capped by a contract extension to returning point guard Dejounte Murray, the San Antonio Spurs kick off their regular season on Wednesday evening as they host the New York Knicks.
The organization spent this summer strengthening their roster through the draft, bringing franchise star Tim Duncan back into the ranks as an assistant coach and adding key players to the lineup. San Antonio’s front office drafted a versatile trio of rookies that joined Lonnie Walker IV in an impressive run through Summer League.
Head coach Gregg Popovich took Derrick White to China with Team USA, allowing the world to see flashes of the second-year guard’s potential. They competed against Patty Mills, whose summer included placing fourth in the FIBA World Cup as leader of the Australian national team, providing clean drinking water to indigenous communities in his home country and his wedding.
Sophomore big man Chimezie Metu got to show off some of his dynamic abilities on the national stage representing Nigeria while Marco Belinelli drained his usual assortment of off-balanced jumpers for the Italian national team.
In different ways, each Spur spent the offseason working toward this moment. Playing in front of the hometown crowd, San Antonio is at a clear advantage for the first game of the year. New York aimed to land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving during the offseason, but instead finished by signing an assortment of role players including controversial forward Marcus Morris.
Considered one of the most interesting plot twists of the summer, Morris infamously backed out of his contract with the Spurs to join the Knicks for a larger immediate payout. Spurs fans haven’t taken lightly to Morris’ antics, especially considering the team traded Davis Bertans to open a roster spot for him.
Needless to say, the AT&T Center won’t take kindly to Morris’ arrival tomorrow evening. However, that’s only a small segment of the matchup. 179 days since Game 7 of the Denver series, the Spurs are back on their home floor for another year in pursuit of a sixth banner.
Next: Will the Spurs make the most of their backcourt advantage?
Will the Spurs make the most of their backcourt advantage?
The Knicks finished as the worst team in the NBA last season, which landed them the No. 3 pick in R.J. Barrett. In the early-going of his time playing at the professional level, Barrett has proven that he’s got a ton of talent. He still needs to adjust to the competition of the game’s highest level and a matchup against DeMar DeRozan could be a rude awakening for the 19-year-old.
There are traces of DeRozan’s archetype in Barrett’s game. Growing up as a Raptors fan, Barrett became well versed in his methodical and explosive style of play. It’s highlighted by the keen footwork and dynamic ability that both players can put to use. DeRozan’s progression has been consistent throughout his career with growth in different categories with each passing season.
This matchup will be meaningful for Barrett, not only because it’s his rookie debut, but because he’ll face someone that he watched closely throughout his young life.
Outside of Barrett, the Knicks’ guards aren’t daunting. The guard trio of Bryn Forbes, Murray and White are familiar with Dennis Smith Jr. from his time in Dallas and Elfrid Payton from his time in New Orleans. While formidable in different ways, Smith and Payton must prove themselves against the Spurs’ physical and crafty guard defenders.
Fresh off his contract extension, Murray is likely to keep a level head and assert his presence in multiple facets of the game while White comes off the bench after struggling through the majority of preseason. As long as the Spurs’ guards take care of business, the team should pace to victory.
Next: Can Aldridge and Poeltl effectively protect the paint?
Can LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl effectively protect the paint?
The majority of the Knicks’ funds went toward depth at the forward and center positions this offseason, which could be seen as both a good thing and a bad thing for the Spurs in this matchup. Popovich has started Aldridge and Poeltl alongside each other on multiple occasions in the preseason, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll discontinue the trend.
As a result, the combination’s defense must be on par. The floor will be stretched because of sophomore Mitchell Robinson, former Chicago Bull Bobby Portis and Morris’ shooting ability. Their most important foe, however, is power forward Julius Randle, who dropped a triple-double against the Spurs as a Pelican last season.
Randle is agile for a man of his size and stature, which could put Aldridge’s legs to the test. Not only does the 34-year-old need to effectively close out on shooters as need be, but he’s going to have to keep up with Randle throughout the contest.
There’s reason to believe the Knicks are going to feed the paint more often than not, which is why Poeltl’s positioning and awareness on defense will be so crucial. He’ll be asked to do a lot in this matchup and many others throughout the year. If he returns to the lineup with improved conditioning and similar defensive intensity to what he displayed in the postseason, the big man is going to keep that starting role and earn himself a hefty paycheck next offseason.
Defense was an area of major concern for the Spurs last year, so the season opener could be a good test of the frontcourt’s limits.
Next: How will the AT&T Center crowd react to Marcus Morris?
How will the AT&T Center crowd react to Marcus Morris?
In the NBA, verbal contract commitment is considered a final agreement as a hold-over until ink is formally put to paper to finish off the signing. It’s considered poor business ethics to agree to a deal and then go back on your word, which is likely the reasoning behind Klutch Sports agent Rich Paul’s breakup with Marcus Morris following the reneging fiasco that occurred during free agency.
The Spurs lost a valuable young player in Davis Bertans because of Morris and the fanbase definitely won’t let him get away with it without letting their displeasure be known. Morris himself expects and understands why he’ll receive an outpouring of boos on Wednesday evening.
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Fans grew excited following his signing due to the innovative match his playing style had for this lineup. He had the potential to be a starter on a competitive squad coached by one of the greatest active basketball minds, but opted for a one-year deal and an uncertain role.
Everyone is entitled to pursue more money in hopes of providing a brighter lifestyle for their lives and families. However, backing out of an agreement and sneakily pursuing other opportunities after committing is a bad look and as a result, Spurs fans are going to boo him throughout the evening.
It’ll be interesting to compare the crowd’s reaction to Morris in comparison with the reaction to Kawhi Leonard’s return last season. There were a lot more emotions involved with the Leonard deal, but there were also good memories to look back on with the team’s former Finals MVP. Morris, on the other hand, only has a reputation in the Alamo City for failing to stick by his word.
The boos are far from the most important part of this game, but they’ll certainly add to the intrigue of the Spurs’ season opener.