The San Antonio Spurs take the court against the Milwaukee Bucks tomorrow
Before the NBA season was suspended the Milwaukee Bucks were rampaging through the league. They were walloping their opponents by over 11 points a night and were the consensus favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. They hardly ever lost, except for when they played the San Antonio Spurs.
The Bucks had only lost 12 games when the season was suspended and their worst one, by a decent margin, came on the second night of a doubleheader with the Spurs in early January. After taking down the Spurs on their home court, the Bucks traveled to San Antonio and lost by a whopping 22 points. It was only one game but it was one of the few bright spots of an up and down season for the Spurs.
Now, as the league approaches the much-anticipated restart of the regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs are gearing up to take the floor in the first of their scrimmages tomorrow night.
It could get ugly, these guys are professional athletes but they’ve also been away from playing five on five basketball against anyone but their teammates for several months now. Expect a lot of turnovers and plenty of missed shots. But really, who cares? NBA basketball is back!
Here are the three things to watch for in scrimmage tomorrow night.
Next: Filling out the frontcourt
How will the San Antonio Spurs fill in for LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles
Even before the San Antonio Spurs lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles their frontcourt wasn’t in the best shape. Now, with two of their most frequently used players out for the remainder of the regular season, the Spurs are going to have to get creative with how they replace them.
This first scrimmage will be a great chance for us to get a first look at how the coaching staff plans to go about replacing the two, and how that impacts the Spurs on both ends of the floor.
It’s going to have to be a total team effort but the biggest increase in minutes will likely come to Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl was only averaging 16.6 minutes per game this year, which is the main reason he could be looking elsewhere during free agency, but it’s not out of the question that he could be playing close to double that amount on a nightly basis with Lyles and Aldridge out. As Poeltl recently said, he’s ready to step up for the Spurs but it’s going to come down to more than just him.
— JeffGSpursZone (@JeffGSpursZone) July 22, 2020
Be on the lookout for how the minutes of other guys like Rudy Gay, Drew Eubanks, and Chimezie Metu are also impacted. Another wrinkle to watch could be if the Spurs choose to use Keldon Johnson as a small-ball power forward, as well as how they choose to play Luka Samanic.
The loss of Lyles and Aldridge certainly poses challenges for the Spurs. But it’s also opened up a huge window of opportunity for younger players to make an impression on the coaching staff with their play in the bubble. Let’s see who takes advantage of the minutes and shows out.
Next: New rotations or same old same old
Will the San Antonio Spurs change up their rotations?
Over the course of the 2019-20 season, only three lineups across the league logged more minutes together than the lineup of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Trey Lyles, and LaMarcus Aldridge. The group ended the season with a net even offensive rating, they scored and allowed 110.3 points per 100 possessions.
Now, obviously that lineup won’t be out on the court in Orlando but it will be interesting to see what other kinds of wrinkles the Spurs coaching staff puts in. A few key lineup possibilities to watch will be how often Derrick White and Dejounte Murray play together, and how often Lonnie Walker joins them out on the floor.
Murray and White might struggle to score the ball at a high rate at times, but they’ve also got the potential to be one of, if not the best, defensive backcourts in the NBA. White led all guards in blocks this year and Murray was in the top ten in both steals and deflections. Yet, as much as the Spurs defense struggled on the perimeter, the two only logged 102 minutest together all year.
The trio of Murray, White, and Walker played even fewer minutes, just six total minutes over 11 games. These three are some of the most promising young players the Spurs have had in years yet they’re hardly ever given a chance to play together. Let’s hope that changes in Orlando.
Another lineup possibility to watch will be how Murray plays with Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl developed a smooth pick and roll partnership with White in their time on the second unit, he didn’t have nearly as much time with Murray.
Murray and White shared the floor for 301 minutes compared to the 560 that Jakob played with White. Both combinations had positive net ratings so there’s reason to believe that the Spurs rising young big man can play well with either point guard but putting a focus on getting him more minutes with Murray should only help the Spurs down the road.
Next: How will DeRozan play
DeMar DeRozan can help the Spurs by taking a step back
This kind of plays into the rotations but if DeMar DeRozan is serious about helping prepare the young Spurs for the future he could start by taking a step back. And I mean that in both a figurative and literal sense.
Say it with me Spurs fans, “I will not get excited over seeing DeMar shoot three’s in practice.” Okay, good. Now repeat it 10 more times. Nice, now watch this video the Spurs tweeted out last week.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 16, 2020
Why can’t he do that in games?! It looks so smooth, so effortless! But he still shot just 30 3-point attempts all year! Losing Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge doesn’t just hurt the Spurs down low, the two were also 4th and 6th on the team in 3-pointers attempted, respectively. If there were ever a time for DeRozan to accept that shooting from behind the arc is a necessity for almost every player in the league it would be now.
He could also help the Spurs by taking a step back from his playmaking duties, which he has been excellent in, and hand more of those possessions off to Dejounte Murray. Murray has excelled when he’s been the lead initiator of the Spurs offense but as long as DeRozan is playing such a large role in starting Spurs’ possessions off it’ll be hard for DJ to reach his ceiling in that department.
If these final eight games are really about setting up the team for success in the future and DeRozan is really about that life then he will let Murray, and White, take the lead in playmaking and play more of a complementary role as a pure scorer. And for god’s sake please shoot a three every now and then.
The Bucks and Spurs take the floor at 2 pm CST tomorrow, you can catch the action on Bucks.com.