What to watch for in San Antonio Spurs final scrimmage with Pacers

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 02: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs defends against Malcolm Brogdon #7 of the Indiana Pacers at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 02: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs defends against Malcolm Brogdon #7 of the Indiana Pacers at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 02: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs defends against Malcolm Brogdon #7 of the Indiana Pacers at AT&T Center on March 02, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 02: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs defends against Malcolm Brogdon #7 of the Indiana Pacers at AT&T Center on March 02, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

One scrimmage stands between the San Antonio Spurs and the regular season

After months of deliberation and wondering how things would wrap up, the end is in sight. Just one more scrimmage stands between the San Antonio Spurs and the official resumption of the 2019-20 regular season.

The Spurs came into the bubble juggling how to replace Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge with questions about which lineups they should explore as they try to prepare for the future while also considering how to best balance the development of their young players with a desire to keep their historic streak of playoff appearances.

It hasn’t been easy. So far the team has swung between exhilarating and frustrating. Highlight reel alley-oops from Derrick White to Dejounte Murray are overshadowed by sloppy turnovers and slow rotations. This team can be something special but they’ve got a lot of hiccups to work out and not a lot of time to do it.

The Spurs lost their first two scrimmages to the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets but things seem to be improving. White and Murray look comfortable playing with one another, White is heating up from downtown, Keldon Johnson continues to thrive, and Bryn Forbes is acclimating to his new role as a gunner off the bench.

These are all encouraging developments but the Spurs will need to continue to make progress if they want to push for the playoffs. The next step is their final scrimmage with the Indiana Pacers. Here are a few things to watch when the two teams take the court tomorrow.

Next: Cut down the turnovers

PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles with the ball in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center on February 06, 2020 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles with the ball in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center on February 06, 2020 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs must cut down the number of turnovers they’re allowing

Defense, ball movement, the corner three, and taking care of the basketball. Long ago, these four pillars of Spurs basketball coexisted in harmony. Then, one day, everything changed when their defense fell apart and they started turning over the basketball at an abhorrent rate.

Avatar references aside, the Spurs seriously need to take better care of the basketball in this last scrimmage. So far they’ve coughed the ball up 46 times over two scrimmages, that 23 turnovers per game average is nearly double where they were at in the regular season. You can attribute some of that to rust and getting back into the swing of things but not all of it.

To their credit, the Spurs know that this level of play isn’t what the team is about and they seemed determined to change it. Derrick White recently spoke to Jeff McDonald with the San Antonio Express-News and said he thought he started off the second scrimmage “awfully” and was candid about his two turnovers to start the game, calling them “unacceptable.”

Unfortunately, things aren’t going to get any easier against the Pacers. Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, and the Holliday brothers are pesky defenders who will push the Spurs guards all game long. The Spurs guards will have their work cut out for them but that can’t be an excuse. Taking care of the basketball needs to be one of the team’s primary points of focus against Indiana.

Next: Playing with high energy

MADISON, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 11: Luka Samanic of the San Antonio Spurs poses for a portrait during the 2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot on August 11, 2019 at the Ferguson Recreation Center in Madison, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MADISON, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 11: Luka Samanic of the San Antonio Spurs poses for a portrait during the 2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot on August 11, 2019 at the Ferguson Recreation Center in Madison, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs need to play hungry

To a degree, I can understand why a fringe player on the San Antonio Spurs player wouldn’t be playing their hardest in a scrimmage. Imagine you’re a rookie, you might not see the floor when the regular season games come around, and this scrimmage really doesn’t matter.

On the other hand, you’re a rookie, this scrimmage is a great chance to prove the coaches that you’re ready for a larger role in the regular-season games, and, thinking that way, this scrimmage matters more than anything else. As one of our former writers pointed out, a certain Spurs rookie doesn’t appear to be playing like his career depends on it.

Noah Magaro-George, now with Pounding The Rock, pointed out how empty Luka Samanic‘s stats have been over the first two scrimmages and the results aren’t what Spurs fans were hoping to see from the rookie.

Samanic has looked more like a guy running through the motions than a rookie hungry for minutes.

Luka has a single FGA, three fouls and no other statistics through 11 minutes over two scrimmages.

Can’t read too much into these games but I would really like to see more from him.

— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) July 25, 2020

Yeah, Noah’s right. Go back and watch the tape, there are more than a few moments where Luka doesn’t look fully engaged out there. Could he be nervous about hunting for his own shots? I could understand that. There’s a balance between playing within the flow of an offense and looking for your own buckets, or maybe he’s having some difficulty adjusting to the speed of an NBA scrimmage, although that seems to be the less likely reason.

In any case, we would like to see more from Samanic in this final scrimmage. What he’s shown in the previous two hasn’t done much to convince anyone that he’s deserving of a larger role when the games actually matter.

Next: More solid performances off the bench

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the Miami Heat during the first half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the Miami Heat during the first half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs bench units are impressive so far

If you picked Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli to be two of the Spurs top four scorers in their second scrimmage then congratulations, you’ve won this edition of Spurs bingo. If not, there’s always next time.

Forbes has shifted to a bench role in both of the scrimmages so far and it’s a change he’s taken in stride. His ability to come in and knock down three’s right away is a much-needed spark and perhaps reducing his role to that of a pure gunner will help alleviate some of the defensive lapses that frustrated Spurs fans so much over the past two years.

All in all, the Spurs bench units have been impressive in both scrimmages. Keldon Johnson and Rudy Gay hold down the forward spots while Forbes and Belinelli fire away and the result is a fast-paced, exciting group that unsurprisingly struggles on defense at times. But that’s nothing new.

The name to watch for in this final scrimmage is that of Patty Mills. We haven’t seen the Aussie play yet and he’s been holding a clipboard and in the coaches huddle often. Could the Spurs be grooming him to be the next player to make the transition to the bench? It would be a surprising but not unwelcome development. If he’s up for it so are we.

If Mills doesn’t play in this next scrimmage watch for Forbes and Belinelli to continue to shine in their roles while Keldon Johnson thrives as a downhill slasher. Defensive issues aside, this second unit is fun to watch.

2020 Free agent targets shining in the bubble. Next

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