During their final scrimmage before resuming the eight-game season slate, the San Antonio Spurs were visibly more comfortable but still raised questions.
In their first win of the Orlando restart inside the NBA’s bubble, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Indiana Pacers 118-111 to close out their slate of scrimmages. Playing against one of the more intriguing teams in the Eastern Conference, the Spurs got the ball in the hands of their young players a ton in this game with rookie Keldon Johnson pouring on 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
San Antonio moved the ball well, using their penetration to draw defenders toward the paint before rocketing passes to the perimeter. They finished with 29 assists led by point guard Dejounte Murray, who filled the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a steal. He was one of six Spurs with three or more dimes in the contest, but it was reassuring to see Dejounte keeping his demeanor and passing well despite shooting poorly.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 28, 2020
Five players reached double-digits in the scoring column including DeMar DeRozan (17 points) Lonnie Walker IV (12 points) and forward Rudy Gay‘s game-high 23 points made a major impact off the bench. We’ll get more into Gay’s performance later, but having a veteran step off the bench and swing the pendulum for this group is pivotal in the face of major injury trouble.
Defensively, the Spurs were still a bit of a mess except for Jakob Poeltl, who finished with two steals and a block today. The No. 1 performer on defense was someone you’d probably imagine would earn that spot given the way he’s blossomed in his third year.
Next: Takeaway 1 — Look at Derrick go!
Is Derrick White the San Antonio Spurs’ most impactful player?
There’s a growing case that Derrick White is actually the most impactful player on the San Antonio Spurs. DeRozan and the injured LaMarcus Aldridge can have their scoring value replaced, there are plenty of feasible passers to go around and the team has shooters hidden throughout the roster but no player can replicate the defensive powerhouse that White’s become.
White is a starter now and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon — even as the Spurs return to play against the Sacramento Kings later this week. Over today’s action, White continued to assert himself as a defensive playmaker with three steals, three blocks and a charge drawn in 29 minutes. His plus/minus was 17 — the second-best plus/minus was Murray at 10.
Things you love to see: pic.twitter.com/05ezauP5R4
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 28, 2020
Not only are these two players getting more comfortable playing alongside each other, but they’re making winning plays. Time and time again, White shows us that he has what it takes to keep up with the best in this league. He guarded a rotation that threw both Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon at him and he didn’t bat an eye.
There are arguments to be made that White is the team’s best passer, pick-and-roll ball-handler, perimeter defender, shot blocker, off-ball defender and floor general. Maybe it seemed like Murray or Walker would be the golden child who takes the Spurs to the next level but ever since he was inserted to the starting lineup and is being treated like a go-to option, White is proving that he might be the guy after all.
For reference, Derrick too 14 shots and hit three of them today. Somehow, he was still the best player on the court. That’s quite meaningful for a guy who’s on the verge of a contract extension.
Next: Takeaway 2 — A necessary change for the regular season
Lonnie Walker IV is developing into an extraordinary passer for the San Antonio Spurs.
So we know that Lonnie is a Skywalker with unusual athletic ability and a wide range of scoring skills, but apparently, he used his time off to become an uncanny playmaker as well. Throughout these three scrimmages, he’s become even more comfortable with the ball in his hands, using the threat of his jumper to rocket passes to teammates for easy buckets.
Lonnie had four assists today and a handful of great passes that his teammates failed to convert on. This is an exciting progression for a player who’s still trying to find his place in this league. Walker is only a sophomore and usually, it takes longer than that for a passing repertoire to develop for a score-first player. My guess is that his time watching DeRozan must’ve influenced that because we know what DeMar can do as a scorer, but the passing takes him up a notch.
"OH MAMA!" ?
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 28, 2020
If we project Walker to start at the three moving forward with Murray and White in the starting guard spots, the Spurs have a three-headed monster that can drop dimes for each other in hopes of doing something great. Part of what made great modern teams like last year’s Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors dynasty successful was an unselfish mindset. If the young Spurs can adopt that philosophy and sling passes to each other from various positions, they’re going to eventually build a top NBA offense with Walker as a cornerstone.
Versatility is key in the modern game and Walker seems to be unlocking a new level to his skill set. To some, it might seem like Walker’s getting ahead of himself since he still has a lot of work to do in terms of offensive consistency, but if he can get the ball to his teammates then, by all means, he should do it. If he doesn’t have a good shot, Walker can set someone else up for a great one!
Of every intriguing aspect to arise from these scrimmages, Walker’s passing might be the biggest development.
Next: Takeaway 3 — Turnover prone?
Turnover issues are being course-corrected by the San Antonio Spurs.
In the first two scrimmages, the San Antonio Spurs were one of the worst teams in the bubble in terms of turning the ball over. They made a ton of errors that resulted in fastbreak points for the opponent and wasted opportunities along the way. It was their undoing in the game against Brooklyn and certainly played a factor in the second-half meltdown versus Milwaukee.
Today, the Spurs were more careful with the ball in their hands. They won the turnover battle 12-to-15 and racked up a handful of steals of their own. It was a much more careful effort from the young guards in particular as White, Walker and Murray combined for just four turnovers while finishing first, second and third in minutes logged against the Pacers.
San Antonio lost its grip in the second half, committing six turnovers after totaling just five in the first half. However, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that it’s a step in the right direction for a team that’s relying heavily on its young players in these games. Indiana prides itself on being a pesky defensive team that ranked seventh in defensive rating in the regular season, but the Spurs refused to submit to their opponent.
Rust was always going to rear its ugly head after three months away from the game. Running scrimmages against each other is a great way to practice, but it doesn’t give credit to the intensity of playing against opponents in meaningful games. San Antonio is a team that has players who other teams are going to attack and every step of the way, they’ll be pushed further.
This group is proving to be extremely resilient and today’s game was a wonderful example of that.
Next: Takeaway 4 — Rudy's still got it
Rudy Gay has something left in the tank — now he needs to prove it.
Believe it or not, Rudy Gay is still hanging around for the silver and black after a season in which many thought he was done for. Today’s scrimmage was proof of that as Rudy led all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting including his 42.9 percent mark from beyond the arc.
Moreso than just his scoring, Rudy stuffed the stat sheet with five assists, four boards, a steal and a block that wasn’t counted on the box, for whatever reason. I could swear he swatted a layup attempt in the second quarter!
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Anyway, Gay’s season was rather harsh for Spurs fans to deal with. The shooting stroke and efficiency that earned him a new contract in the River City fell off a cliff and his athleticism seemed to dwindle as well. Bringing Gay off the bench is a logical move considering his decline in conditioning and helpful role as a secondary scorer/ball-handler off the bench. Having that versatile ‘jack of all trades’ type of player is crucial for lots of great teams.
After being a shell of himself for long stretches this year, it was refreshing to see him ball out. The 33-year-old had similar games at the tail-end of the forgotten regular season but it wasn’t enough to fix his averages and regain confidence in his ability. Many Spurs fans began counting him out months ago and it’s hard to come back from that.
But what if the Orlando restart is giving Rudy a second-chance at getting back to top shape? There’s no way he has this kind of scoring output through the Spurs’ final eight games and a potential play-in tournament for the postseason, but can he shoot upward of 38 percent from deep and average 14+ points per game? It’s not outside of the realm of possibility, as he showed us earlier today.
Maybe that’s setting the bar too high, but if Gay’s feeling himself and can get on a roll, it legitimately puts the Spurs in a position to make a run at the eighth seed in Orlando.