San Antonio Spurs: What did we learn from the three scrimmages?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 08: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs talks to teammates on the bench during the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 08, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 08: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs talks to teammates on the bench during the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 08, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

What did we learn from the San Antonio Spurs three scrimmages?

On Tuesday afternoon the San Antonio Spurs won their first & final NBA restart scrimmage, offering Manu Ginobili the best birthday present they could. For the first time in nearly four months, the San Antonio Spurs left the court with a victory,

The Spurs sprinted through the finish line to a 118 – 111 win over the Indiana Pacers. While it may not count towards our official win column, a win is a win. After dropping the first two games to the Brooklyn Nets & Milwaukee Bucks, the Spurs finished their NBA Restart scrimmage schedule 1-2.

Before we start, how great was it to see a Spurs home broadcast? Not NBA League Pass on a device or a sketchy stream site riddled with pop up adds, but the classic “snacks in front of the TV” Spurs basketball we all know & love and missed so dearly. Sean Elliot & Bill Land debuted their “socially distanced’ broadcast from the court-side of an empty AT&T center.

Elliot said it best, regarding the NBA’s season restart as “remarkable” and he’s absolutely right. The league’s $150 million dollar effort to maintain “The Bubble” is commendable and incredibly impressive.

Even more commendable is the leagues’ united efforts to keep the focus on things far more pertinent than the score of basketball games. Countless players & coaches from all 22 teams have used their platforms to raise awareness and demand social justice reform. Coach Pop has been as vocal as ever. Eight of the Spurs players choosing to replace the names on their jerseys with one of the league approves messages.

What did the San Antonio Spurs focus on during the scrimmages?

While the Spurs entered the NBA Bubble with a much bigger and broader focus, their more immediate team goal has remained the same – covering the 4 game gap between them and the coveted 8th seed and attaining their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance. After dropping their first 2 scrimmages they entered the day with a few more questions than answers.

San Antonio averaged just 17 turnovers before the season postponement, however, the 24 & 22 they allowed in their first two exhibition matches were beginning to make us a bit anxious. We’re happy to report they only turned the ball over 12 times in their third game, three less than their opponent and half as many of any prior scrimmage.

While every team had expected a fair amount of rust after a 3-month quarantine stoppage, these exhibition games are to shake it off and trim down turnovers. So to see the Spurs completely cut them in half while totaling 29 team assists is promising overall.

However, their perimeter shooting still has a fair amount of room for improvement. San Antonio’s 3-point shooting percentages have been sporadic over the three scrimmages. Tuesday was their worst day from behind the arc, averaging 25 percent on 7 for 27 shooting. Rudy Gay was the only bright spot, leading the team in scoring with 23. He sunk 3 of 7 attempts on 42 percent shooting.

In contrast, the team as a whole shot 42 percent against Brooklyn on Saturday. So we know shots can fall. But it would be a bit of a stretch to think Derrick White could consistently hit the shots he was hitting against the Nets, I mean wow, he was scorching hot against Brooklyn.

If there is one criticism we would ever dare to levy against the G.O.A.T. Coach Popovich, it’s his reluctance to let young players off the leash. Whatever the reason, fan-favorite Lonnie Walker never truly got to run free in his limited minutes before the season was suspended. His patience has paid off, as limited opportunities have transcended into highlight-reel playmaking.

That's a dime. ?@lonniewalker_4 | #GoSpursGo

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 28, 2020

#LetLonnieLoose has been FULLY vindicated & validated as he has absolutely demanded more minutes in his play against Milwaukee & Brooklyn. He then expedited that request with his late-game takeover solidifying the win against Indiana. He’s averaging 15 points in 26 minutes with a minimum of 3 jaw-dropping moments a game.

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The best thing about these scrimmages had been seeing the young core getting extended minutes. Austin Spurs alum Keldon Johnson poured in 21 points, scoring at a highly efficient 87 percent shooting in the most recent scrimmage with the Pacers. When you add the 7 points from his 3 assists he was responsible for 28 points in 25 minutes.

Johnson actually received the majority of his NBA minutes in just the 3 games before the season was postponed. Both he & Walker have seen extended run in these exhibition games and Spurs fans couldn’t be more thrilled with the sheer bursts of athleticism they’ve seen. Pop included, as he referred to Johnson as a “mustang from the old west.”

When you have a stable filled with million-dollar racehorses, you let ‘em run and that’s exactly what Pop is doing. Spurs fans finally got to see their dream backcourt of Murray, White & Walker; a lineup that had only been on the court this season for 18 total possessions. Add in DeMar DeRozen & I’d venture to say the Spurs have one of, if not the most athletic guard rotation of any team in the NBA Bubble.

While the Spurs back-court is all systems go, San Antonios’ frontcourt woes persisted. The absences of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge & frequent starter Trey Lyles have decimated the Spurs big man rotation. Jakob Poeltl may very well end up the most important player over these last eight games as newcomer Tyler Zeller has yet to step foot on the court. Aside from Poeltl, high-flyer Drew Eubanks has been the only Spurs big-man to see extended minutes. He may offer a highlight or two but overall he is still learning and improving as a player.

Eubanks got the clear the lions share of back up minutes, in fact, neither forward Luka Samanic nor Chimezie Metu saw double-digit minutes in any scrimmage. So it would be safe to assume he is the guy behind Poeltl on the depth chart.

Although frontcourt depth is a major concern left unattended, for the most part, the San Antonio Spurs offered us pretty clear cut answers to most of the questions we had going into the NBA Restart. These scrimmages offered us a bit of everything, including a glimpse of our future head coach Becky Hammon. The only thing these three exhibition games have lacked was our daily dosage of Patty Mills.

The future of our young core is looking bright. The NBA Restart in itself is an experiment, the same way these scrimmage games were. “The Bubble” around the NBA-Disney campus is just as fragile as the Spurs NBA record 23rd consecutive playoff streak hopes.

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Only time will tell if both will hold. The Spurs are locked in on the playoffs, as they lock arms demanding justice, demanding equality, demanding change. While we all hope for change, we also hope one thing stays the same…the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Playoffs.