San Antonio Spurs: What to watch for in season restart against Kings

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 08: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs guards De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings in the first half at Golden 1 Center on February 08, 2020 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 08: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs guards De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings in the first half at Golden 1 Center on February 08, 2020 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 08: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs guards De’Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings in the first half at Golden 1 Center. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 08: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs guards De’Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings in the first half at Golden 1 Center. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs are back in action tomorrow night against the Kings

It’s finally here, San Antonio Spurs fans. After months of hoping and waiting, we’re just hours away from the official restart of the 2019-20 season and seeing our San Antonio Spurs back on the court in actual NBA games.

The past week has been an absolute treat. Even though these past few scrimmages have been full of ups and downs they’ve been a welcome return to the relatively normal.

The San Antonio Spurs themselves struggled at times, it was very clear that they hadn’t played organized basketball for months during their first scrimmage against the Milwaukee Bucks. But overall they gave us plenty to be excited about during the season’s resumption.

The Spurs coaching staff and players have been pretty clear about one thing – these final eight regular-season games are more about developing the young players than they are about chasing the final playoff spot. If getting into the postseason comes as a byproduct of playing the younger guys, great. But don’t expect to see the same rotations you did during the first part of the season, those days are behind us.

Instead, Spurs fans have been able to enjoy the backcourt that we’ve been craving for a long time now. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are getting plenty of playing time together, they started all three scrimmages alongside each other. Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson have gotten extended minutes as well. The end result has been an exciting and fast-paced Spurs team that has struggled but been immensely entertaining.

Making the playoffs isn’t the ultimate goal but its something the players are well aware of and will surely be gunning for. They get their first opportunity to set the tone tomorrow night against the Sacramento Kings, here’s what to watch for.

Next: Taking advantage in the frontcourt

SACRAMENTO, CA – NOVEMBER 12: Willie Cauley-Stein #00 of the Sacramento Kings shoots over Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs at Golden 1 Center. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA – NOVEMBER 12: Willie Cauley-Stein #00 of the Sacramento Kings shoots over Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs at Golden 1 Center. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Can the San Antonio Spurs exploit the Sacramento Kings’ weak frontcourt?

The San Antonio Spurs are no strangers to a shallow frontcourt plagued by issues. With Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge out San Antonio has had to get creative with their lineups, relying on Jakob Poeltl, Drew Eubanks, and Chimizie Metu far more than they did at any point in the regular season.

That said, the Kings are going through some frontcourt problems of their own. Marvin Bagley is going to be out for the remainder of the regular season and Alex Len is set to miss the game on Friday but is considered day to day at this point. This means the Kings will lean heavily on Harry Giles and Nemanja Bjelica.

The Kings will also look to Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes, but as the two have played sparingly in the scrimmages it’s unclear where they might be with their conditioning. While the two are not under any minute restrictions per se, poorer conditioning due to a lack of playing time up until this point could limit the impact they have in Friday’s game.

All of this opens a great opportunity for a statement game Jakob Poeltl. He’s one of the Spurs we’ve consistently pointed to as a threat to break out here in Orlando and he couldn’t be in a better situation for Friday’s game.

He’s got a substantial height advantage over every man the Kings can throw at him and should use that to his advantage on both ends of the floor. He’s been involved on offense, he’s done a great job of running the floor and letting the Spurs guards find him for easy finishes, but it would be encouraging to see him be more aggressive on the offensive glass on Friday.

On defense, Blockob just has to keep doing what he’s been doing all season long. He’s an advanced stats darling on defense and has proven that he can provide elite-level rim protection when he’s given the opportunity. Well, his opportunity is here. Let’s see what he makes of it.

Next: Let the mustang run wild

SAN ANTONIO, TX – FEBRUARY 26: Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs drives on the Dallas Mavericks at AT&T Center on February 26, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – FEBRUARY 26: Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs drives on the Dallas Mavericks at AT&T Center on February 26, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs should let Keldon Johnson run free as much as he wants

Can I be honest? When Gregg Popovich referred to Keldon Johnson as a ‘mustang‘ before the scrimmage against the Pacers I was ready to run through a brick wall. Which, funnily enough, is what it looks like Johnson is trying to do every time he attacks the rim. This is what Pop had to say about the rookie.

“He’s kinda wild and very energetic, very aggressive, takes no prisoners, sticks his nose in, he likes contact, all that sort of thing. All in all he’s a very competitive individual, and he’s in the process of learning how to play. He’s a very young man, and very willing, very teachable, he’s got a great personality and he’s somebody that we’re very high on.”

I mean come on, how can you not love that? That kind of praise from a head coach who doesn’t say those things lightly, along with his infectious positive attitude, and seriously impressive play in the scrimmages have turned Keldon into even more of a Spurs darling than he was before the team went into the bubble, and we were already really high on this young man.

There’s already some debate on Spurs Twitter about whether fans should be more excited about Johnson or Lonnie Walker, were not going to weigh in on that. I say, why can’t we be equally excited for both? But the hype around Johnson is not being generated without cause.

He’s playing the hard-nosed kind of defense that’s going to endear him to Spurs fans, he drives to the basket like it’s his only source of relief and finishes through contact on a regular basis, he’s starting to make more smart passes and he’s even shown a glimpse of the jumper that would really take him over the edge as a player.

There is so much to like about Keldon as a player and as a person, the San Antonio Spurs lucked out and might’ve pulled off the steal of the 2019 draft by getting him with the 29th pick. Now it’s time to let him loose and see what he can do over these final few games.

Next. Three X-Factors for success in the NBA’s return to play

Other smaller points to watch will be how the Spurs backcourt matches up with the Kings, how the Spurs manage their bench rotations, and whether we finally see Patty Mills in action. In any case, it’s just good to have San Antonio Spurs basketball back in our lives.

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