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3 Big takeaways from the San Antonio Spurs 2021 preseason

Dec 17, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs speaks with Dejounte Murray #5 during the second quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on December 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs speaks with Dejounte Murray #5 during the second quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on December 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Dec 17, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs speaks with Dejounte Murray #5 during the second quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on December 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what we know about the San Antonio Spurs after three preseason games

Coming into the 2020-21 NBA preseason we had a lot of questions about how the San Antonio Spurs were going to look. Outside of a brief and impressive showing in the Orlando bubble, San Antonio struggled for most of the last season. But after an offseason of unsurprising albeit solid moves, there was hope that they’d show up looking vastly different than they did last year.

What we saw from the San Antonio Spurs over their three preseason games was a mixed bag. There was a lot to like and a lot to dislike and while some of the questions that we had at the beginning of preseason did get answered, the team’s performances over the three contests raised a whole new crop of follow up’s.

Unfortunately, injuries prevented us from seeing two of the players that Spurs fans were looking forward to most. Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were the Spurs bubble darlings but both had to miss all three preseason games due to injury and will miss the season’s opener as well. We have no firm timetable for their return but it sounds like it’s going to be a few weeks at the very least.

Although, the absence of White and Johnson did open up more minutes for other players who might not have seen the court if the two were healthy. So it’s not all bad.

As we approach the start of the ’20-21 NBA season this week let’s review the biggest takeaways from the San Antonio Spurs preseason performances.

Next: The kids are alright

San Antonio spurs
San Antonio spurs

Feb 1, 2020; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Devin Vassell (24) shakes hands with Virginia Tech Hokies guard Hunter Cattoor (0) following the game at Cassell Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs rookies are ready to play right away

Leading off with the point that has got San Antonio Spurs buzzing more than anything else – the stellar play of Devin Vassell and Tre Jones. Both of the Spurs’ 2020 draft picks looked like they were acclimating smoothly to the NBA but it’s the play of Devin Vassell that’s really gotten Spurs fans excited.

I’m trying to balance the perspective of “well, it’s just preseason” with how well Vassell played over the first three games. These preseason games are almost extensions of practice but there’s no denying that Vassell can hoop.

He was one of the best scorers in this rookie class, his 13.7 points per game average over these three games ranks third among 2020 rookies. He showed off the impressive outside shooting ability that we all knew he had in him but also played inside and above the rim more than some might have expected.

His defense was similarly stellar. He’s done everything that Spurs fans could have hoped for on that end of the floor. He’s sticking his hands into other players pockets and taking their lunch money, he’s plucking balls out of the air like he’s Xavien Howard,  and he played damn good one on one defense when he was matched up with James Harden.

We’re far past the point where it’s clear that Devin Vassell does not need to spend time in Austin preparing for the NBA. He’s more than ready. Now it’s just a question of how large his role will be in the regular season.

Next: Change is a good thing, sometimes

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Dec 17, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs speaks with Dejounte Murray #5 during the second quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on December 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs are committed to running with a new style of play

Maybe I’m too skeptical but even as Gregg Popovich and various Spurs players talked about how the team was committed to picking up the style of play they were running with in the bubble I was hesitant to believe it would happen. But over the course of the three preseason games, some of my doubts have been erased.

Replicating their play in the bubble could be boiled down to focusing on three things: Playing with pace, going small, and shooting more threes than ever before. So far, only two of those three have come true.

Let’s start with pace. In the bubble, the Spurs were totaling 105.5 possessions per 48 minutes. Through these preseason games, they’ve ratcheted that figure up to 106.3. Their position in the overall league rankings is lower than it was in the bubble but that’s more due to other teams running wild than it is San Antonio regressing in this particular area.

Analyzing their three-point shooting is a little more difficult. They’ve clearly made an effort to get LaMarcus Aldridge more involved as a three-point shooter. You can see him float to the corners and fade back after setting screens more than he did last year.

Over the course of last season, the Spurs averaged 28.5 three-point attempts per game. They pushed that number up to 34 three-point attempts per game during the preseason. Their accuracy has taken a dip but will hopefully get back to their normal sharpshooting ways once they’ve had more time to get their legs under them.

But what about going small? So far that hasn’t been the case for San Antonio. With Trey Lyles and Aldridge returning the lineups were always going to look different. Still, it’s been slightly surprising to see Rudy Gay in the starting lineup every game. The team is dealing with injuries though so we can revisit this point once they’re totally healthy. Of the three, this is the factor that I’m concerned with least.

Next: What to do about LaMarcus Aldridge?

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Dec 15, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard John Wall (1) comes up with a loose ball in front of San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first half. Mandatory Credit: Mike Wyke/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Should San Antonio Spurs fans be worried about LaMarcus Aldridge?

LaMarcus’s preseason could be categorized as a mixed bag. He started to do the things that Spurs fans were hoping to see out of him but the quality of play took a fairly steep downturn.

He’s shooting more threes than ever but he’s also not making a ton of them. His legs look a little heavy, he was regularly burned by Christian Wood during the Spurs’ final preseason game. So, how should Spurs fans feel about it all?

I’m going to preach patience here. Yes, there are things that the coaching staff and LaMarcus can do to put him in positions to be successful. Stop playing him with Jakob Poeltl, maybe cut down his minutes to preserve his legs, and let him post up a little bit if it’ll make him happy. But still, be patient.

It takes a longer time for veteran players to get back into game shape and Aldridge has been upfront and transparent about his need to get his legs under him. It could take some time for him to get back to the player he was last year but trust that he will get there.

The San Antonio Spurs don’t need an All-Star level season from Aldridge this year. They need him to own his new role (which he’s committed to doing), shoot three’s (which he’s committed to doing), and be a team player. He’s going to do all of those at a high level, it might just take a little bit more time.

Next. Ranking all 5 Spurs championship teams

These are the biggest things that stood out to me about the San Antonio Spurs preseason. What do you think, Spurs fans? What were the biggest takeaways for you? Let us know.

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