The San Antonio Spurs have youth on their side in what should be a full 82 games, and preseason data shows they might have to rely on that when it comes to starting the season.
After their opening day home game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, the Spurs will play a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday to start their season with three games in four days. Looking at how Gregg Popovich managed the minutes of his rotation players in the preseason, inspired bench play might be crucial in that span.
According to ESPN's Kevin Pelton, the San Antonio Spurs played their projected top eight players the third-most out of all 30 teams in the preseason.
Giving the top players over 60 percent of the team's minutes, Popovich used the preseason to solidify his rotation while also seeing what lineups work well together. While his usage rate of those guys was higher than most teams, will that make a big difference heading into the games that matter in October?
Since the Spurs' average age is suddenly younger than most teams at around 25, it would probably be an exaggeration to say this will have a lasting effect on the team. San Antonio will have had nearly five full days off between their last preseason game against the Houston Rockets and their opening night game.
The bigger factor in how the Spurs will fare to begin their 2021-22 campaign will be how quickly they can figure out how to keep up offensively while fine-tuning what should be a substantially better defense. Of their first six games, five will be against playoff teams from last season and last year's champions will be on the docket twice.
Still, given the injury issues San Antonio struggled with last season, it wouldn't be a surprise if Coach Popovich exercised extra caution as the Spurs got back into the swing of things. Going from a matchup in the Mile High City to one against the Lakers in San Antonio the following day is brutal, so expect one or two guys two sit for either or both ends of that back-to-back.
The good news is the Spurs won't have to face nearly as tough of an overall schedule as they did in the second half of last season, which was unquestionably a big factor in how much they fizzled out to end the year. Still, they'll have 14 back-to-backs this season with 11 of them coming before the NBA All-Star break.