Well folks, that last one was a bit of a mind melt but the good news is now the next one actually means something. The San Antonio Spurs will finally open their season on the road next Wednesday, October 31st, against the New Orleans Hornets. But before we look into the inaugural game of yet another title chase, lets look at a few final things from last night.
Things I Didn't Like
1. Allow me to get the obvious out of the way. Forget clowns and public speaking - the DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner front court combination is the stuff that real nightmares are made of. The effort on Friday was there, but when those two are on the court together, their defensive skill sets dissolve and their weaknesses magnify. They still get their looks on the offensive end through fading off screens or rolling to the basket but only Blair has been able to make anything of it. Bonner has failed to make any impact this entire preseason (0-8 for the preseason). If only Josh Powell or Derrick Brown had been able to sink their threes...
2. Obvious statement number two: Gary Neal running the point can be painful at times. Neal is a wonderful off-the-ball guard and quick trigger shooter but when Gary has initial control of the ball, he spends too much time thinking. This over-thinking leads to delayed decisions, broken plays, and turnovers. Last season, Neal received ample time at the point and performed admirably in some games but I'm not sure if we'll ever see a high level of play in any positive consistency.
3. Sharing is caring but Spurs fans don't care for it when the shot clock runs out. San Antonio acquired a pair of shot clock violations and a handful of last second shots through a series of over-zealous passing. The Spurs typically excel at moving the rock to find the best shot but last night saw multiple clean looks passed up for equal, or yet sometimes poorer, opportunities. I believe a lack of shot confidence along with the rebuilding team chemistry is to blame for this. One thing is for sure - Pop is going to find all of those wasted looks on film and grind his players on each one.
4. Although they showed strong improvement in the second half, the Spurs defense struggled against what was essentially a bench unit. Most of the first half featured a mixture of passive rotations and over-reactive ball defenders. I wasn't close enough to verify this, but communication on defense also seemed rather sporadic and delayed. These issues also bled over into the defensive rebounding as Washington was able to grab 10 offensive boards and 13 second-chance points in the first half. I understand this was the final preseason game but it irks me that Earl Barron and Jan Vesely went a combined 10-14 FG for 23 points and 8 rebounds in the first half against most of the Spurs regular season rotation.
Things that I liked
1. Tim Duncan's dominance and energy early on. 4-down was in effect early and often in Friday's game as the Spurs struggled to get a rhythm established on their motion offense. Duncan finished the first half with 11 points on 5-7 shooting and also pulled in 8 boards. Despite being a hundred years old, Timmy D looked spry and agile out on the court and appears to be the most eager out of any of to get this regular season started.
2. If Gary Neal doesn't show any improvement at the point by the time December rolls around, we should begin to see Patty Mills earn more floor time. Mills is a great fit into the Spurs' style of play; fast, aggressive, great court vision, and a solid passer. Defensively, Mills utilizes his quickness on the perimeter to hassle the ball handler and cut the passing lanes. Along with his tenacity and energy, Mills can be a bright spot defensively in a small, run-and-gun lineup. However, his height and small body frame makes him very susceptible against bigger guards who can shoot over his reach or post him up.
3. Danny Green is showing flashes of a more polished game offensively but that's about it. Hell, I'll take it. Green was already an adequate defender last season but his offensive contributions were mostly limited to his jumper and points off the break. He does have the ability to create, but not against an above-average defense. Although the Spurs offense struggled last night at times while he was out there, Green looks like he is capable of helping the offense gel rather than just being a beneficiary of it.
4. Soft teams rarely get to the line or win a ton of games. Despite the struggling offense throughout portions of the game, the Spurs were consistently able to get the free throw line (35 times) and make the most of it (27 made). Getting aggressive and getting the calls can take the opposing team out of rhythm on both ends of the floor.
5. The Spurs ran out Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard together on the wing for a large portion of the second half. The Wizards shot 28.2% in the second half. Obviously that two-punch combo isn't the whole reason but it was definitely a major part of it. I hope to see more of this throughout the season.
6. No more preseason!
Odds and Ends
- "Ime Udoka's shoes" - Coach Popovich post-game on what he saw that he liked.
- Jack's album, "Jack of All Trades," has been delayed yet again but he is releasing a single. "Lonely at the Top" featuring Kevin Durant will be available on October 30th through iTunes.
- The Wayne Wright in-game promos on proper fan behavior get worse every season. They ripped off the "Messin' with Sasquatch" commercials this time around.
- Aside the fact that "The Wave" should be never, ever be done again at stadiums, the crowd should at least have the common sense not to do it while the home team is at the line shooting free throws.
- Josh Powell was waived minutes after the final game of the preseason. Powell only received 4+ minutes of floor time at the end of the game which makes me curious as to why the Spurs waited till after the game to waive him. I too have been been fired as soon I finished a day of work. I know how that feels, bro.