After playing their first two games of the preseason in the friendly confines of the AT&T Center, the Spurs will venture out west for a matchup against the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
For the Spurs, the main storylines continue to be the backup point guard and small forward positions. At the point, the competition between Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo, and Patty Mills is beginning to take shape. Joseph, who had the biggest role of the three last year, has committed few mistakes so far in the preseason and appears to be the default favorite as of now. Behind Joseph, Patty Mills is starting to distance himself from Nando De Colo for the third spot. Through two preseason games and in relatively equal minutes, Mills has outplayed De Colo on both sides of the ball. We already knew that the Aussie was the better scorer, but he's also excelling at getting the offense into its sets, as well as positioning himself better defensively. De Colo meanwhile has often looked out of place, making simple mistakes, and his stock is going down quickly as a result.
With Sam Young gone, the battle to back up Kawhi Leonard has shifted to a race between Corey Maggette and, well, Corey Maggette. The final roster spot will likely go to him if anyone, and it's up to Maggette to show Pop what he can bring to the team. He got the start against Phoenix and showcased his trademark ability to get to the charity stripe, going 8-8 from the line en route to 10 points. Defensively though, Maggette was often out of position and missing rotations, which isn't a big surprise given how new he is to the Spurs system. How quickly he can grasp the defensive concepts will be key in whether or not he makes the team. Without any remaining competition, he should receive all the minutes necessary through the remainder of the preseason for the Spurs to adequately judge if he's worth keeping around.
One of the best things about preseason is seeing how different organizations use the time for their benefit. The differences in the Spurs' and Nuggets' preseason strategies are as big as the Rockies. One team is a model of continuity and consistency, while the other hit the reset button just a couple months ago. One squad is looking to compete for another title, while the other is trying to figure out who plays well together.
The Nuggets will be spending the preseason figuring out how to function as a group after an off-season of high turnover throughout the entire organization. They lost their GM, Masai Ujiri; their coach, George Karl; and arguably their best player, Andre Igoudala, over the course of the off-season. New coach Brian Shaw has a lot of challenges ahead of him with this roster. While the offensive talent is there, the defense will be a disaster. A starting front line of JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried is already a defensive liability, and with the loss of Andre Igoudala - a wing stopper who makes the bigs behind him better - that pair will have to clean up even more mistakes.
The bright spot for Shaw and the Nuggets is their offensive firepower, spearheaded by Ty Lawson. Lawson is one of the best scoring guards in the league, and will have full control of the offense. He's a maven in transition, with top-tier speed and finishing ability. Because of that, the Nuggets will look to push the ball as much as possible -- just as they did under former head coach George Karl. They also have a pair of quick-trigger shooting guards in Nate Robinson and Randy Foye, who will test the Spurs' ability to defend the three. Down low, look to see how Jeff Ayres matches up against young, high-energy bigs like Faried and J.J. Hickson, who will crash the boards all night long.
While the Nuggets look to run and run and run some more, the Spurs offensive gameplan will continue to focus on how well the new pieces work their way into the system. McGee's decision-making shortcomings will exploited in the pick and roll and - against a young, undisciplined defensive unit - there should be plenty of open looks to be had for San Antonio's shooters as well.
This game is a prime example of how preseason basketball is more about ticking items off a team's agenda, rather than the final score. Regardless of who wins this game, both teams will be happy if they can take another small step toward preparing for the regular season.
Nuggets perspective may be found at Denver Stiffs.
Game Prediction: Spurs by 7.
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