The Spurs had their open scrimmage yesterday and it marked the first time we've seen those guys play together since the Finals. I couldn't catch the game live but one of our readers, aespurs, gave us a detailed account concerning the performances of Kawhi Leonard, Corey Maggette and Patty Mills.
Now that I've watched the game, I'd like to offer some late thoughts of my own. But before I start, remember we are talking about a scrimmage here. No one was going as hard as they could and the plan was to experiment and entertain more than to provide a reflection of what the team will look like on opening day. That being said, there were a few little things worth mentioning.
A lot of high-post-initiated offense
If you've watched the Memphis Grizzlies play, you've seen them start a lot of sets with Marc Gasol holding the ball in the high post while players either cut or go in for the hand-off. All teams, including the Spurs, use the high post on occasion but during the scrimmage they ran a lot of their offense that way.
The Spurs have very good passing big men, so it makes a lot of sense. It also takes the burden to initiate the offense away from the guards, while playing to the strengths of guys like Maggette and Leonard who might not be the best ball-handlers out there but can make power moves to the rim using their explosiveness after a hand-off. Smart cutters can also shine if they make themselves available and the Spurs have those in Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Leonard.
It'll really be interesting to see if the Spurs keep using that strategy because it has the potential to make a very positive impact on offense, especially in lineups that don't feature Tony Parker.
Kawhi Leonard: offensive focal point
It was clear the Silver team was trying to involve Leonard in the offense as much as possible. Leonard got a couple of chances to run pick and rolls and did OK in a role he's not used to. He preferred to pull up after the screen, like Gary Neal used to do, and his shot is good enough to make it a valid option when the big man sags. But I'm more interested in seeing whether or not Kawhi can get to the rim as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.
Aside from pick-and-rolls, Leonard had a post-up, which brought joy to my heart, and took shots off hand-offs and coming off screens. Hopefully the experimentation will continue and will include some plays in which Leonard works as the screener and not the ball handler in pick-and-rolls.
The backup small forward and point guard spots
Green started at small forward for the Black team and did a good job defending the bigger Leonard. We've touched on this before but with the lack of long and quick wing players, it's likely the Spurs will just go with Green at SF when Leonard rests, or Belinelli or Ginobili off the bench.
I still believe that is the most likely way things will go but if Maggette continues to have solid performances, that might change. It's not like the former Warrior was stellar out there but he looked every bit the solid veteran. Once again it was a scrimmage and, as I mentioned, the Spurs played to his strengths by not having him spot up in the corner, but Maggette looked good out there.
The other veteran invitee, Sam Young, didn't do anything to change my mind. Young hit a triple but missed a couple more and did not make any type of impact on the game. Of course it really wasn't the ideal setting for a guy that relies on defensive hustle to earn his minutes, so I'll keep an open mind.
As for the backup PG spot, nothing too surprising there. Joseph is steady, and thought it might sound boring steady may be all the Spurs need from Tony's backup. Manu will continue to take risks and Leonard could struggle at first trying to initiate offense, so Joseph's inability to run the pick and roll even in an informal setting is a bit worrying, especially considering he's not exactly a great outside shooter.
Speaking of shooters, Mills went on a shooting binge, as usual. He hit most of his shots, which made him look great, but his main value remains as a shot taker. Don't get me wrong, that's a good skill to have, especially since neither De Colo nor Joseph have anything near his shooting ability. Still, I think the backup job is Joseph's to lose at this point, and Mills won't leapfrog him by simply chucking up jumpers as often as possible.
Nando de Colo had a pretty nondescript performance, in other words he picked up right where he left off in FIBA Eurobasket. I know a lot of fans hated it but I preferred it when he would have the ball in his hands and take risks trying to create. He is still clearly a decent player but he seems to be lacking what made him special in the first place. Hopefully he'll regain his mojo at some point.
The big men
Timmy was fantastic. That's all I need to say, really. Tiago Splitter also looked great, scoring on a couple of jump hooks and off Manu feeds on the pick and roll. We all know what Matt Bonner can do. The rest is more interesting.
Boris Diaw seemed to be in Team France mode, shooting the ball more often than what I'm used to seeing from him. Diaw hit from outside and even looked to create out of the post, as he did over the summer at Eurobasket. I hope he keeps it up.
Aron Baynes, Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayres. One of those guys will become the fourth big in the rotation and at least for one scrimmage, Ayres emerged as the better option. The former Pacer hit a couple of mid range jumpers - one facing up in the post and one after a drive and dish by Leonard - and that's a skill the Spurs could use in a 6-9, 250-lb. package. Ayres had some trouble communicating on defense but he should get there in time.
Baynes set some hard screens and is probably the best rebounder of the bunch, which could make him a good match next to Boris Diaw. But since BoBo is at his best next to Duncan, the fourth big likely has to be able to play next to Tiago, and Bangers' shaky jumper might hurt his chances there.
Those are my impressions after one single scrimmage, so take them with a grain of salt. The Spurs will face CSKA Moscow on the 9th in the first game of preseason and that performance could prove more illuminating. For now, I'm just happy we have actual games to talk about.