San Antonio’s eventful summer felt at times like one hard goodbye followed by the next, but we can now fully shift that focus to what lies ahead of a team that, despite one major loss, should still be pretty darn good.
With three weeks left before the regular season, Gregg Popovich will begin making sense of his strange, temporarily bloated roster that only has eight players returning from last year’s 67-win team. And he’ll have just three of them with him tonight in Phoenix.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Danny Green and marquee signee Pau Gasol remain in San Antonio for this one, all listed in the team’s injury report. Of those, only Green (quad contusion) is believed to have anything ailing him, which means the focus tonight will be on the peripheral rotation players and the non-guaranteed guys vying for the 15th roster spot.
Parker and Mills’ absence should open things up for fans to get a good look at rookie Dejounte Murray. The 29th overall pick tantalized with his talent in summer league, while confirming some of the doubts that allowed him to slip to the Spurs at the end of the first round — namely, his unreliable outside shot. A steady diet of D-League and milk shakes is expected for the wiry guard this year, but that won’t stop fans from hoping he can develop into a rotation player sooner rather than later.
Another curiosity at the point could be third-year forward Kyle Anderson, who Pop recently said has not only earned a bigger role in the upcoming season, but potentially some minutes at the one. Whether or not Point Slow Mo works out, it will be fun to see what he can do with the ball in his hands this year after two very low-usage seasons. He and second-year guard Jonathon Simmons will both be expected to produce more in 2016-17.
That may take some time, though. As for tonight and the next few games, Pop and his staff will be paying close attention to the five guys on non-guaranteed deals: Ryan Arcidiacono, Bryn Forbes, Nicolas Laprovittola, Patricio Garino, and Joel Anthony. 2010 second-round pick Ryan Richards has already been waived, and the team will continue trimming the overall roster size from 19 to 15 (or 14) over the next six exhibition games.
With that group mostly being guards, a matchup against the Suns should provide a solid measuring stick. Phoenix is deep at both guard positions with young, NBA-level talent (Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, and even lower-rung guys like Archie Goodwin, John Jenkins and Tyler Ullis) that should test the San Antonio guards’ ability to play passable defense and contribute offensively. I assume most of them play tonight with this being Watson’s first full season as head coach.
There’s a handful of Spurs bigs that will be fun to get a first look at, as well. Davis Bertans and Dewayne Dedmon figure to be factors for the second unit next season, as does David Lee, who reportedly showed up to training camp in much better shape than he did last year in Boston. The Suns will match up with a pair of 2016 lottery picks — Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender — whose skills complement each other well. Bender’s an intriguing talent as a floor-stretching seven-footer, while Chriss should be able to make an early impact as a rebounder and rim-runner.
This game should start out pretty even, with Kawhi Leonard acting as a steadying presence on the floor for the Spurs. I imagine he’ll be faded out of the rotation in the second half, when the game might start tilting in favor of the Suns. That’s OK, though — we’ll know a bit more about the makeup of the team tonight and in the coming days, and that alone is pretty exciting.