The Spurs’ 122-100 rout of the Denver Nuggets was a showcase of this new roster’s strengths, as the ball whizzed around the perimeter and the threes dropped, one after another. It was also a statement by veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green that they’re poised for strong seasons as they both (potentially) approach a summer of free agency. But maybe above all, it was a story of opportunities being recognized and those poised to take advantage of them.
That notion may not matter to any Spur more than Bryn Forbes, who has gone from longshot signing last season, to 2017 Summer League standout, to the 15th man on a roster filled with guards — and on a non-guaranteed deal at that. For Forbes, chances matter, and he is making them count.
The second-year guard had 20 points for the Spurs on Sunday — 18 in the first half alone — as he continued a torrid stretch that began this summer. He took open shots with confidence, attacked close-outs with ease, and did everything the team could’ve asked of him. He went 7-of-11, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and 2-of-2 from the line.
“Coaches stress that I shoot the ball when I’m open,” Forbes said after the game. “But I’m just trying to make the right plays and stay on the court.” If Forbes continues to play like this, it’ll certainly be hard to keep him off it.
With Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker out, and Pau Gasol, Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson all sitting, opportunities abounded for a number of players. Dejounte Murray got the start again and put together one of his most complete games yet. He was terrific in the open floor, didn’t force his shots in the half-court, and had a tidy 6:2 assist-to-turnover ratio in 26 minutes of action. It was just the type of quiet but reassuring performance fans will hope to see out of a young starting point guard this season. Well, it was “quiet” until this happened late in the game.
Joffrey Lauvergne made the most of his first start, continuing to operate well out of the high post and showcasing a high basketball IQ. He also showed off his range by going 1-of-3 from three.
The Nuggets defense (one of the league’s worst last year) was generous in that regard, continuously giving up open looks from the perimeter as they struggled to handle the Spurs’ size inside. And the Good Guys exploited them often.
San Antonio shot 16-of-28 from three-point range, improving upon the 15-of-31 night on Friday, and plenty of players (nine total) got involved. Forbes led the way with his four threes, but Rudy Gay (2-for-4), Danny Green (3-for-4), and Davis Bertans (2-for-3) all did damage.
Spurs fans will be happy to know that LaMarcus Aldridge also took part in the fun, suggesting once again that this could be the year he truly stretches his game to three-point range. He made one of his two attempts from deep, a pick and pop in which we’re used to seeing him fire away from a step or two closer.
Against other teams, those attempt numbers may have been higher. But versus a Nuggets group that had no answer for Aldridge all night, it was absolutely fine for him to get most of his licks in on the post. The key difference tonight: he settled far less for the deep fadeaway shots we got used to seeing last season. Far more often on Sunday, he took advantage of the size mismatch (he was guarded primarily by Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee) and found a way to get closer to the basket, either overpowering with his first move or using a deft pump fake to set up the easy finish. Aldridge also had no trouble passing out of the post and finding the open shooter, finishing with six assists, tying Murray for a team high. He also led the way in scoring with 21, to go with eight rebounds.
For the second night in a row, head coach Gregg Popovich looked on from the stands as his assistant coaches ran the show. On Friday against the Kings, it was James Borrego and Ime Udoka who each took a half; versus Denver, it was Becky Hammon and Will Hardy’s turns.
Success, as the saying goes, is when opportunity meets preparation, and the Spurs have a tradition of offering both to coaches and players — a vital part of the franchise’s long-term success — and that was on full display on Sunday.
After the game, it was Hammon, now in her fourth year as an assistant, who spoke to the media. She talked about the game and a number of young players (including Murray, Forbes and rookie Derrick White’s great efforts), but also touched on the organization — “the program” as many from within refer to it — and the learning opportunities it provides.
“You never see me out here,” she joked when discussing her rare appearance speaking to the media after the game. When asked about what this meant for her in her young career, she went on, “It’s an amazing opportunity for me. Pop — we’re a teaching program and that comes directly from him. So, for him to give us this opportunity and the guys a different voice. That’s what his tree is all about; it’s mentoring and bringing people along. So for me and Will Hardy and Coach Borrego and Ime, it’s a nice opportunity to get out there and hold the clipboard and be in the action.”
That’ll be the case for many Spurs this season — learning as they go and developing as the season goes along. If it comes with more victories like Sunday’s, the present could be looking as bright as the future.
Here are a few other bits and bobs...
San Antonio’s size factor
The Spurs may only have three traditional bigs on the 15-man roster, but, man, they can still overwhelm teams with size. With Aldridge and Gasol, plus Gay (and eventually Leonard) at the three, Green at the two, and Murray at the one, they’ll be a handful for almost every team in the league, whether it’s on the boards, in passing lanes, or pounding the ball inside.
Hammon on what’s expected of Murray
“He’s obviously going to be a work in progress, but you know those guys are looking to be vocal. Obviously he’s young and green, so there are going to be some bumps along the way, but I think we just have to let him roll with it and let him take some hits. We may take a few hits in the process, but I think it’s essential to his growth.”
Hammon on Forbes
“Obviously he had a great summer league. He’s a guy we have a lot of confidence in shooting the ball, so anytime he sees daylight he has the green light. His light is very green.”
Hammon on whether the team expects to shoot more threes this year
“Hopefully we can get our attempts up and get our tempo up. It’s always a point of concern to us to play at a quicker pace. We’re going to take what they give us. Obviously attacking close-outs, that tends to create rotations and then you get open threes. We don’t want to just be shooting threes; we want to be shooting good-looking threes.”
On the DNPs
Gasol and Mills were both given the day off to rest. Anderson, Pop said before the game, was still feeling the mild ankle injury he suffered earlier in the week. However, Anderson could be seen before the game during shoot around, and he looked pretty good putting up shots. He should be back in action shortly.
Gay on whether he fancied a breather by taking one of the remaining preseason games off
“I don’t need the rest; I need reps.”