The only reason to intently watch Wednesday’s preseason game between the Hawks and the Spurs was to see how Derrick White looked as a starter in the first game since Dejounte Murray went down. Unfortunately, it was the Hawks’ point guard who stole the show.
With the game tied at 127 and four seconds to go, Trae Young pulled up from 30 feet to give the Hawks the win in a tightly-contested, high-scoring, surprisingly sloppy game.
Preseason is largely meaningless, so there’s no reason to panic about this loss. Still, it’s hard to be confident in the Spurs’ ability to thrive without Murray after this one. Their defense was a disaster in general, but especially at the point of attack for most of the night. White had solid stretches in which he stayed in front of Young, but couldn’t sustain his defensive intensity in the second half. He had a disastrous start to the third quarter in which he lost his man off the ball and couldn’t contain him off the dribble. By the end of the game, Gregg Popovich had Bryn Forbes on Young and White at the wing on the slower Kent Bazemore.
To White’s credit, he fared better on offense. Despite not really getting to display his pick and roll mastery, he didn’t feel out of place in the starting lineup. An early spot up three established him as an off ball threat and he had some nice drives, too. White can clearly fill the role of secondary playmaker and tertiary scorer that he’ll be asked to play next to DeMar DeRozan. There’s still a case to be made that he could be a better fit off the bench, where he could provide much-needed creation to a second unit that seems too dependent on three-pointers to score, but there will be time to figure that out.
White’s first game as starter is in the books. We knew there were going to be growing pains, and they were on display on Wednesday. Hopefully he’ll power through them and develop the type of consistency on both ends the Spurs will need from him to mask Murray’s absence in the future. It’s a tall task, but White seems willing to undertake it.
- The Spurs’ other point guard, Patty Mills, had a tidy game. He finished with nine points and four assists to just one turnover. He knows his role and what’s expected of him.
- Mills wasn’t on the floor to close the game mainly because Bryn Forbes caught fire. Forbes only missed two of his 11 shots and finished with 22 points. When his shot is falling (Editor’s note: As it so often is in scrimmages and other games that don’t matter. -jrw), he’s a menace. It was great to see him compete on defense, as well.
- Marco Belinelli was solid, hitting some tough shots and moving well without the ball. The three backup guards were good on offense and managed to mask the second units’ inability to get anything going close to the basket with their shooting. Defensively, however, they really struggled. Marco in particular got beat backdoor and didn’t fight hard enough for rebounds. He’ll have to be more attentive and physical when he shares the court with Mills and Forbes.
- Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol got destroyed on defense early on, with the Hawks targeting them in the pick and roll, but improved as the game went on. They both also did well on offense, taking advantage of mediocre or inexperienced defenders one on one.
- DeMar DeRozan was fine. He had 15 points and six assists and looked like he was saving his energy at times. It’s understandable. With LaMarcus Aldridge sitting out the game to rest it would have been nice to see DeRozan take over, but he’ll have time to do that in games that count.
- Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl were bad, mostly. On offense the lack of a good shot creator in the second unit is hurting them the most. On defense, both struggled at times, with Bertans having some really rough stretches, likely due to the chaotic nature of the game. Dante Cunningham did a little better, but I’m still not convinced he should ever get minutes over Bertans.
- The Hawks will be terrible, but likely watchable. Young has good vision and can hit some absurd shots. Alex Len is shooting threes now. Taurean Prince will chuck his way into an eight-figure deal. John Collins wants to dunk on everyone. They even have 41-year-old Vince Carter around, for some reason. I won’t pretend like I’m going to watch a lot of Hawks games, but I’ll check in from time to time.
Up next: The Magic on Friday
The Spurs will play their final preseason game on Friday against the Magic. White could have a good performance, as Orlando’s point guard rotation is pretty bad. Hopefully Aldridge will be available, so we get to see how the starters look with him around.
For the opponent’s perspective, visit Peachtree Hoops.