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What we learned from the Spurs preseason “win” over the Magic

Escaping a preseason game unscathed is a victory in itself.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, not televising preseason games is a little bit of mercy in this cruel world. With the Derrick White news hitting Friday morning, and the Spurs announcing later in the day that Rudy Gay would miss the game, and potentially the season opener, with his own injury issues, every tumble to the ground was met with bated breath. Fortunately, the Spurs managed to make it through this one with what remains of their roster intact.

For their part, Orlando was game, but neither squad had much going the whole night. In the end, the two teams combined to miss 105 field goals, shooting a combined 25.5% from three. The Spurs outshot the Magic, so they won, but it wasn’t necessarily the Spurs defense that got the job done..

Orlando ended up shooting 59% from the free throw line. It was just that kind of night, as the final game of preseason often is. On the upside, everybody’s rebounding numbers look great.


  • Defensive execution is still a work in progress. Given all the team is going through, that’s not surprising, but without the ability to stop penetration at the point of attack, the team’s rotations and help must be on time every time. A blowout preseason game doesn’t provide much information on how the players will work together when it matters, but there were signs of progress. That’s important because there isn’t a whole lot of practice once the season starts.
  • While the team doesn’t have any depth left at guard, it does have a deep rotation of bigs, especially since Rudy Gay and Davis Bertans are both more effective at the 4. The team may choose to switch up its pick and roll coverage and have the screener’s man show against the ball handler at times. Putting Rudy, Davis, or especially Chimezie Metu, on the opponent’s preferred screener could prevent a lot of penetration. That will require a synchronized back line that’s able move in concert to cover for the big while he buys time for the guard to recover. That would certainly expose the Spurs to mismatches on the block, but there will be times when it’s worth the risk.
  • The best version of that defense will include Chimezie. He’s quick and has good natural instincts, but to make that work, Chimezie will have to show he can survive on the offensive end. Given his mobility and shot blocking ability, it may be a necessary trade off in small doses, even early in the season.
  • That’s not a choice the Spurs have had to make in the regular season before, so they’ll likely only break it out when a perimeter player is really torching them. The team generally prefers to drop the big and focus on deterring shots at the rim while conceding the mid-range. That’s fine as long as they’re actually able to deter shots at the rim, but when the big can’t recover to the hoop fast enough, it becomes a huge liability. Preseason disclaimers aside, Pau Gasol has looked just slow enough that that may be a problem this year, especially against more explosive players. Jakob Poeltl, on the other hand, has the quickness to cut off penetration, but hasn’t consistently demonstrated the anticipation necessary to get ahead of the league’s quicker players.
  • The offense continues to look much better than last year and flows far more naturally already than it did just a week ago. DeMar DeRozan is easily the team’s best initiator on offense at this point, and as he improves his pick and roll timing with LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Jakob Poeltl, he’ll only get better. If he can consistently bend the defense, the team has several players capable of attacking close outs and rotations. Bryn Forbes continues to defy the eye test by posting absurd +/- numbers. He’s second on the team in preseason, with a +40 in 100 minutes, after finishing fourth on the team last year, with a +122 in 1517 minutes. Patty Mills is far more effective on the catch, whether shooting or attacking, as is Marco Belinelli. Davis Bertans is a knock down shooter as well, though he can’t do as much off the dribble. Rudy has historically been the opposite, but his preseason performance indicates he may be looking to do both this year. He has the ability to break down a defense on his own, to an extent, something he’ll likely be asked to do with the second unit, especially early in the season.
  • The slight uptick in threes continued in this game. The team launched 25, but only made 8. That brought their preseason total to 113, which is 22.6 per game. That’s still slightly less than last season’s 24.1 but the last two games are likely more indicative of the type of offense the Spurs intend to run, which should see the team’s 3PA end up somewhere in the high 20s.
  • Finding opportunities for LaMarcus to be the focal point of the offense will be an interesting task. If he can get deep position early, or lock in a mismatch, the Spurs should feel comfortable dumping it in to him, but they’ll be better off if they don’t make a habit of spending 8 seconds trying to throw an entry pass so LaMarcus can have the ball with his back to the basket with 10 on the shot clock, his primary defender in good position, and 4 other defenders staring his way. Aldridge is great, but that’s not a recipe for efficient offensive production. The Spurs led the league with over 12 post ups a game last year. That number may not come down much because both DeMar and Rudy are effective out of the post as well, but as long the team focuses on posting up with an advantage, either in terms of position or match up, and includes motion and cutting off ball, it shouldn’t kill their offense.