The Silver and Black Scrimmage this year was much more than just a fan-focused exhibition. The team rolled out some interesting looks, and the play was far more competitive than your typical, just-for-kicks open scrimmage.
There was actual defense, at times, though not so much as to get in the way of a good time. Mostly, it was obvious the players and coaches were enjoying the event as much as the fans, and that made for some great moments. DeMar DeRozan’s up-and-under on Rudy Gay, Rudy’s two-handed slam, Lonnie Walker IV’s tomahawk dunk, and Marco Belinelli’s nut-meg on DeMar all drew a reaction from both the bench and the stands. You can go back and watch it (again) for yourself on the Spurs Facebook page.
Aside from those individual moments, the game showed quite a bit about the team and its players as they head into their 2nd preseason game on Friday.
- Lonnie is completely comfortable on the court, regardless of who he’s playing alongside or against, and it shows. His ability to recognize and attack momentary openings on both offense and defense was startling for such a young and inexperienced player. He got shots up within the flow of the offense, in transition, and in isolation, including a very impressive right to left crossover into a step back jumper. He was only 5/12 on the night, but the confidence to take those shots in and of itself is incredibly important.
- Steve Kerr had a great quote about that just a few days ago. As Drew Schiller reported, he had this to say to rookie Jacob Evans:
“If you don’t shoot it, this league will expose you quickly,” Kerr said. ”You got guys like Draymond who are gonna play 15 feet of you, talk smack, ‘You’re scared! You’re scared!’
”This league is unforgiving. I’d much rather see a guy just pretend that he’s confident and let that thing fly, just go. And keep shooting and keep shooting until they start going in.
”If you stop shooting, you’re in some trouble.”
- That last bit is an apt synopsis of the Spurs 2017-18 season but the team has added a couple players to the roster this year who aren’t afraid to let it fly. Marco and Dante Cunningham have both shown they’re willing to pull the trigger. So far this preseason, Rudy hasn’t been shy, either, and he’s been knocking them down, too. Lonnie’s confidence tonight puts him squarely in that category as well, and given his athletic talents, that makes him a unique addition to the roster.
- The team also returned it’s three best 3-point shooters from last season, in Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, and Davis Bertans. Davis, in particular, showed he can bring a lot more than shooting to the floor. His defense really stood out. He held his own against Rudy, Pau, Patty, and Dante at various times, including on one of Patty’s patented in and out probing attacks he uses against bigger players that usually results in an open pullup three or a scoop layup. He got nowhere against Davis. Neither did Pau, who attempted to face up and pass over him, only to have Davis tip the pass and come up with the steal. Davis isn’t a shutdown defender, but he’s sneakily good at defending bigger players, and capable of moving his feet and staying in front of smaller ones, talents that should enable the Spurs to play some very effective smaller lineups.
- Playing next to Lonnie and Davis on the Silver squad, Derrick White was given most of the ball-handling responsibility, and did very well, though he continued to experience some of the issues with ball control that plagued him early in the Miami game. His vision, ability to break down the defense, shooting, finishing, and defense all make him a better backup point guard option than any other player on the team, and if the roster construction for the scrimmage means anything, that’s exactly how the team views him. But if he’s unable to clean up those turnovers, he may not get much of a chance to show it.
- Dejounte Murray, on the other hand, seemed to have the ball on a string the whole night. He showed off a much-improved handle, using it to create space for open jumpers, which he continued to hit. He also made some excellent passes, including a great cross-court feed to Bryn in transition for an open three on the wing half way through the 1st “quarter”. He probably took a few risks in this game that he won’t in games that matter, and he and some of the other Spurs struggled a little on entry passes to the post. The team appears to be de-emphasizing post ups a little, having used slightly less possessions for post ups in both their first preseason game and this scrimmage than they averaged in games last year. Some of that may simply be due to LaMarcus playing less in these games, but it’s an interesting trend to watch. Still, the angle, arc, and timing of entry passes is an art, and that’s one place where the team will definitely miss Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
- Another trend that continued from the game against Miami is the team’s uptick in pace. They continue to get out in transition as often as possible. It was especially noticeable with Dejounte, who had the ball in the front court before 20 on the shot clock off almost every miss. He must have a green light to attack in transition, because after bullying Justice Winslow under the rim on Sunday, he was back at it again in the third quarter, taking on both Patty Mills and Derrick White. He managed a decent look but couldn’t finish. He shot less than 54% within 5 feet of the rim last year, finishing 51st out of the 66 guards who took more than 3 attempts in that range per game. That’s an area of his game that should naturally improve as he gets stronger and gains more experience.
- He’s got a good mentor lined up right next to him. DeMar shot over 62% inside 5 feet last year, good for 16th out of those same 66 guards. He didn’t attack the rim much in this game, though, or against Miami, instead holding up as soon as a defender got in front of him. That needs to change if he’s going to become a more efficient scorer this year. So far, it seems that he’s still getting adjusted to the other players and the offense, because he did much better in simpler actions like pick and rolls, isolations, and transition than he did trying to make something happen within the construct of a play. Fortunately, he and LaMarcus Aldridge appear to be developing the beginnings of some chemistry on the pick and roll, with DeMar successfully dragging both his defender and the big deep into the paint a few times, then kicking it back to LaMarcus for an open jumper at the top of the key. DeMar had several good passes on the night, including some of those to LaMarcus, and one excellent look to a cutting Quincy Pondexter in the lane. Most of that was simple two-man game action and improvisation, though. His passing will only get better as he gets more comfortable with the offense and his teammates.