Take a deep breath Spurs fans. It was only the 2nd game of the preseason, and it came against a Detroit Pistons squad missing two of its best three players. Still, the Spurs shot the lights out, especially in the first half, and there was a lot to like about the team’s performance.
The first, and most noticeable development, was a new starting lineup. Coach Pop chose to start Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl alongside Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, and LaMarcus Aldridge, moving Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol to the bench. Mills took the 2-guard spot, which pushed DeMar to the 3. Though introducing Mills to the starting lineup isn’t a good thing in terms of the team’s overall ceiling, it added some breathing room to the otherwise cramped spacing of the starting 5 and almost completely cleaned up the team’s rotation. Bryn Forbes took over as backup shooting guard, Marco Belinelli played the three when DeMar was on the bench, and Rudy Gay spent all his minutes at the four. Next to Derrick White and Pau, they formed a solid bench unit.
Each of the starters and their primary backups played similar roles on both offense and defense, making the transition back and forth relatively seamless. That’s a new dynamic for the Spurs, but it’s not set in stone just yet. Neither Poeltl nor Davis Bertans spent much time on the floor, so both will likely get more run on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how the team finds minutes for them while still affording Rudy the opportunity to play at the 4, where he is clearly more comfortable and effective.
- Dejounte’s shooting improvement continues. He hit several off the dribble jumpers, and punished defenders whenever they went under screens by either pulling up and nailing a jumpshot or using the space to accelerate and attack before the defender could recover. He was 7/12 on the night, including 4/7 on mid-range and long 2’s. That’s not sustainable, but these type of nights will force teams to change how they guard him, which should open up opportunities for everyone else on the court.
- He got out in transition a couple of times, and finished a nice lob from Dante Cunningham in the 1st quarter. That play started with a DeMar DeRozan steal, the 2nd time in as many games that he’s jumped a passing lane and set Dejounte up for some easy points. On the whole, though, the team didn’t get into transition as much in this game as the last. Their overall pace dropped back down to 96.6, but that may be due to the game being a blow out for much of the night. They also ran more post ups, though, getting to 10 in just the first three quarters, after averaging a little under 12 last year. The good news is that very few were the typical toss-it-in and watch the big back his man down into the paint type of post ups. Several were mismatches or resulted from natural movement and passing that led to deep position. Essentially, they were higher quality opportunities than your average post up possession.
- The DeMar/LaMarcus two-man game continues to get better. They’re starting their pick and rolls pretty low on the floor, often just inside the three-point line, and have had the most success running them on the right wing. Starting so low gives DeMar less room to get around his man but forces the big to drop much lower to contain the drive. That’s part of the reason DeMar hasn’t gotten to the rim much, though that also has to do with him still picking his spots. Once the big commits, it’s money for the Spurs, and DeMar has consistently found LaMarcus in those situations.
- Pau and Rudy’s moves to the bench may prove critical for the team, if they’re long-term adjustments. Pau is still a better defensive anchor than Poeltl. The elder Gasol may not have the physical tools that Poeltl does at this point, but he’s a step ahead of the game mentally, and he protects the rim without fouling. LaMarcus is capable of handling that with the starting unit, and Poeltl can bang with starting centers and set hard screens, saving both LaMarcus and Pau some wear and tear. At the same time, Rudy’s assumption of Manu’s role as a starting caliber player who sacrifices for the team is just as important. That a player long viewed as a stats-over-impact kind of guy could be replacing the greatest impact-over-stats player of all time is a little ironic, but this version of Rudy has the right tools and mindset to do just that.
- Early in the fourth quarter, both Chimezie Metu and Lonnie Walker IV showed some more of what has the team excited about their potential. Unfortunately, Lonnie went down with what looked like a potential rolled ankle. He was able to walk off without help but had a noticeable limp on his right side. He didn’t miss any of his 3 shots and added an assist in that little bit of playing time. Chimezie played the entire fourth, and while he didn’t shoot well, just 1 of 4, he rebounded well, grabbed a steal, and threw a very nice assist to Lonnie for a dunk. He also spiked a Glenn Robinson III floater into the ground. He’s got excellent instincts and timing, but he’s shown a little bit of tendency to be over-aggressive going for blocks, though that’s very common in young players.
- In the most important news of the night, Zaza didn’t play, so aside from Lonnie’s ankle, the Spurs go into their third preseason game against Houston on Sunday as healthy as any team in the league. While that makes it difficult for everyone to get the minutes they deserve, it’s a welcome change from last season.