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What we learned from the Spurs’ Media Day

The 2019-20 team is, at the very least, a study in contrasts.

Bruno Passos

The Spurs held their annual media day on Monday, allowing reporters and at least one bumbling blogger to formally address players for the first time since their elimination last April. In between shooting promotional videos and pictures that we’ll see throughout the season, Gregg Popovich and a handful of players took to the podium to chop it up with the media, recap their summers and field various questions about the season ahead.

We learned that both Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan spent parts of their offseasons in Wyoming, albeit separately; that Derrick White is over his China jet lag and learned at least how to say “thank you” in Mandarin while over there; that the Spurs are not over the Marcus Morris saga that saw them lose Davis Bertans for nothing; that Dejounte Murray would occasionally text DeRozan clips last season indicating how he would do better to set him up; that Murray has looked healthy and fast in the pickup games they’ve played together, and that Pop wonders whether Lonnie Walker IV (who various teammates mentioned looking forward to take on some kind of role in his second season) might be even faster.

Inevitably some of that questioning veers into ground that this new version of a basketball team either won’t address or simply doesn’t know, and part of the challenge is seeing what tangible things emerge from it all.

It wasn’t surprising that two of the more repeated lines of inquiry on Monday reflected what most of us are heading into this season most curious about: are the team’s two mid-range specialists intending to take any more threes, and will the team be starting out the year with a starting backcourt of the rehabilitated Murray and revelational White?

All four players could see the questions coming, and each more or less parried them in their own way. Aldridge and DeRozan didn’t go into absolutes about their intentions to up their three-point volume (although Aldridge seemed a bit more dismissive of any emphasis on it), and White and Murray both said all the right things regarding Pop’s impending decision with the starting five. Which is understandable — it’s September after all, they haven’t practiced yet, and a few minutes ago these guys were standing on tarps doing imaginary between the legs passes to a PR staffer off camera. The truth can wait.

That said, there were some future-facing takeaways that media day reinforced or introduced. Here are a few.

A new blend of experience and youth

Somewhere between a) the allusions to LaMarcus Aldridge’s age, b) Pop jokingly announcing that he would, in fact, not be the Spurs coach in 20 years, c) a throwaway comment about Tim Duncan’s fashion sense, and d) Gay reflecting on being two years removed from his Achilles injury — the familiar notion of the Spurs as The Olds of the NBA resurfaces.

But this is a team firmly amid a youth movement, and we could see the strengths of both extremes this season both stylistically and in how Pop manages lineups. Six potential rotation players are heading into at least their 10th season, while the rest of the team has 4 years of experience or less.

More pace coming?

Last year’s Spurs were 22nd in the league in pace, which is already the highest they’d ranked in years. The return of Murray and a few comments from Pop and Aldridge on playing faster may keep that trend going. Part of this will relate to the specific way the Spurs use pace, which involves getting the ball past half court in a hurry to catch unset defenses and, when no opportunity presences itself, proceeding to probe patiently with its motion-heavy set offense. Yet, it makes sense for a roster of athletic perimeter players to play to their strengths, within reason of course.

Derrick White’s busy summer should help him continue to elevate his game

White may have been the third most important Spur last season after taking over for the injured Murray, and the smart money is that he’ll only be better after an unlikely tour as a member of Team USA. The value of that experience wasn’t lost on Gay, who made a point to stress it. He added that White continues to surprise them and that he expects bigger things this season.

While one of the recurring reasons for players backing out of FIBA was rest and refraining from overseas travel and competition so close to the regular season, White casually shrugged those off.

“I wasn’t really expecting to be on Team USA, but that was really a blessing,” he told me. “I really enjoyed that experience. But overall, I just trust in myself, trust the work that I put in, and always believe in myself.”

White didn’t speak of any specific points of emphasis going into next season. Given he’s barely had a chance to catch his breath after returning from China, it makes sense. Still, his recent achievements have only raised the bar he sets for himself:

“Each year you want to do more and more, be a better player than you were the previous year. Each year going in you have bigger goals, and higher expectations for yourself.”

Continuity and chemistry can only help

DeRozan contrasted his emotions coming into this season with his post-trade nerves a year ago. He also talked about the chemistry this team was bringing back, a dynamic that’s backed by San Antonio being among the league leaders in continuity for 2019-20.

You can also sense a more close-knit team that’s grown from within and is benefiting from reuniting some familiar faces. Gay reminded reporters that he’d played with newcomer DeMarre Carroll previously in Memphis. DeRozan, who played with Carroll in Toronto, talked about growing closer to Murray, who’s picking up right where he left off as a positive, vocal presence in the locker room and huddle. It’s become old hat to talk of intangibles with the Spurs, but you can already see how this team will likely be greater than the sum of its parts.