Most Spurs fans got their first look at the 2019-20 version of their team on Tuesday. Those who were hoping to discover something new or unexpected about this iteration were probably disappointed. The same strengths and weaknesses San Antonio appeared to have in theory manifested in practice in a 107-89 loss against the Heat that taught few new lessons.
There were no surprises from the get-go. With all the veterans available Gregg Popovich gave us a glimpse at the likely starting lineup for this year, as DeMar DeRozan joined Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl to kick things off. The concerns about an obvious lack of shooting from that group were at least partially assuaged when, for the second game in a row, San Antonio set up a pick and pop three-pointer by Aldridge in its first offensive trip. To make that unit work the big man will have to expand his range and adjust to a slightly different role, which he fortunately seems willing to do.
Similarly, the return of Dejounte Murray is pushing DeMar DeRozan off the ball more, which will only work if the young point guard proves adept at creating for himself and others. Murray passed the test early by using his quickness and a handle that is looking tighter than it ever was to get past his man and either go all the way to the rim or draw help and make the simple pass to an open teammate. DeRozan still got his touches and made the most of them, but it was good to see someone else take a significant portion of the shot creation and ball handling burden off the veteran wing.
Beyond a solid, if somewhat anachronistic, starting five, depth at the perimeter is expected to be one of the Spurs’ biggest strengths. San Antonio can throw a lot of different combinations out there, all with their unique identities. Pop was eager to try out a lot of those units. Patty Mills started to second half while Forbes iced his thigh on the bench, injecting some more aggressiveness to the starting lineup. Marco Belinelli had the first shift off the bench at the wing in the first half, but Lonnie Walker IV and DeMarre Carroll got their turns as well. All showed enough competence to suggest that the battle for playing time at backup small forward is far from over and will be fascinating to watch all throughout preseason.
Not everything was positive, of course, as you probably guessed from the final score. Some of the issues that plagued the Spurs on Tuesday, like a lack of flow to the offense at times, turnovers and missed rotations, can be chalked up to normal preseason woes. Others, like a struggle to rebound with only one big on the floor, a lack of volume shooting from outside and not enough size at the forward spots, might be with the team even when the season starts. Fortunately nothing seemed to be unfixable, which is encouraging as San Antonio continues to find a rotation that works.
We didn’t learn anything new about the Spurs in preseason yet, but that’s fine. So far they look like the talented, flawed, deep team we knew they were going to be. That’s not necessarily exciting but it surely is reassuring.
- LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan didn’t have great shooting nights and look a bit rusty, but they still did a little bit of everything. Those two are rock solid, so there’s no need to worry about them.
- Dejounte Murray looks more aggressive than he ever was in the past. He showed off his ability to get to the rim and finish in the second half after mostly looking to set up others in the first two quarters. He missed his only three-point attempt but he did hit a mid-range jumper. His defense was a little sloppy, but that’s understandable, considering it’s his second game back after missing a season. Encouraging performance from the young guard.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Derrick White looked uncomfortable all game and finished the night with one point and the same amount of turnovers as assists. Maybe his struggles in the first two preseason games are related to fatigue after a busy summer of maybe it will take him a while to find his rhythm coming off the bench. Whatever the reason, he fortunately still has time to find his game before the season starts.
- DeMarre Carroll made his debut wearing Silver and Black and looked like the quintessential glue guy that he is. He’s never going to make highlight plays but he moves the ball, shoots when open and tries on defense. Carroll looked a little lost out there at times, for obvious reasons, but he should end up being a good addition.
- The Spurs only took 13 three-pointers, which is embarrassingly low. Bryn Forbes did his part, launching a pair and connecting on one, but Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli only got one three-pointer up each. Pop will need to find ways to get them open looks, preferably by having them move off the ball a lot more. Patty in particular handle it a little too much instead of trying to get open in the weak side. He had a good game, but that’s probably not his ideal role going forward.
- The one small but pleasant surprise was to see San Antonio push the pace. They have the players to do it, especially if they go small and play four guys who can run after securing the board. A quick attack can at least partially make up for spotty shooting, so they’ll need to keep searching for transition opportunities.
Next game: Vs. Pelicans on Sunday
Zion Williamson awaits. The Pelicans like to run, so it will be interesting to see if the Spurs, who looked a little sluggish running back on defense, will be able to keep up. It should be a fun one.