After the shortest offseason in NBA history, the Spurs unofficially return to the hardwood against the Thunder to kick off an equally abbreviated preseason schedule. And despite disappointing results that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in 23 years a season ago, San Antonio seems determined to bounce back.
The Silver and Black didn’t make much noise in the free-agent market or trade away one of their aging stars like many rumors suggested they might, but they did remain loyal to their values. Instead, PATFO re-signed in-house talent and retooled the roster with their fourth lottery selection since the inception of the franchise.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, overhauled operations leaving them almost unrecognizable for the third offseason in a row. Out went Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Dennis Schröder, and Nerlens Noel, and in came Aleksej Pokusevski, Ty Jerome, TJ Leaf, Kenrich Williams, Justin Jackson, George Hill, and Trevor Ariza.
San Antonio Spurs (0-0) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (0-0)
December 12, 2020 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (Toe — Day-to-Day), Keldon Johnson (Foot — Day-to-Day), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Knee — Day-to-Day)
Thunder Injuries: Trevor Ariza (Personal — Out), Isaiah Roby (Foot — Out), Darius Miller (Achilles — Out)
Taking Advantage of Favorable Circumstances
Winning and losing preseason games is mostly inconsequential. And though going winless or undefeated carries little weight as to how teams perform once the regular season arrives, these exhibition contests are a perfect breeding ground for confidence and chemistry, especially for young teams, which the Silver and Black are now.
The Thunder squad the Spurs are facing is one of the worst teams in the league on paper. Between massive roster turnover and an inrush of unproven players, Oklahoma City has about as little continuity as anyone in the NBA, and San Antonio should look at this matchup as a chance to gain momentum heading into the season.
The good guys shouldn’t underestimate their opponent. After all, any organization can pull off an upset on any given night, and San Antonio is far from claiming world-beater status. Although the Spurs have much to prove before anyone considers them a sure-fire postseason contender, Saturday night could be integral to getting off on the right foot.
Our First Look at San Antonio’s Rookies
As thrilled as I am for the return of basketball, nothing matches the excitement of watching our incoming rookies suit up for the first time. First-year players don’t ordinarily find themselves in a position to play meaningful minutes from day one. However, Devin Vassell is in a significantly different situation than those who came before him.
Not only is Vassell the first lottery selection for the Spurs since they took Tim Duncan first overall in 1997, but San Antonio isn’t the Western Conference powerhouse it once was. And while it makes sense to stow away rookies in the G-League when they’re a perennial contender, that method isn’t as reasonable for a franchise in flux.
White and Johnson are questionable for this one, and that should leave plenty of minutes for the Florida State product to soak up. If we’re lucky, we might even get a glimpse of second-rounder Tre Jones. Either way, each guy is as NBA ready as any prospect to come through the program, and they’ll have a shot to prove me right come Saturday.
Reworking LaMarcus into the Equation
The Silver and Black had plenty of success in the NBA Restart in the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, and they must now figure out how to integrate the seven-time All-Star back into the lineup. It may not seem like a straightforward fix given his historically high usage, but I firmly believe the Spurs can make it work.
Though the Spurs successfully played a fast-paced brand of small-ball with Jakob Poeltl occupying the center, Aldridge may be a better fit. For all his defensive aptitude, Poeltl has a limited offensive repertoire. And despite being labeled as an outdated scorer, LaMarcus drained nearly two three-pointers per game at a 42.2% clip over his last 26 outings.
Distributing touches without shortchanging anyone in the starting five may be a challenge, but LMA has seen his shots decrease in each of the last two seasons and stayed silent. San Antonio can begin to establish a foundation to build upon when they face the Thunder on Saturday night, and fans should keep an eye out for how Popovich utilizes LaMarcus.
Discovering if Someone Made the Jump
The city of San Antonio has quickly warmed up to almost every member of the young core, and some on social media would have you believe two or three future faces of the franchise reside on the roster. I’m incredibly skeptical of those estimations, though I wouldn’t be surprised if one of Spurs’ recent draftees put together a breakout campaign.
The front office has buzzed about Dejounte Murray for years, Lonnie Walker IV and Johnson have become fan-favorites, and White emerged as a potential star in Orlando. For all the promise between them, nobody has consistently provided high-level production, and to be fair, they haven’t had a legitimate chance to do so.
Thankfully, that all should change in a season where coach Pop has already committed to switching things up. Established members of the young core fueled the Spurs’ turnaround during their trip to Walt Disney World, and Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes are no longer around to clog the rotations. Expect a hearty helping of youth come Saturday night.
For the Thunder fan’s perspective, visit Welcome to Loud City.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat throughout the game. You can also follow along with the action over at PtR’s Twitter feed.