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What we learned from the Spurs loss vs. Rockets

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The Spurs have not given much reason for optimism heading into the regular season.

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve heard it said before that a team learns more from a loss than they do from a win. If that’s true then we all should have a basketball PhD after that one. I never want to come across as too harsh or critical, but that was . . . not good. There were some bright spots few and far between, but if this trend continues this could be a long and frustrating season.

I think the main thing I learned was that, “Just shoot more threes” is probably not the right answer for this team. In their final pre season game the Spurs shot 7/33 from downtown for a paltry 21.2%. That’s not going to get the job done, to say the least. And it’s not just this game. The entire pre season has been bad. Actually they started off pretty good in game 1 vs. the Thunder where they shot 15/38 from three for 39.5%. That’s passable. But the next game vs. the Rockets they only shot 10/31. That’s only 32.3%. Each game has been worse than the last.

The real confusing thing is that last season the Spurs were 4th best in the league in three-point percentage. So, the call for shooting more threes seems justified. However, they also shot the 3rd fewest threes in the league, suggesting that when they did take them they were wide open or very high quality shots. The thing is, shooting more of them means the quality of the shots goes down.

In addition to lower quality of shots, the Spurs roster doesn’t have any real sharpshooters. There isn’t one person that puts fear in opponents hearts from beyond the arc. Last season the Spurs had 6 players that shot 3 or more 3s per game. 2 of them, Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli, are no longer on the team. Derrick White is recovering from surgery and is out until who knows when. All three of them shot above the league average of 35%. The other three are Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Patty Mills is cool. I like him. Rudy Gay only shot 33.6%. He’s a capable scorer, but not a really great three-point shooter. LaMarcus was actually the best of the bunch at 38.9%.

So, out of their high volume three-point shooters, two are no longer on the team, one is still injured, one is below average, one is a bench player (I’m not hating on Patty, he’s great), and one is your aging big man coming off of shoulder surgery. Who is supposed to be making all of these extra threes they’re jacking up? Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell have shown potential in small sample sizes, but we need to see more.

LaMarcus stretching his game out to the three-point line was supposed to be the answer to unlocking the offense. Against the Rockets, he only shot 3/12 and was 0/5 from 3. I think teams are going to be perfectly happy letting him fire away from downtown.

The Spurs trying to play a fast paced, three-point shooting game reminds me of one of my first cars. When I was in my early 20s, I was gifted my great-grandmother’s 1984 Chevy Caviler when she passed away. This car was as old as I was. It got me to where I needed to be and rattled along just fine.

One day, as I was driving to who knows where, I was stopped at a red light. I looked out my passenger window and saw a super cool guy on a motorcycle pull up next to me. I’m not sure why, or if it’s necessary, but he was doing that revving your engine thing that motorcycles do. I thought I would be funny and started revving my, clunky, on-it’s-last-leg engine, back at him. He looked over and saw my grandma car and started laughing and gave me a thumbs up, which I reciprocated.

And I’m afraid my friends that that just might be the Spurs offense this season. They are a-hand-me down car from your grandmother trying to compete with a street bike. They just don’t have the tools to do the thing they want to do. I imagine while they’re busy jacking up all these threes, other teams will be smiling and giving them a big thumbs up.

What else did we learn?

  • DeMar DeRozan is going to keep doing his thing. He had 21 points on only 13 shots thanks to getting to the line 11 times. I don’t mind him not shooting 3s. His job should be penetrating the defense and kicking out to capable shooters. He just needs to do job consistently like he did in the Bubble, where he perfectly timed when to defer and when to take over.
  • If the Spurs had another big guy that could start I’d love to see Rudy Gay as their 6th man. He’s a scorer who could provide a spark off the bench. I just don’t think starting is the right role for him.
  • I learned that Lonnie Walker IV actually played in this game after looking at the box score. I didn’t really notice him on the court. How many minutes do you think he played? I bet you didn’t guess it was 28. In his 28 minutes he only took 2 shots and missed them both. I’m not expecting him to be a solid scorer all the time, but he should do something. He didn’t even have a single rebound, steal, or block. He did have 2 assists, so there’s that.
  • This is starting to feel really negative, so I’ll get to some positives. Devin Vassell. His name just fills my heart with joy. He had yet another solid game and just continues to get better and better. Let’s all give Devin a round of applause!
  • You know who else had a good game? Drew Eubanks. He might not get a lot of playing time during the season, but in this game he did a lot with what time he had. He only played 12 minutes, but scored 11 points grabbed 3 rebounds and dished out 2 assists. And he got to the line 9 times hitting 7 of his free throws.

So there you have it. The preseason is over, and now the games count. I’m honestly feeling pretty pessimistic about this team as it’s currently constructed. I really hope I’m wrong.

The first game is December 23rd at Memphis. Let’s go Spurs!