Well, that experiment has ended. The truncated training camp/preseason is over, and as Spurs fans, we are left wondering what we learned. It’s hard to put too much stock into how the preseason went down considering they were not at full strength, but still what we saw wasn’t exactly encouraging ahead of the regular season.
It wasn’t too surprising that they didn’t get to experiment more with Bubble Ball due to injuries to Orlando standouts Derrick White (who is still without a return date) and Keldon Johnson (still at least a week or two out), and LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles (who both missed the Bubble) need time to adjust to the new style, but the Spurs still didn’t fare well at all in the three preseason games. The pace was slow, they struggled to shoot from almost all over the court, and there was very little ball movement in what is supposed to be a “free-for-all” style of play.
Some high points were evident: Patty Mills hasn’t lost his spark, and rookie Devin Vassell looks NBA-ready (and then some) on both ends of the court, but regardless, if the Spurs want to be relevant this season, they’ll have to play much better on both ends of the court while continuing to experiment with different line-ups, beginning on Wednesday against the Grizzles.
Preseason Week 2: In a preview of the season’s baseball-like series concept, the Spurs met the Houston Rockets twice this week in Houston. Both outings were losses, but both had their highlights to focus on. Most of the highlights are focused on Vassell’s excellent showing so far. In the two games in Houston, he played 58 minutes, averaged 5 rebounds (4.5 of them defensive), 3 steals (a number that puts him tied for 1st in the whole league), and 14.5 points.
Last week: 0-2 (Does Not Matter) — 112-98 @ Rockets (loss); 128-106 @ Rockets (loss)
Zach Lowe, ESPN - Chasing #10 Tier (Last Week: NA )
What happens when the go-go bubble Spurs meet the DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs? Is this like Elaine introducing Jerry, George, and Kramer to their bizarro selves? Does the universe implode? The bubble Spurs ran like hell, and actually played Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV together — to some success! They also somehow shot even fewer 3s!
The Spurs were minus-97 in almost 1,500 minutes with DeRozan and Aldridge sharing the floor — continuing a bad trend. They are on expiring contracts, and trading one or both would help San Antonio settle on a playing style. Alas, they don’t appear to have much trade value. Flipside: Will we see contract-year bumps?
Aldridge has lost a step on defense, but finally decided to shoot 3s. Trey Lyles found some courage too — a must given the shooting issues elsewhere. (I could see the power forward spot being in some flux, with Keldon Johnson even getting some chances when he gets healthy.) The Spurs have decent depth at every position. You know they’ll play hard, and make teams beat them. They were fading badly pre-bubble, and they look like a .500 outfit.
Michael Shapiro, SI.com - ?? (Last Week: NA)
No rankings published.
Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports - 20 (Last Week: 21)
The Spurs’ insane 22-season playoff streak ended in the bubble, but it hasn’t sparked a rebuild. Quite the contrary, San Antonio could be in the mix for a playoff spot with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in contract years, surrounded by emerging talent in Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker. If that’s going to happen, however, they’ll need to lock down their defense, which was slipped to among the league’s worst over the past two seasons.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com - 22 (Last Week: 13 in the West)
In his 14 seasons in the league, LaMarcus Aldridge has never attempted half as many 3-pointers as mid-range shots. Prior to last season (2.2 to 1), his ratio of mid-range attempts to 3-point attempts was 18.3 to 1. But in the preseason, Aldridge launched 19 3s and just six shots from between the paint and the arc. With the departures of two of their most prolific deep threats (Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli), the Spurs, who didn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers in the first place, kind of need their big man to step behind the line. But we’ll see if he keeps it up if the shots don’t start falling (he made only four of those 19 preseason attempts).
Like Aldridge, Derrick White started shooting 3-pointers more liberally in the second half of last season. And the 26-year-old guard (eligible for an extension by Monday night) averaged an efficient 18.9 points in the bubble. But both White (recovering from toe surgery) and Keldon Johnson (another bubble standout) will start the season on the shelf. That does provide an opportunity for Lonnie Walker IV, and Dejounte Murray guarding Ja Morant could still be a fun way to start the season.
Matt Eppers, USA Today.com - C (for the offseason)
After their 22-year streak of playoff appearances ended, the Spurs had little flexibility to make moves in free agency when DeMar DeRozan exercised his $27.7 million option to return. DeRozan is one of several veterans with large salaries in the final year of their contracts — in addition to LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills — who have San Antonio treading water as a fringe playoff contender while doing what it can to develop young talent.
Drafting Devin Vassell out of Florida State with the No. 11 pick was the type of shrewd move the Spurs are known for. Vassell projects as a prototypical 3-and-D wing with the kind of high-character reputation that San Antonio prizes as a franchise. Second-year player Keldon Johnson should also see increased minutes on the wing after appearing in just 17 games as a rookie.
The backcourt is packed, with minutes tight between veterans DeRozan and Mills and youngsters Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonny Walker IV. Trading DeRozan, Mills or both (or any other veteran on an expiring deal) could loosen the logjam and free up more minutes for young players to develop.
Mo Dahkil, Bleacher Report - 25 (Last Week: NA)
With their run of 20 straight playoff appearances over, it is time for the youth movement to begin in San Antonio. There is a lot of promising young talent with the Spurs in Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic and Devin Vassell. Johnson stood out during the bubble, scoring 14.1 points while shooting 64.7 percent from three on 2.1 attempts a game.
Pairing the young talent with veterans like DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills will make the Spurs tough. DeRozan should continue his renaissance as playmaker; he led the Spurs in assists with 5.6 last season. Aldridge’s 6.3 three-point attempts this preseason is a sign that he’s more than willing to expand his range.
The Spurs will continue to play hard, but as they continue to develop, it will not result in a lot of wins.
FanDuel Odds: +13000
Buckle up, Pounders. The season starting this week and the analysts will start their usual grind. What are your predictions for the season?