Spurs basketball was played today for the first time in 135 days, and while it was just a scrimmage meant to help players get their legs back beneath them, it was nice to see some sports being played again.
That being said, it was also a reminder that these Spurs just aren’t very good, especially without their best player in LaMarcus Aldridge. Even the merely solid presence Trey Lyles brings to the floor was missed in their 113-92 loss to the championship-favorite Milwaukee Bucks.
The good news is they are by far the best team the Spurs will face the rest of the way, and there were still some bright things to take away from this game (despite the Bucks feed making it somewhat difficult to make observations as they frequently cut away during the Spurs’ offensive possessions to show highlights). One of those positive takeaways is what is hopefully a sign of what the Spurs’ guard rotation of the future may bring:
Four Spurs finished this game with 10+ points:— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) July 23, 2020
- While Gregg Popovich was there coaching on the sideline in his mask, it appears the oldest coach in the bubble had an unmasked Becky Hammon acting in his stead as she was the one who would go out and discuss issues with the refs (and if this game mattered there would be a segment dedicated to how lopsidedly called this game was), yell instructions to players, etc. This is likely an attempt to allow Pop to “social distance” to the best of his ability, but we can also always dream it’s a sign of things to come.
- The first starting line-up put together for the return was one formed partly out of necessity and but also combined with some things fans have wanted to see: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, and Jakob Poeltl. White was the aggressor early, hitting his first three-point attempt of the — return? Overall the starters looked relatively cohesive has a unit throughout the first half (although the Bucks’ length would eventually get the better of the super-small line-up).
- Bryn Forbes came off the bench for just the second time in two seasons and finished the game with seven points on 1-5 from three. Patty Mills was on the sidelines but didn’t play — this must have been a classic “rest” game for him — so it remains to be seen if the point of Forbes coming off the bench was to replace Mills’ shooting with the second unit, or if Pop really is committed to finding more starting minutes for White and/or Walker. Only time will tell.
- Drew Eubanks was the first big man off the bench, although he was briefly replaced by Tyler Zeller following a defensive breakdown. He’d later make up for it with a nice block in transition that would turn into an open three for Rudy Gay, but after another horrid stretch on defense in the third quarter as the Bucks pulled away, he was replaced by Chimezie Metu (who was also nothing special, although in fairness that’s a lot to ask when his main assignment on both ends was Giannis Antetokounmpo).
Out here turning defense ➡️ offense pic.twitter.com/oyJGSRcmof— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 23, 2020
- If I had to pick a Spurs “fringe” rotation player who made the best impression (and I’m counting Lonnie as being past that stage at this point — more on him below), it would probably have to be Keldon Johnson. As previously mentioned, Eubanks looked completely lost for the most part, Metu tried to assert himself on offense but was only selectively engaged on defense, and Quinndary Weatherspoon and Luka Samanic did not do much with their few garbage time minutes. Meanwhile, Keldon entered the game alongside Forbes in the first half, and his defense made him instantly stand out between the two. He also found himself on offense in the second half, contributing 11 points on 3-6 shooting while also being the only Spur who was aggressive enough to get to the line in a game where they really struggled to earn calls before garbage time. This was already just coming to light before the season was suspended, but it is becoming more and more obvious that he belongs on the court ahead of Forbes.
Biggest takeaway: Lonnie Walker
- Walker is one of the players fans will be seriously watching for the remainder of the season, and while he had a quiet first half with zero points on two attempts, he exploded onto the scene in the third quarter to briefly keep the Spurs within striking distance. He scored all 14 of his points in the second half, and confidently hit 2 of 3 threes. He was definitely the Spurs’ best player in this one. While he will need to show his second half form more consistently and for entire games, there were still flashes of the extreme potential he brings to the table.