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What We Learned from the Spurs’ scrimmage loss to the Nets

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San Antonio’s youth movement continues full steam ahead

Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

San Antonio suited up Saturday for their second scrimmage before the start of official seeding games, and though they dropped the contest by a score of 119-124 to the severely shorthanded Nets, the Spurs continued to shake off the rust of a four-month hoops hiatus.

While the Silver and Black took some positive steps towards improving their performance on both ends, Popovich and crew have plenty of work to do. As of today, the good guys have the disconcerting designation of leading the league in both personal fouls and turnovers, and they’ll have to clean up their sloppy play if they want to win a few games without LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles in the bubble.

Fortunately for the good guys, these games are nothing more than glorified preseason outings, and whether or not they come away with a win is largely irrelevant. Despite dropping what seemed to be a favorable matchup with Brooklyn squad missing four-fifths of their starting lineup and a handful of rotation players, the Spurs showed an encouraging commitment to the future of their franchise in their penultimate scrimmage.

Observations

  • True to the many reports that Gregg Popovich would allow his assistants to take the reins in the games leading up to the official restart, Mitch Johnson got the nod for head coaching duties on Saturday while the 71-year-old remained masked up on the sidelines. Much like Becky Hammon, Johnson put together a respectable, albeit likely heavily Pop influenced performance as San Antonio came close coming away with a dub.
  • The Spurs rolled out a Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, and Jakob Poeltl starting five for the second consecutive scrimmage. White was once again assertive early, tallying 12 points in the first quarter and showing little hesitation to let it fly from beyond the arc. Lonnie and Jakob meshed well with the rest of the starters, but DeRozan and Murray were largely absent and awkward when the ball wasn’t in their hands. Even when it was, the pair struggled to be efficient from the floor against the Nets similarly small lineups.
  • Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli bounced back from their first scrimmage in a big way, coming off the bench to combine for 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting, though neither guard made much defensive impact. While Marco snagged a few rebounds and dished out a trifecta of assists, Bryn tied for the team lead in turnovers in back-to-back games. Although Patty Mills warmed up with the team during pre-game shootaround, the eleven-year pro recorded his second straight DNP. Marilyn made a note of this in the previous WWL, and Patty’s participation in the third scrimmage is worth monitoring as we attempt to uncover how committed Pop is to clearing minutes for Derrick, Lonnie, and Keldon.
  • Drew Eubanks reprised his role as the first center off the bench, and while he was dreadful in his first few minutes out on the hardwood, the second-year center only got better as the game wore on. With the help of some Poeltl foul trouble, Eubanks doubled his minutes from the first scrimmage, tallying 12 points, 14 rebounds, and a game-high 4 blocks. He also went a flawless 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Rudy Gay, Chimezie Metu, and Luka Samanic, on the other hand, were nowhere near as effective. Watching Rudy slug around the court was painful, and he was blown by on the defensive end more times than I care to recount. Chimezie was his usual energetic self, but aside from a massive swat in the final minutes of the matchup, he appeared to be completely lost. Although I would love to give Samanic the benefit of the doubt as an unseasoned rookie, Luka looked disinterested during his six-minute stint at the end of the game, and that probably won’t land the Croatian forward in the good graces of the coaching staff.

Lasting Impressions: Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, and Keldon Johnson

  • Lonnie is without a doubt one of the most explosive players in the NBA and the second-year guard is making the most of his newfound minutes. While Spurs fans knew he possessed otherworldly athleticism long ago, it appears Walker is steadily learning to maximize his athletic gifts in a way he wasn’t consistently doing before the league stoppage. Three turnovers notwithstanding, Lonnie protected the rock on drives, utilized his burst effectively in the open court, and relocated with purpose when playing off-ball. San Antonio’s springy two-guard also scored 14 points for the second time in as many outings and registered 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
  • Though I mentioned Keldon Johnson in passing earlier in the article, the rookie wing was too spectacular for a few words to do him any justice. Yes, Keldon fouled out in 17 minutes of play, but what he did in limited action was enough to turn some heads. While 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block may not pop off the boxscore, the tape reveals Keldon’s impact went beyond the counting numbers. Johnson pestered ball handlers, converted a pair of tough and-ones, and his energy was tangible through the screen. Even when the fiery 20-year-old didn’t get his mitts on the orange, he was almost always in heat of the action trying to obstruct the play. Keldon was starting to break into the rotation before the league-wide pause, and I think it’s safe to say he’s secured a role for the eight-game restart.
  • Derrick had himself quite the game against the Brooklyn Nets. The third-year guard scored 18 points in the first half, and if he wasn’t creating for himself and others, he was wreaking havoc on the other end of the floor. White isn’t particularly flashy, and he can get lost in the mix when discussing the Spurs’ young core. It’s easy to get overlooked when you’re a soft-spoken 26-year-old on a roster full of baby-faced twentysomethings, but the Colorado Alum might be San Antonio’s most important player in the bubble. Derrick quietly led the league in pick-and-roll efficiency this season, and his 55 blocks were tops among all guards in the NBA. Those skills were on full display on Saturday, and he appeared to be well on his way to matching his career-high 36 point performance from a year ago before his minutes were cut in the second half. An aggressive Derrick White can be a dangerous weapon for the Silver and Black, so let’s hope his confidence continues to soar.