Spurs basketball is officially back, and while their first “home game” in more than four months won’t be held in the comfort of the AT&T Center, all players attending the league restart in Orlando will have to adapt to competing at a neutral site with no fans in the stands.
San Antonio’s opening seeding contest comes against a familiar foe in the Sacramento Kings, a team which they split the season series with before the hiatus, and an opponent who sits a half-game ahead of them in the Western Conference standings as they vie for the final playoff spot.
Both organizations will be without a few chief contributors heading into the matchup, though the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles leaves the Silver and Black with significant holes in their attack. Several young legs stepped up on the offensive end throughout their scrimmage schedule, but can they maintain their point production?
San Antonio Spurs (27-36) vs. Sacramento Kings (28-36)
July 31, 2020 | 7:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Shoulder - Out), Trey Lyles (Appendix - Out), Bryn Forbes (Quad - Out)
Kings Injuries: Marvin Bagley III (Foot - Out), Alex Len (Illness - Day-to-Day)
Bottling Up Buddy Buckets
Disrupting De’Aaron Fox would typically be a top priority, but the speedy point guard was relatively quiet in their previous matchup, and the Kings still blew out the Spurs by 20 points. Though Fox provided little firepower for Sacramento, his backcourt mate Buddy Hield torched San Antonio for 31 points in 32 minutes, including an absurd 9-of-10 showing from beyond the arc.
The good guys gave up the sixth-most threes per game (13.1 3PA) this season, and to make matters worse, they allowed the fifth-highest three-point percentage (37.6%) in the league. Though the Spurs have the personnel to slow Sacramento’s long-range assault, their two-best guard perimeter defenders, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray, played only 102 minutes together before the stoppage.
We saw Murray and White start together in all three scrimmages while Bryn Forbes took a backseat leading up to the resumption of official games, though head coach Gregg Popovich might have been experimenting with new lineups. Should that be the case, and Bryn reassumes his usual 25 minutes per game role, San Antonio could be in for another Buddy Buckets barrage.
Taking Care of the Basketball
One of my biggest takeaways from the Spurs’ scrimmages was their striking inability to limit giveaways. San Antonio averaged 19.3 turnovers per game over that three-game stretch, nearly three turnovers more than the 16.5 posted by the league-leading Cleveland Cavaliers during the regular season.
The Silver and Black made progress towards cleaning things up in their final scrimmage versus the Indiana Pacers, committing just 12 turnovers to their 29 assists. Decision making is often the hardest part of the game, and considering Pop emphasized finding minutes for seven players under the age of 24, it makes sense that some sloppy play ensued.
Keeping that in mind, the Spurs won’t have much room for error once the action tips off on Friday, especially with the Kings being among the best teams at converting turnovers into easy buckets on the other end. Sacramento ranked ninth in the NBA in points off turnovers, and they could make San Antonio pay with a blindingly quick floor general like De’Aaron Fox leading the charge.
Cultivating the Young Core
Popovich stated his commitment to player development given San Antonio’s situation upon entering the Walt Disney World campus, and true to his word, the 71-year-old shot caller gave a plethora of inexperienced players plenty of run during the scrimmages.
Here it is...— Hector Ledesma (@HectorLedesmaTV) July 16, 2020
biggest basketball-related bite from Pop moments ago on couple diff fronts
In midst of telling us Trey Lyles is out for season, he said, "development is more important than anything...I'm not too concerned with trying to match up with..."
Full answer⬇️#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/YeS0AFzBEO
Without the starting frontcourt tandem of LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles, the good guys ran with a small-ball rotation heavily featuring Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, and Keldon Johnson. Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks took turns occupying the center, and even Luka Samanic, Chimezie Metu, and Quinndary Weatherspoon found the court for short stretches.
Game is just slowing down for a brotha https://t.co/MDfOoGvI66— Lonnie Walker IV (@lonniewalker_4) July 29, 2020
Patty Mills sat out of every scrimmage, Bryn Forbes missed the final scrimmage, and Marco Belinelli participated in all three scrimmages, averaging 17.1 minutes per game. The Spurs’ plans for this trio are unclear, but Patty will almost definitely reclaim his role. Bryn expressed acceptance to coming off the bench, and Marco praised the young core for their great attitude, so I wouldn’t be surprised if either sharpshooter is resigned to enduring a major minute reduction.
Marco Belinelli was very candid about the Spurs young core, saying they play hard and have great attitudes. Heaped praise on Keldon.— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) July 20, 2020
“I’m a veteran guy right now, and I try all the time to play good against them, against the young guys, so I can prove that I’m still good.” pic.twitter.com/JvlUSRi1mm
Dejounte and Derrick seemed to pick up right about where they left off before the four-month break, but Lonnie and Keldon looked much-improved in almost every facet. The pair both averaged north of 20 minutes and double-digit points per game over the three scrimmages, and their defensive versatility was a wonder to witness.
Keldon Johnson Scrimmage Highlights Compilation: pic.twitter.com/e1hrCvdGtS— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) July 29, 2020
All four of the previously mentioned guards could be key cogs in containing the Kings on Friday night, and regardless of their performance, each should receive an abundance of touches. If player development is truly the goal for San Antonio, expect Pop to leave his franchise building blocks in the contest despite silly mistakes.
For the Kings fan’s perspective, visit Sactown Royalty.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.