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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic

Can the Silver and Black get back on track after consecutive preseason losses?

San Antonio Spurs v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs have always been one of the oldest teams in the league since Gregg Popovich took the reins in 1996. And Orlando would typically seem green behind the ears compared to the Silver and Black. But with by far the youngest roster of his legendary coaching career, San Antonio is in for a clash with an equally athletic, inexperienced, and promising squad when they face the Magic on Sunday evening.

Dejounte Murray and company are still finding their footing through a few preseason tilts. And a matchup with a smorgasbord of lottery-level talents should only help them fine-tune their skills ahead of a year that is sure to be full of unexplored territory. Both teams come into tonight with a losing record. However, wins and losses hardly matter at this point as the Spurs look to find answers to numerous questions before the season starts.

San Antonio Spurs (1-2) @ Orlando Magic (0-2)

October 10, 2021 | 5:00 PM CST

Watch: Spurs App and League Pass | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Foot), Tre Jones (Out — Ankle), Keita Bates-Diop (Questionable — Hamstring), Jock Landale (Out — Concussion Protocol)

Magic Injuries: Michael Carter-Williams (Out — Ankle), Markelle Fultz (Out — Knee), Jonathan Isaac (Out — Knee), Chuma Okeke (Out — Hip)

Three Things to Watch For

  • As discussed several times over the last few weeks, San Antonio still has to rid their roster of two guaranteed contracts by the beginning of the regular season. Al-Farouq Aminu is the most sensible candidate to find himself on the open market. Eating Keita Bates-Diop’s reported $1.8M salary wouldn’t have pressing implications in the grand scheme of things, but the final cut isn’t going to be an easy decision for PATFO. As arguably the third-best player on the Bulls before they acquired Nikola Vucevic around the All-Star break a year ago, Thaddeus Young is too valuable an asset to release without at least exploring potential trade packages. Drew Eubanks and Jock Landale are signed to near-league-minimum contracts, though both have flashed enough serviceability to fight for second-string opportunities with Zach Collins sidelined until sometime after Christmas. A former first-round pick may seem out of place in this conversation, yet Luka Samanic hasn’t gained much traction with head coach Gregg Popovich since he joined the Silver and Black in 2019. The Croatian forward has played the fourth-fewest minutes for the Spurs this preseason, with most of them coming during garbage time. And while Luka had a couple of impressive sequences in his start against the shorthanded Heat, there were more than a few lowlights to raise some concern. It should be worth monitoring how Pop manages these players who may or may not be on the bubble, even if the Magic measure as one of the worst teams in the NBA.
  • That’s enough roster hypotheticals, so let’s talk about players who will definitively be part of the regular rotation once the season starts. Lonnie Walker IV has played the third-most minutes for the Spurs across their first three exhibitions, which isn’t shocking considering the departure of DeMar DeRozan opened countless opportunities for San Antonio’s plethora of young guards. Unfortunately, the third-year swingman hasn’t been all that productive, averaging 6.0 points per game on staggeringly low .258/.133/.000 shooting splits. Usually, you can’t read too deeply into these preseason tuneups. However, with both Devin Vassell and Bryn Forbes outplaying Lonnie, it’s fair to wonder whether Pop feels the same. The 72-year-old playcaller is still configuring lineups, and if Walker can’t return to form, there’s a chance his stranglehold on a second unit role slips. Derrick White has been equally inefficient as a scorer. That said, his consistently elite perimeter defense and above-average pick-and-roll playmaking likely keep him from falling out of the starting lineup. Keep an eye out for how the positional pyramid unfolds as the good guys face a favorable matchup against Orlando’s inexperienced mishmash of blossoming talent.
  • Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Luka Doncic are among the most unstoppable scorers in the NBA, and each of them has a practically automatic midrange jumper in their arsenal. However, the onset of advanced analytics has branded the midrange jumper as the least efficient shot in basketball. And being worth as much as a layup but nearly as far away as a three-pointer, it’s an understandable label. Midrange jumpers aren’t inherently awful, and when launched from the right hands, they’re among the most lethal weapons in the game. Yet because of the high degree of difficulty and minimal payoff, organizations rarely build their offenses around them anymore. Yet while the rest of the league continued to expand beyond the arc, the Spurs attempted a league-high number of midrange attempts for a third consecutive season in 2020-2021. Factoring in San Antonio’s reliance on LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, and Rudy Gay over that span, that volume isn’t particularly shocking. Thankfully, there’s a new era of basketball sweeping through San Antonio, and a noticeable trend is taking hold. Not only are the preseason Spurs taking 5.4 fewer midrange attempts per game, but they’re shooting 6.5 more threes per game. Will this new affinity for the trifecta persist into the regular season? Who knows, though the Silver and Black could show further commitment to modernizing their attack when they take on Orlando.

For the Magic fans’ perspective, please visit Orlando Pinstriped Post.

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.