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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Rockets

San Antonio makes a statement in their preseason finale

Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

San Antonio routed the rebuilding Rockets behind a smothering defense and expertly executed offense in their final preseason outing at the AT&T Center on Friday night. The Spurs controlled every aspect of the contest from start to finish, giving fans a glimmer of hope entering the season.

The starting five once again put a sizeable buffer between them and the opposition in the early goings. But unlike against the Magic, San Antonio’s second-stringers maintained and built upon their comfortable lead as the Silver and Black embarrassed their interstate rival by a score of 126-98.

The Spurs and Gregg Popovich will embark on their 26th season with the 72-year-old playcaller at the helm when they host the Orlando Magic in their season opener on Wednesday. The league landscape has drastically altered in recent years, and San Antonio looks well-equipped to conform.

Observations

  • You never want to show your cards too much during the preseason, but hopefully, San Antonio’s final exhibition is a better indicator of how they want to play than the four games that preceded it. Pop talked about how he wanted the Spurs to play faster, shoot more threes, and contain their opponents during media day, and they checked all three boxes Friday night. Not only did the Silver and Black operate at the fastest pace in the league versus the Rockets (109 possessions), but they attempted 39 triples and held Houston to 98 points on an ice-cold 34% shooting from the field. Of course, the Rockets project as one of the worst teams in the league this season, with a legitimate shot at the worst record in the NBA and enough lottery balls to walk away with a top-four pick in the 2022 Draft, so take this performance with a grain of salt. That said, San Antonio was firing on all cylinders, and if they maintain this level of play, the Spurs might make a surprise appearance in the playoffs.
  • Dejounte Murray and Derrick White scored 20 points apiece against the Rockets, proving they can coexist on the offensive end under the right circumstances. Are they the best fit on paper? With how well Derrick plays with the ball in his hands and how poorly Dejounte has shot the three-ball throughout his career, not exactly. However, as discussed in last night’s Final Score, Murray has seemingly turned a corner as a long-distance shooter. The sixth-year floor general knocked down 40% of his 3.8 three-point attempts this preseason, stepping into long-range jumpers off the dribble and spotting up all around the perimeter. If that sort of success holds, San Antonio’s guards suddenly become a lot more functional offensively. And considering their recently extended duo is arguably the best defensive backcourt in the NBA, that’s terrific news for the Silver and Black. Dejounte and Derrick have only shared the court for 991 minutes across 81 games since they arrived in San Antonio. Just for reference, De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton played 960 minutes in their first season together a year ago. And with DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills out of the picture, there’s no roadblock keeping them from becoming regular running mates. At the very least, this season should definitively answer the questions about their long-term suitability.
  • San Antonio’s roster crunch has been the focus of fans and writers alike all offseason. The Spurs alleviated their conundrum a bit when they waived third-year forward Luka Samanic earlier this week. But they must still cut another player by the end of October 18 to get down to the 15 guaranteed contract maximum mandated by the NBA. Integrating Thaddeus Young has been an awkward process. However, the 14-year forward is too good to cut, and benching a respected veteran could hurt how future free agents perceive the organization, not to mention it could tank his trade value. Keita Bates-Diop didn’t play much this preseason, and when he did, he wasn’t all that impressive. Add in the context of a nagging hamstring injury, and suddenly it makes sense why the former second-rounder struggled to get anything going. With his defensive prowess and physical tools, Keita is an intriguing developmental project capable of providing depth insurance in a pinch, so he’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. That leaves just Al-Farouq Aminu as the odd man out. The oft-sidelined 31-year-old logged the fewest minutes for the Silver and Black across their five tune-ups, making a single ten-minute appearance against the Magic in San Antonio’s second preseason matchup. While he had a promising start to his career, Aminu has shot above 40% from the field in only one season since 2016. The NBA is a business, and the Spurs have a pretty cut-and-dried decision ahead of them.