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What preseason taught us about the new-look Spurs

With the regular season almost here, let’s take a last look at the preseason’ highs and lows.

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Which individual performance from the preseason has you the most excited?

Marilyn Dubinski: There’s no denying that Josh Primo’s game 1 performance against the Jazz had fans buzzing the most, but it’s still in all likelihood not indicative of the regular season. Among the main rotation, it’s probably either Keldon Johnson or Devin Vassell for me. Johnson started slow but has shown a willingness to take over (to a moderate degree of success) when the team goes into one of its classic mid-quarter droughts, and Vassell looks like he’s taken next step in his development, which will be huge for a now extremely young bench unit that lost its leaders in Patty Mills and Rudy Gay.

Mark Barrington: Primo burst onto the scene like an anthropomorphic pitcher of Kool Aid in a commercial in the first preseason game, and he’s shown impressive flashes since then, even if he hasn’t been able to duplicate the first game’s production. He’s really the star of the show, but we shouldn’t let him overshadow the solid improvement of Devin Vassell on the offensive end and Keldon Johnson playing well on both ends. Bryn Forbes has been the best version of himself since he returned to the Spurs, and he’s probably the MVP of the preseason. Keita Bates Diop has had a really nice preseason and showed that he belongs on the team. [Hopefully, he doesn’t get cut before we publish this article.]

Bruno Passos: Primo looked unflappable against NBA competition for the first time and Murray looked promising, especially in his willingness to fire away from three off the dribble. I’ll say Devin Vassell, whose role last season offensively was really simplified with much of his time spent in the corner serving as a third or fourth option. I’m eager to see him try some more stuff off the bounce and overall how much better he can be after not really having an offseason to help him settle into the system last year.

Jesus Gomez: There have been several good individual performances, but I feel like Dejounte Murray has looked good in an expanded role. Since he’s been around for a while and started showing signs of improvement as a scorer last season, his preseason performance might not have been as noteworthy as Primo’s, but it was rock-solid. Averaging 17 points while shooting better than 50-40-90 is not easy, even in games that don’t count. The three-point shooting will come back to earth, but Murray’s mid-range jumper looks great and he seems confident being the guy who bails out possessions with it. I had my eye on how Murray was going to look without DeRozan and the early results have been impressive.

Which individual performance has you the most worried?

Dubinski: It’s easy to look at Derrick White’s offensive numbers and get worried considered he should arguably be the Spurs’ most steady force on that end, but he only played 36 games last season and is returning from injury, and he’s the type of player who needs 5-10 games to find his form again (and he started looking better in the final game against the Rockets), so he gets a pass. Since I can’t go with Luka Samanic anymore, I would say Thaddeus Young. He just hasn’t impressed at all and looks lost at times. It’s understandable considering he’s new to the system and knows he may be here on borrowed time due to trade rumors, but after seeming like a perfect fit on a team that needed a true power forward, that hasn’t been the case so far. He doesn’t appear to fit well with any of the Spurs centers, even the ones who can spread the floor, but also doesn’t seem up to playing small-ball center. Bottom line: he may not be the good fit we all thought. (Whether that matters in the long term or not remains to be seen.)

Barrington: Well, the guy with the most disappointing performance isn’t with the team any more, so I’ll have to answer this question with Lonnie Walker IV. While he’s shown flashes in the last couple of games, he’s still inconsistent and not living up to the high expectations we have had for him the last couple of years. His shooting is still very iffy, as is his finishing at the rim. I keep thinking he can become a consequential NBA player, but he can’t seem to do it consistently. But preseason is not the time to make these kinds of judgments, I’m holding off until at least halfway through the season before I press the panic button.

Passos: I wouldn’t say anyone in particular had me worried since there wasn’t really a negative that surprised me. White had some issues with his shot that I think get resolved over time and Thad Young didn’t seem settled in a new system that is largely improvisational, but I trust him to figure it out and be a helpful facilitator—although it would be nice if he looked at the basket a bit more. If there’s anyone I’m worried for, it’s probably Walker, given he didn’t tease the leap he needs to stand out among a crowded rotation in an important year. What does the conversation look like next summer if Vassell proves to be a more reliable commodity and Primo torches the Gatorade League?

Gomez: It’s between Thaddeus Young and Lonnie Walker IV for me, but since Young just arrived, I’ll go with Lonnie. He still has moments and even games in which he looks like a viable shot creator who is ready for a leap, and then he disappears for quarters at a time. His confidence at times seems insanely high and then he gets gun shy and looks afraid to make a mistake. Basically, the same inconsistency that has always plagued Lonnie remained a problem in preseason. Hopefully he’ll be steadier going forward.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about this iteration of the team from preseason?

Dubinski: I’ve learned that they can be exciting to watch when they play with pace and keep moving the ball, but they are also still prone to the bad habits of yesteryear, like inconsistency and extreme scoring droughts when the ball stops moving or the other team makes adjustments. The difference is this team doesn’t have a DeMar DeRozan to help them tread water until they find themselves, so they’ll need to keep playing defense at a high rate even when the shots stop falling. This is going to be a fun team, but be ready for games with wild swings, extended scoring runs and droughts, and all around unpredictability.

Barrington: I think it’s that the team is still trying to find itself and its identity. There have been some impressive individual performances and some bad ones, but the overall team play has been maddeningly inconsistent. I think the offense looks more organized when Dejounte is at the point, but it still tends to descend into entropy if something doesn’t open up immediately. At that point last year, they would put the ball into Demar’s hands and let him create, but they don’t have an individual creator like that on the team now, except for maybe Primo, who isn’t ready yet.

They will get better, and I think it’s just a matter of time until the team offense and the return of the beautiful game starts to click, but there should be some painful moments when it doesn’t, especially early in the season.

Passos: They should be better than where Vegas put them at. The best kind of offense these days usually revolves around a do-it-all guy; in lieu of that, this year’s version of the Spurs are at least going to throw out groups of guys that can each do a bit of everything. In a long and weird season, they should be deep and competent enough to execute on both ends on any given night, and the randomness of their system will probably make for a tricky team to prepare for.

Gomez: When the threes fall, this team is both extremely fun and surprisingly competent. Trying to get the Spurs to attempt to beat you from outside is a good game plan that most teams will follow, and it will probably work most of the time. But when the designated shooters get open, either on the break or the half court, and the least reliable shooters who are left open by design get hot, the Spurs can put up points at a high level. Defense should be the team’s calling card, so if they can stay close in the scoreboard and then have one of those flurries from outside, the Spurs could compete and even upset much better teams.