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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Orlando Magic

The Spurs look to kick off their youth movement with a win against the even younger Magic

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

And so it begins! The San Antonio Spurs will start off their 2021-22 regular season campaign at the AT&T Center against an Orlando Magic team that profiles as one of the youngest squads to take the court this year.

Of course this Spurs team is itself far from venerable with an average roster age hovering just decimals above 25 years old, good for a ranking as the 11th youngest team in the NBA, and still a year below the NBA average.

It’s been an relatively eventful off-season for San Antonio, with the trade of DeMar DeRozan to the Chicago Bulls, and the exits of mainstay Rudy Gay and longtime bench icon Patty Mills leading to some intriguing signings and acquisitions.

Working to replace their contributions will be the sweet shooting Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, and Jock Landale, as well as the rangy yet versatile Thaddeus Young. How exactly they will be used and where they will fall in the rotation has yet to be seen, but if the preseason serves as any indicator, it looks as though McDermott will be the only one joining the starting rotation.

In any case, the Spurs will be facing a team coming into this season with even more question marks. Whereas San Antonio has a number of returning players who have carved out significant roles, the Magic are still trying to figure out exactly how to configure both their starting rotation and their bench in the wake of three major trades last season and the hiring of a new head coach. Bad as the Magic were last season though (and they were bad), there’s no guarantee that they’ll be that bad again.

Do the exits of Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vučević, and Evan Fornier, combined with last season’s major injuries to Johnathan Issac (ACL) and Markelle Fultz (also ACL) bode well for this season? Not so much, no.

Should the Spurs come into this contest underestimating them? Absolutely not.

Regardless of your stance on DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge’s time here, there’s no question that for the first time in a long time San Antonio is entering this season with a number of unknowns.

Even with significant improvement from players like Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell and steady contributions from newer veterans, the truth is that this Spurs team will likely need to take advantage of every (theoretically) weaker team that they face this year, and it will be of critical importance to set that tone in their first game of the new season.

Based on last season, San Antonio should have the advantage in this one, as they were better than the Magic in just about every major category outside of rebounds.

But this isn’t last season, and it’s time for this new iteration of the San Antonio Spurs to show what they can do. Beating the Orlando Magic would be a good first step.

Orlando Magic (0-0) at San Antonio Spurs (0-0)

October 20, 2021 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins - Out (Foot), Jock Landale - Day-to-Day (Concussion)

Magic Injuries: Jalen Suggs - Day-to-Day (Illness), E’Twuan Moore - Out (Knee), Chuma Okeke - Out (Hip), Markelle Fultz - Out (Knee), Johnathan Issac - Out (Knee), Michael Carter-Willams - Out (Ankle)

What to watch for:

Lonnie Walker’s Glow-up(?): There’s a question mark there for a reason. It’s not an editing mistake. Having long-ago proven to have the kind of athleticism and offensive skills to excel in the NBA, Lonnie Walker will almost certainly be given the kind of opportunity that both he and his supporters have been salivating over since his detonation against the Houston Rockets back in December of 2019. What Lonnie does with that opportunity will be front and center for both fans and haters alike.

I, like most, am hoping for a fulfillment of that explosive potential, if for no other reason than how much it would help the team. But the inconsistency of the past has to be in the back of everyone’s minds as well. Despite averaging 25 minutes a game last season, Lonnie tallied 18 games in which he scored 15 points or more, and 24 games in which scored less than 10 points (12 in which he scored 5 or less). And while scoring is often a hollow measure of value in the NBA, this Spurs team is going to need every offensive contribution it can get, especially if Lonnie’s defensive play does not improve. This is a big season for Walker’s future, both in the NBA and in San Antonio. Even moderate improvements would be a big win for everyone involved.

A Three-Pointer Re-Renaissance: With the addition of Forbes, McDermott, and Landale, the Spurs look as though they intend to return to more of the four-out offense we saw before the arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge. And while preseason stats don’t always bear out, the Spurs ranked right around the middle of the league in three-point attempts in that sample size. With Walker and White’s continued effectiveness from deep, and improvements from both Vassell and Dejounte Murray, this could be an iteration of the Spurs that proves to be deadly from beyond the arc.

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

PtR’s Game thread 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.