The Spurs will now hit the road for the first time in more than four months after blowing out the understaffed Utah Jazz in a phenomenal preseason opener on Monday. San Antonio thrived behind a new-look run-and-gun brand of basketball, befitting one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. And hopefully, their suffocating defense travels with them to Detroit as they take on a hobbled Eastern Conference bottom-dweller.
The Pistons will be without seven players, including the first overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham. However, 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist Jerami Grant, 2021 All-Rookie First and Second Team honorees Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, and former Spurs Cory Joseph and Trey Lyles ought to give head coach Gregg Popovich and company a unique test as they fine-tune their chemistry ahead of the season.
San Antonio Spurs (1-0) @ Detroit Pistons (0-0)
October 6, 2021 | 6:00 PM CST
Watch: Spurs App and League Pass | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Foot), Tre Jones (Doubtful — Ankle)
Pistons Injuries: Isaiah Livers (Out — Foot), Cade Cunningham (Out — Ankle), Frank Jackson (Out — Ankle), Jared Cunningham (Out — Hamstring), Killian Hayes (Questionable — Ankle), Chris Smith (Out — Knee), Cassius Stanley (Out — Knee), Derrick Walton Jr. (Out — Migraine)
Can Josh Primo maintain momentum?
Josh Primo was electrifying for the Spurs in his preseason debut Monday night, providing immediate offense off the bench to the tune of 17 points in just under 18 minutes. San Antonio’s 2021 lottery selection scored with and without the ball from all three levels, relocating around the perimeter, utilizing screens, and executing a wide array of hesitations and crossovers to create offense off the dribble.
18-year-old Josh Primo, the youngest player in the NBA, hit 7/8 of his shots (3/4 3FG) in his preseason debut for the Spurs, who picked him 12th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. The one-and-done Alabama guard hit 38.1% 3PT% (43/113) last season + had an impressive pre draft process pic.twitter.com/HFdpW14eiq— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) October 5, 2021
Not only was the rookie better than advertised, but he might have been the best player in the AT&T Center when he was on the hardwood. Primo went 7-of-8 against the Jazz, which placed him atop the NBA’s field goal percentage leaderboard. While the teenager is undoubtedly talented, we shouldn’t rush to anoint him the next face of the franchise. After all, this was just an exhibition against the shorthanded Jazz.
The 18-year-old combo guard didn’t check into the contest until halfway through the third quarter, once the Silver and Black had already secured a sizeable lead. Given head coach Gregg Popovich’s affinity for experienced players, Primo will likely sub in around the same time on Wednesday. That shouldn’t be an issue, as the subpar Pistons should afford the Canadian wizkid a chance to maintain momentum from his stellar premiere.
Configuring regular season rotations
Spurs fans saw a fairly heavy dosage of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, Devin Vassell, Bryn Forbes, and Drew Eubanks. And while that wasn’t exactly a surprising development, the complete absence of Al Farouq-Aminu and Thaddeus Young was. Neither veteran saw any action on Monday night, which could have implications for their future with the team.
Another somewhat shocking turn of events was third-year forward and former first-round pick Luka Samanic failing to find his way into the game until the 9:39 mark of the final period. For a guy who has received heavy praise from teammates and seemingly paid his dues in the G Leauge, you would think Pop might throw him into the mix earlier, especially with the departure of Rudy Gay. However, that wasn’t the case.
It should be worth monitoring whether the previously mentioned forwards get extended run against Detroit. PATFO must trim their roster down to 15 guaranteed contracts by October 18. Jock Landale played well enough to give Drew Eubanks some competition for the backup center position. And while Aminu feels like a logical candidate to get the proverbial boot, there aren’t any other no-brainer cuts when looking at San Antonio’s makeup.
Who is San Antonio’s Alpha?
The Spurs left nearly 44 points per game on the table when they parted ways with DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills this offseason. As much as it might hurt in the immediate future, it was 100% necessary if San Antonio wanted to embrace a genuine youth movement. But all that scoring has to go somewhere, and thankfully, the organization has plenty of options across the youngest roster of the Gregg Popovich era.
Derrick White and Dejounte Murray have collectively spent the last three seasons playing second and third fiddle to DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, making the pair an obvious choice to replace most of the point production. Despite being the only proven scorers, Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker IV, and Keldon Johnson should receive ample opportunity to pick up the minutes and touches left in the wake of all the roster turnover.
Dejounte looked like San Antonio’s de facto alpha on Monday, taking a team-high 12 shots and notching a game-high 17 points. Derrick, Keldon, and Lonnie took nine, eight, and seven attempts, respectively, though none of them to a great degree of success. Still, Johnson stood out as the player who added the most to his repertoire, stepping into shots from all over the court and even draining a DeRozanesque fadeaway.
this turnaround fadeaway from KJ— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 5, 2021
* * pic.twitter.com/ga2XTXsArG
Keldon had the luxury of learning from living legends when he joined USA Basketball on their path to a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer. And if he shows signs of improved long-distance shooting and increased comfortability creating off the dribble, there’s a good possibility the 21-year-old earns more offensive responsibilities. So, keep an eye on the “Big Body” as a dark horse to lead the Spurs in scoring this year.
For the Pistons fans’ perspective, visit Detroit Bad Boys.
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.