The Silver and Black make their return to the familiar confines of the AT&T Center tonight for a preseason matchup with the Miami Heat. San Antonio looked a little dysfunctional on both ends without Dejounte Murray in the lineup on Wednesday. But they should have their starting point guard and defensive anchor on hand as their reconstructed roster tries to build some chemistry heading into a new era of Spurs basketball.
Miami also underwent a makeover this offseason, adding Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, and Markieff Morris to an already excellent core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Victor Oladipo. Though Erik Spoelstra has an abundance of stars at his disposal, he appears more fixated on composing his second unit, which could help the Spurs gain some much-needed momentum ahead of the regular season.
San Antonio Spurs (1-1) @ Miami Heat (1-0)
October 8, 2021 | 7:30 PM CST
Watch: Spurs App and League Pass | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Foot), Tre Jones (Doubtful — Ankle), Keita Bates-Diop (Questionable — Hamstring)
Heat Injuries: Marcus Garrett (Questionable — Back), Gabe Vincent (Questionable — Groin), Caleb Martin (Questionable — Ankle), Udonis Haslem (Out — Rest), Victor Oladipo (Out — Quadriceps)
Who is San Antonio’s backup point guard?
There’s no doubt Dejounte Murray has the starting point guard position all locked up, but who assumes primary backup duties remains a mystery as the Spurs approach the regular season. With head coach Gregg Popovich staggering Derrick White and Dejounte’s minutes, there’s almost always a ball handler capable of running an offense at any given moment. With that said, things get a bit dicey when both playmakers sit.
Lonnie Walker IV and Bryn Forbes have seen spot minutes as second-unit floor generals, though neither is a seamless fit as a lead initiator. Walker has flashed passing brilliance when blowing by defenders and improved navigating the pick-and-roll, but his decision-making leaves something to be desired. And despite measuring in like a traditional point guard, Forbes is more of an undersized swingman.
The departure of Patty Mills left a sizeable hole in San Antonio’s rotation, one which Josh Primo, as impressive as he was in his preseason debut, probably isn’t capable of filling. However, his second-year counterpart, Tre Jones, looks prepared to replace a fair share of bench production after a Summer League breakout. The 21-year-old has missed back-to-back contests, but Pop told reporters he could return this Friday.
Should Jones make his first exhibition appearance versus the Heat, it will be worth monitoring how many minutes he receives and who he replaces within the pecking order. While the Duke alum might be among the best distributors on the roster, the Silver and Black have seemingly committed to improving their spacing after finishing near the bottom of almost every three-point category a season ago, and that’s not his specialty.
Experimenting with rotations
Pop was more than happy to experiment with all sorts of funky lineups against Detroit, and this trial and error process led to some quirkiness, including a court-shrinking combination of Drew Eubanks, Thaddeus Young, and Al-Farouq Aminu. And it wouldn’t be too surprising if the 72-year-old playcaller continued exploring an assortment of configurations in an attempt to find the most complementary rotations.
Although Pop expressed Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, and Jakob Poeltl won’t necessarily be the permanent starters once the season begins, that unit has meshed well. Throwing Devin Vassell or Lonnie Walker IV into the mix on occasion makes sense. But increasing their shot opportunities and on-ball reps will help maximize their development, which should be a top priority.
As for the frontcourt, expect Drew Eubanks and Jock Landale to battle it out for their spot as the first big off the bench. The Australian rookie is a more natural shooter from beyond the arc than Eubanks, and his court vision and passing accuracy are also superior. Still, the Silver and Black stand to lose proven rim protection and a serviceable lob target if they go with Landale over their incumbent second-stringer.
Deciphering how San Antonio should deploy their battalion of forwards is tricky. With Rudy Gay now removed from the equation, former first-round investment Luka Samanic should theoretically have every opportunity to solidify his place as part of the young core. Yet with the additions of Al-Farouq Aminu, Doug McDermott, Thaddeus Young, and the re-signing of Keita Bates-Diop, an avenue towards minutes isn’t particularly clear.
As we covered in the previous preview, Aminu is a logical candidate for the Spurs to cut before the season opens. And Young has seen his name circulated in trade rumors, so that might narrow the competition. Bates-Diop may not have many moments of mesmerizing upside, but he’s solid in several areas. Samanic, on the other hand, hasn’t consistently shown tangible skills in the NBA, making this preseason especially salient.
For the Heat fans’ perspective, visit Hot Hot Hoops.
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.