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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Charlotte Hornets

Can the Silver and Black start their season off on the right foot?

San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs stumbled through the growing pains of a cluttered 1-4 preseason schedule that housed some of the worst teams in the NBA that are sure to be in the lottery discussion early and often. And their full-fledged rebuild begins on Wednesday as they host the catastrophe that is the Charlotte Hornets for their season opener at the AT&T Center.

Though the Silver and Black have several unanswered questions heading into the season, tonight begins an 82-game expedition that could provide clarity after resetting the timeline. Keldon Johnson is the star of the show after the departure of Dejounte Murray, and his first test comes versus an interconference competitor encompassed in untimely turmoil.

San Antonio Spurs (0-0) vs. Charlotte Hornets (0-0)

October 19, 2022 | 7:00 PM CT

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

Spurs Injuries: None

Hornets Injuries: James Bouknight (Game Time Decision — Personal), LaMelo Ball (Out — Ankle), Miles Bridges (Out — Personal)

What To Watch For

  • Keldon Johnson gave Spurs fans a glimpse of what he could do as the number one scoring option, averaging 20.5 points per game while shooting 53.1% from the field in two preseason outings. While his production came against a pair of Western Conference bottom dwellers, the fourth-year forward responded well to increased usage. Johnson ran a handful of pick-and-rolls with Jakob Poeltl, displaying more patience and a better understanding of pacing when maneuvering to the rim. Despite the uptick in ball-handling responsibilities, San Antonio never force-fed their de facto face of the franchise. Head coach Gregg Popovich continued placing Keldon in situations he thrived in a season ago, encouraging him to attack in transition, shoot stationary threes, and get downhill using screens, dribble handoffs, and cuts. The self-created jumpers still looked rough, though the 23-year-old doesn’t need to become a prolific isolation bucket-getter or pull-up shooter to cement his future in Silver and Black. The Spurs will probably let Keldon experiment throughout the campaign, and their opening night matchup with the shorthanded Hornets may be a perfect opportunity for him to build some confidence.
  • Perhaps no young prospect will be under the microscope more than Josh Primo as he aims to prove the Spurs were correct to “reach” on his upside inside the lottery a year ago. Primo was the youngest player in the league last season, and while he had brilliant flashes between his stints in Austin and San Antonio, he looked outmatched from time to time when called up to the NBA. The second-year combo guard spent the summer refining his fundamentals and adding muscle to his frame. Both were unmistakable as he recorded two impressive preseason performances after returning from a sprained MCL. With their exhibition schedule in the rearview, the Spurs have tasked Primo with piloting their second unit, an ideal environment for him to develop without relenting on-ball reps to Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, or Keldon Johnson. Charlotte is off to a turbulent start after losing Lamelo Ball to a sprained ankle. Off-court issues with James Bouknight and Miles Bridges haven’t helped their cause. Much like Keldon, Primo could benefit from burning an already pathetic team.
  • Gregg Popovich told local media the Spurs are rolling out a starting lineup of Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, and Jakob Poeltl to begin the season. All those players sound like safe bets to hold onto their jobs unless something drastic changes, but the second string is another story altogether. Josh Primo, Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott, Keita Bates-Diop, and Zach Collins might be the first five off the bench on Wednesday night, but there are a few positional battles that could land a handful of those guys at the end of the depth chart. Gorgui Dieng and Isaiah Roby looked better than Collins on both ends of the court during the preseason, leaving the door open to a change at the backup center spot should the latter continue underperforming. Depending on how the veterans play on the wings, Malaki Branham and Romeo Langford could earn an opportunity to break into the rotation. Blake Wesley, Dominick Barlow, and Jordan Hall are probably bound to receive the Austin Spurs treatment, so don’t be shocked if they don’t make their NBA debuts when the Hornets visit the AT&T Center.

For the Hornets fans’ perspective, please visit At the Hive.

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.