After enjoying an at times surprisingly intense preseason opener against the Thunder, fans got a more traditional exhibition experience against the Heat. A lot of the big names for both teams were out, but Jeremy Sochan was in the starting lineup next to Devin Vassell and Victor Wembanyama, so there was still plenty to enjoy in the home debut that ended up being a 120-104 win for the Spurs.
Despite the general sloppiness of the game, there were still some insights to gather even from an often discombobulated first half that featured a play in which San Antonio actually had only four players on the floor. Sochan started as the “quote-unquote” point guard, as Gregg Popovich put it before the game, but he didn’t really fill that role aside from walking the ball upcourt. The Spurs used their system of screens and high post passing along with transition opportunities to generate offense. Tre Jones did more of the orchestrating and driving the team needed when he checked in off the bench, but the absence of Keldon Johnson’s dribble penetration was noticeable. Fortunately Vassell was a flamethrower from beyond the arc and Wemby did Wemby things, so the offense got enough points on the board for the Spurs to lead at the break.
As tends to happen in preseason, the second half didn’t feature as much excitement as the first, but Wembanyama still managed to provide some highlights before exiting for the night. The rest of the game served to give players still vying for both rotation spots and contracts a chance to show their worth, which most did. Both the Spurs and Heat are known for being disciplined teams who play hard no matter who’s on the court and that proved true, but it was hard to get too invested in what was going on except for the intrigue surrounding interesting individual performances. In the end San Antonio prevailed to get to a 1-1 record in preseason with standout stat lines from Wemby and Vassell and some fun moments from the deep bench.
- Wembaynama was everywhere on both ends of the floor. The unique highlights kept coming, as Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller stared in awe. Wemby had so much hype coming into the league that the national audience probably already knew him, but if this was anyone’s introduction to his game, they probably became huge fans immediately.
Wemby give-and-go lob SLAM!— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 14, 2023
He's got 15 PTS on 7/12 FG at the break. pic.twitter.com/Bymlckc96c
The two main things to point out, outside of the general ridiculousness of his game, is that Wemby showed off his passing in this one and got some extended minutes at center. When he posted up the Heat doubled him a couple of times and he didn’t seem bothered at all by it, quickly finding the open man. The minutes at center, which Pop said after the game is a position Victor will play at times, were encouraging. The rebounding lacked a little, but that was a teamwide problem. All in all, Wembanyama continued to impress in all areas.
- Sochan at point guard didn’t seem to go great, but it’s hard to say if it’s just a question of it being his first game of preseason, as he looked a little out of sorts in general at times, which is understandable. The biggest problem with that configuration of the starting lineup is a severe lack of dribble penetration. Jones is not the best at it, but he can put more pressure on opposing defenses. That said, Keldon Johnson could help there, so there’s no need to pull the plug on the experiment just yet.
- Tre Jones looked good off the bench. He scored a few buckets close to the rim and kept the ball moving while pushing the pace. He’s going to be a solid contributor whether he starts or not, so no need to worry about him.
- Speaking of starting, Charles Bassey and Cedi Osman got to replace Zach Collins and Keldon Johnson and did a good job. Bassey is a workhorse who happens to be athletic and always active, which often makes up for his shaky fundamentals. Osman is just well-rounded. The second game of the preseason is too early to resort to cliches, but it’s hard to describe him without saying “he just knows how to play.” He could easily be the new Keita Bates-Diop.
- Devin Vassell was hot from outside, making six out of seven three-point attempts. He also made some plays on defense. We haven’t really gotten to see the improved inside finishing yet and there’s still room for him to grow on both ends, but his jumper alone makes him a hugely important player for the Spurs.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Julian Champagnie continues to miss and is now 2-for-10 from behind the arc in two games. He’s not strictly a shooter, as he can help elsewhere, but if those looks don’t fall, it will be nearly impossible for him to carve out a role for himself in the rotation. The good news is that there’s still time.
- The three players who got the fewest minutes were Sandro Mamukelashvili, Sidy Cissoko and Devonté Graham. Cissoko got some first-half minutes, but Mamu and Graham only played in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row. The Spurs still need to cut someone, so monitoring who they are not interested in seeing in preseason could turn out to be important.
- Dominick Barlow looked confident in his minutes. He took and sank a few jumpers to go with his usual effort plays on defense. He’s under a two-way contract, but if Barlow looks like a viable option as an emergency rotation big, that could impact what happens to Mamukelashvili and Khem Birch. But again, it’s still early.
Next game: vs. Rockets on Monday
The battle between two teams filled with exciting young players could be a fun one if everyone is available. Even if Pop decides to rest someone, hopefully Keldon Johnson will be ready to make his debut.