The preseason is famously a time for coaches of good, veteran-heavy teams to kick the tires on young and fringe-rotation players as they make sense of their squads from the bottom up. It was no different for the Spurs in their 91-86 opening loss to the Suns, as the silver and black sent a group out to Phoenix that nary resembled the roster we’ll see when the regular season starts.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and newcomer Pau Gasol all stayed in the Alamo City on Monday. Of those six, only Green is dealing with any sort of known health issue (a left quad contusion), meaning most players will probably see their first action when the Spurs host the Hawks on Saturday.
That left Kawhi Leonard leading a slew of new faces against a young Suns squad that, while very young, is filled with NBA-caliber talent. Besides Leonard, the only familiar Spurs were Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, two players that are believed to take on bigger roles this year.
The result wasn’t pretty, with the teams combining for 60 (!) turnovers and San Antonio giving up a 51-40 halftime lead, as both sides dipped deep into their benches in the second half.
To his credit, Leonard looked solid, giving no reason to think he can’t build on last year’s incredible season in which he finished second in MVP voting. He showed the same elite ability to pull up from anywhere on the floor, while creating in the pick and roll. In just 20 minutes, he scored 17 points while consistently looking like the best player on the floor.
Of course, the game was more about Pop and his staff evaluating the lesser-known commodities on the team. Newcomers David Lee, Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans and Livio Jean-Charles all made their debuts in a Spurs jersey, each showing off a bit of what they can bring next season.
Murray may have had the highlight of the game for San Antonio, when the 20-year-old rookie closed the first quarter with a shot from near half court. He also exhibited his brilliant first step, which allows his long, 6’5’’ frame to attack close-outs and get to the basket with ease.
Bertans and Jean-Charles committed five fouls a piece in a relatively short amount of time, suggesting the two overseas products may face a bit of a learning curve in adjusting to the NBA game. Yet there was certainly promise in their performances, with Jean-Charles bringing high energy and Bertans displaying a bit of everything – an ability to run the floor, knock down three-pointers, and occasionally make the athletic play on defense.
There were also the five players on non-guaranteed contracts – Nicolas Laprovittola, Ryan Arcidiacono, Joel Anthony, Patricio Garino, and Bryn Forbes – who are all looking to make a case for the Spurs’ final open roster spot. Laprovittola got the start on Monday and, in limited time, showed an ability to get the offense set. Forbes put up some numbers, as well, although he only hit 3-of-12 shots, which is important since his shooting is what will keep him around. Anthony also had a good showing; although as the oldest member of the group (and one with clear offensive limitations), it’s hard to imagine him hanging onto a spot.
Still, for all the non-guaranteed guys, no news is good news, as it means they haven’t been waived yet. It won’t stay that way for long but, at least temporarily, it leaves them in the same boat as us, looking on with anticipation to Saturday’s home game versus the Hawks.