The Spurs’ real dress rehearsal began, albeit somewhat belatedly, this week.
After sending a skeleton crew to Phoenix for the preseason opener, the team has suited nearly everyone up in its last two. Going at full strength – against Atlanta on Saturday and at Detroit on Monday – has coincidentally resulted in two consecutive wins, leaving San Antonio at 2-1 as it hits the midway point of the preseason.
Of course, exhibition games are more about the pursuit of answers than Ws, and the fun of preseason is watching those questions manifest on the floor.
Gregg Popovich has a number of matters to look after and only so many minutes a night to do so. There’s his new frontcourt to get up to speed; the non-guaranteed players he needs to evaluate (the roster still sits at 19), rotations he needs to decide on and chemistry to develop.
Then there are the questions we, as fans, have: Can the Spurs muster a top-five defense with Pau Gasol and an aging Tony Parker as starters? What role players are going to take the next step? Is this season one of legitimate title contention or simply a transition in disguise?
A number of these will take time to resolve – LaMarcus Aldridge, for one, said it took him nearly all of last season to feel at ease within the Spurs system – but here are some early observations:
The Spurs have intriguing lineup versatility
If they want to go small (as many teams do these days), San Antonio can insert Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans or Kawhi Leonard as a power forward, with a lineup that can stretch the floor and move the ball well. Alternatively, the Spurs can also overwhelm opponents with size, much like the Thunder did to them in last year’s playoffs, with Anderson or the long-limbed rookie Dejounte Murray at point guard. Expect plenty of experimentation in the coming months as the Spurs try to answer which iterations work best.
Pau should benefit from LaMarcus’ transition last season
Gasol is joining a starting lineup that built considerable chemistry through last season, with Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard developing into the twin anchors of the offense.
As with Aldridge, Pau can count on the cerebral Tony Parker getting him the ball in places where he’s most comfortable. He’ll gradually get a feel for when and how to take over a game, but I suspect the curve will be friendlier for the team’s new big man this time around.
Gasol had five points in his first preseason game, and 11 in his second, joining Aldridge and Leonard as the only Spurs who scored in double figures. It’s likely the first of many times that happens this year.
Kawhi Leonard is in midseason form
Speaking of Leonard, he’s looked spectacular through three games, averaging 17 points in around 23 minutes per contest. Yes, it’s the preseason and, yes, we should already be used to this from last season’s MVP runner-up, but the 25-year-old is making excellence a matter of routine (not unlike a certain recently-retired Spur) as he continues to develop his game.
The Spurs resume action tonight in Orlando, against a young Magic team that shook things up this summer to bolster its interior defense and attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. We’ll see if another intriguing test for the Silver and Black provides much in the way of answers.