Things to watch for during training camp

The San Antonio Spurs have kicked off their 2010-2011 training camp and aside from the usual Spurs such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the crew in camp, a few new faces will be trying their best to secure a roster spot.

There are so many things to watch for during this training camp. The slimmer-than-ever Duncan according to coach Pop (though Duncan said at media day he gained some weight), how a rested Parker and Ginobili will perform and the continuing progression of George Hill. But there are other notable aspects to watch for during the 2010 Spurs’ training camp.

Here are four.

• Kirk Penney vs. Gary Neal

With the need for reliable shooting, the Spurs brought in a pair of sharp-shooters. They signed Gary Neal and added New Zealand’s Kirk Penney to the training camp roster. Though Penney is not on the camp roster, he is in San Antonio and is expected to sign a training camp deal soon.

Penney displayed a fantastic performance at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for New Zealand. To sum it up — he was New Zealand. He average 24.7 points while shooting 45.8% from the field and 36.7% from the three-point line. He also finished second in scoring at the World Championship and averaged more points than Team USA’s Kevin Durant. Not to mention he scored 37 points against Lithuania.

Neal also displayed a great shooting performance at the 2010 NBA Summer League. He led the squad with 16 points per game and was 30 of 60 from the field and 17 of 34 from beyond the 3-point line in Las Vegas. Because of this, the Spurs signed him to a deal.

With both of these players fighting for a roster spot it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Penney showed his worth at a higher level of competition in Turkey but Neal is no stranger to playing internationally.

Both have a deadly outside shooting stroke and will address the need for shooters. Should be great to see these two players go head-to-head.

• The small-forward spot

Richard Jefferson is the only true small-forward on the Spurs’ roster. This begs the question – who backs him up?

James GistOn the training camp roster is rookie Anderson, Alonzo Gee, James Gist and Bobby Simmons. All could possibly back-up Jefferson at the small-forward position.

Some feel Anderson can play the small-forward position but his natural spot is the shooting-guard position. Though he might see some playing time at the position.

This leaves Gist, Gee and Simmons.

Gist has been in-and-out of Spurs’ summer leagues and training camps since he was drafted in 2008 but continues to suffer injuries which derails any progress. Case in point this past NBA Summer League. After starting off hot for the Spurs, he suffered a wrist injury causing him to bow out early. He has the talent but can he stay healthy?

Gee might have the inside track. He had a stellar performance at the 2010 NBA Summer League not to mention he is young, athletic and shown he can play at the NBA level when he was signed by the Washington Wizards last season when he averaged 7.4 points, three rebounds and shot 47.5% from the field.

Simmons played in 23 games with the New Jersey Nets last season and averaged 5.3 points, 2.7 rebounds in 17.2 minutes. For his career, he has averaged 9.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. The former 2005 NBA Most Improved Player suffered an ankle injury in 2006 which forced him to miss the entire 2006-2007 NBA season. Though he might be “old” for NBA standards, he might be a decent back-up for Jefferson.

• Rookie James Anderson

Anderson has been considered a steal for the Spurs when he was drafted at 20 in the 2010 NBA Draft. Everyone knows he is a scorer and showed it while at Oklahoma State.

For his career Anderson started in 99 of 101 games for Oklahoma State. He averaged 17.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.11 steals while shooting 46% from the field, 37% from three-point range and 79% from the free-throw line.

However, he nursed a hamstring injury and did not participate with the Spurs at the 2010 NBA Summer League. This camp will be a measure of how he will perform against NBA level talent and to see if the hamstring is fully healed. His defense has been questioned but if any coach in the NBA who will instill the defense-first philosophy is coach Gregg Popovich.

ESPN’s College Gameday analyst Rece Davis had this to say when I asked him about Anderson:

He’s a mid-size, athletic guy, very strong and he has the physical ability to breakdown defenses at the pro level. He is also an explosive scorer.

CBS Sports’ college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg had glowing comments about Anderson when I spoke with him about the Spurs’ rookie:

A quality NBA prospect like Anderson with good size, terrific range, and I understand he is a hard working kid, a coach-able kid and for San Antonio to add a piece like that, that’s a win-win.

I don’t know many who come in ready to play defense at a high level in the NBA. This is something one can acquire and get better in. He will be fine. If he is willing to work and learn he will be fine.

Will Anderson live up to the “NBA Draft steal” hype will finally be answered during camp and in the preseason. This will definitely be something to watch for during training camp.

• Tiago Splitter

How spectacular is it going to be for Spurs fans to finally see Splitter in a Spurs’ uniform after a three year wait. Not to mention teaming up with Duncan in the paint will also be something to put a smile on fans’ faces.

But will he live up to the expectations of Spurs fans?

Fans and the rest of the NBA saw what he can do at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and he impressed. He displayed great foot-work, a nice jump-hook, a nice back-to-the-basket game and can run up the floor.

During the World Championship for Brazil he averaged 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Though he can stand to increase his rebounding numbers.

However, the biggest thing to watch for is seeing how quickly he can mesh with Duncan in the post. It will be a change for him since he was the main-guy with Caja Laboral so how soon he will adapt to taking a lessor role will be interesting.

Also, it is going to be fun to watch him run the pick-and-roll with Parker and Hill.

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