AT&T CENTER – The San Antonio Spurs fell to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday in their second preseason game of the 2013-14 season 106-99. Boris Diaw was not in uniform while Kawhi Leonard was, but didn’t play a minute in the game. Both players were fine physically but with the team preparing for a back-to-back in Denver on Monday, head coach Gregg Popovich elected not to play the two in the match.
In Leonard’s place was 15-year veteran Corey Maggette who made himself noticeable at the free throw line, while one of the new big men Jeff Ayres is looking more comfortable game by game, a training camp invite’s hustle got him noticed by Popovich, and one of the veterans continued to keep himself in the coaches dog house.
Here’s a look at some of the standouts in Sunday’s game and what was said in the locker room about them.
Coach Popovich on Maggette: “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play, but as an insurance policy it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to have a bigger body there so you don’t have to overplay people like Marco (Belinelli) or Danny (Green).”
Though he looked lost at times on the defensive end of the floor, Maggette made the most of his minutes offensively as he started and played all the way deep until the fourth quarter Sunday, amassing 27 minutes, 10 points (1-of-4 from the field), shot 8-of-8 free throws, grabbed two rebounds, passed for three assists, had two turnovers, and eventually had to exit the game with six fouls late in the game.
If there’s one thing he can do, it’s draw fouls and get to the line. On defense, he was out of rotation a few times and gave up open drives or 3-pointers to his opponent’s, but the Spurs’ defensive schemes are also something that will eventually take time to learn.
“He looks like he’s caught on to what we’re trying to do,” said Popovich of Maggette. “He’s an intelligent player. He’s been in the league a while.”
“He’s always had a pretty good game as far as getting to the rim and getting to the free throw line,” continued Popovich on Maggette. “That’s been something that’s been kind of a signature for him.”
Manu Ginobili post-game said bringing Maggette along would give their bench another small forward who can physically matchup with the ‘LeBrons’ and ‘Carmelo’s’ in the NBA, but that with the addition of Marco Belinelli and the departure of Gary Neal, the Spurs can still manage without a natural backup small forward.
For Maggette, he’s taking the opportunity to play with the Spurs as a humbling experience and said had it not been for R.C. Buford calling him this summer, he would have retired from the NBA.
Coach Popovich on Ayres: “When you combine his aggressiveness and hustle, he’s going to be a valuable player for us.”
Whether it’s playing with players like Ginobili, Tim Duncan, or Nando De Colo, Ayres is making his impression on his new team with his consistent productive play. He finished the game with 10 points (5-of-8 shooting), three rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block and unlike most new Spurs players, he seems to be in the right place at the right time consistently on both ends of the floor.
“He’s a really solid player is what he is,” said Popovich of Ayres. “He has a good knowledge of what he does well and he pretty much sticks with that.”
Ginobili said that Ayres and Aron Baynes will likely be the two players coming off the bench with the second unit like DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter used to do in the past. He says Ayres runs the floor hard on every possession and it’ll take time for him to get used to playing with Ayres and putting the ball where he likes it in the post and off the pick-and-roll.
Coach Popovich on Courtney Fells: “I think he’s going to be a good player in this league eventually.”
If there was one unknown player on the roster who made the most of his opportunity, it was forward Courtney Fells. Fells came off the bench in the second half to finish with six points, two steals, and seven rebounds in 17 minutes of play.
His hustle and energy are something Popovich praised him for postgame.
“He’s got a feel for the game and he matches it with his hustle on the court. He competes every play and a lot players don’t really know how to do that, but he seems to do it.”
The French kid in the doghouse
Though he wasn’t a topic of conversation in the locker room, Nando De Colo’s play Sunday may have kept him in the metaphorical doghouse of his head coach as he finished the game with five points on 2-of-5 shooting, two assists, and two turnovers in his 12 minutes on the floor. De Colo didn’t sniff a minute of playing time in the first half but did start the third quarter. Within 90 seconds of the quarter, he got pulled from the game for a turnover and Coach Popovich immediately gave him a one-on-one talk and then sent him to the far end of the bench.
With Cory Joseph and Patty Mills continuing to set themselves as solid backup point guard options, De Colo’s inconsistent play is pushing him more and more toward the Austin Toro’s route since he’s still a player with a guaranteed contract.