AT&T CENTER – The San Antonio Spurs opened their preseason schedule with a 104-100 win over the Miami Heat Sunday, in a game where the Spurs led by 16 points at one time.
Rudy Gay (13 points), Derrick White (12 points), LaMarcus Aldridge (10 points), and Davis Bertans (10 points) all finished in double figures scoring, as Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich experimented with several different lineups in the opening game.
Here were three observations from Sunday’s contest.
The Different Lineups
The Spurs opened the game with a traditional lineup centered around Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol. Early in the first half of the first quarter, this lineup clogged one side of the court on defense, but on the other end, the only outside shooter in the lineup who took spot-up three pointers was Gay.
The Spurs’ second unit in the first quarter had more shooting ability from outside and was quicker in terms of running more actions with more off ball action, but they didn’t have a go-to player who could break down the defense. This lineup consisted with many international players in Patty Mills (Australia), Bryn Forbes (United States), Marco Belinelli (Italy), Davis Bertans (Latvia), and Jakob Poeltl (Austria).
In the second quarter, Popovich ran that same second unit, only this time, he made a swap at the point guard with White at the point instead of Mills. White had a few early turnovers in the first half that aren’t usual for him, and he even admitted after the game he had too much energy to start.
In the second half, Popovich said he wanted to see how different players played on the floor alongside the Spurs’ go-to options in Aldridge and DeRozan. So, he had White start at point, Mills at the shooting guard, and Poeltl at center. This group played well together as they opened the second half with a 13-3 run.
When Popovich went to his fifth lineup of the game, Murray was back on the court alongside Forbes, Dante Cunningham, Gay, and Gasol. From there, the starters rested for the remainder of the game as Popovich gave some of the younger players more minutes and players on non-guaranteed contracts minutes.
“He was out,” said Popovich of why Lonnie Walker IV didn’t play in the game. Though he wasn’t listed on the injury report, Walker IV was a bit hobbled in the last few days with a sore left leg. During the game, fans wanted Walker IV to play, as a “We want Walker!” chant developed.
Where will White get minutes?
After his early turnovers in the first half, White put together a very effective second half starting at the point and then playing with other lineups. White finished the game as the Spurs’ second leading scorer with 12 points on nine shots, four rebounds, two assists, and one steal in 18 minutes. White displayed his balanced skill set that he showed at Summer League, as he was able to create for himself and others out of the pick-and-roll, plus, he made shots from all three key areas of the floor – the paint, mid-range, and behind the arc.
“He’s a really steady player,” said Popovich of White after the game. “He’s a good shooter, he makes good decisions, he’s a good passer, and he’s got that pretty even keel demeanor.”
The question one must wonder though is where will White get his minutes? Of the first 10 players to take the floor for San Antonio, the backcourt consisted of Murray at the 1 and Mills as his backup. DeRozan started at the 2 and Forbes was his backup.
This essentially means White would likely be competing with either Mills or Forbes for the backup 1 or 2 spot. Again though, it’s only been one preseason game and it’s too early to tell who has those backup positions locked in.
Examining the shot selection
There can’t be too much stock put into the fact that Sunday was only the Spurs’ first preseason game, but, when you look at the shot selection, you will notice that the Spurs will still keep the mid-range as one of their key areas where they shoot from each night.
With players like DeRozan and Aldridge being their main two scorers, this isn’t surprising, but the shot selection of the team in the opening preseason game shows less threes, which means the team needs to make a higher accuracy from three.
On Sunday, the Spurs took 38 shots in the paint, 25 mid-range shots, and 22 three-point attempts. 25 mid-range shots would have ranked first last season in a game, while 22 threes would have ranked last in the league in attempts.
The good news in this one game sample size is that the Spurs did make 9 of their 22 three-point attempts, a 40.9% clip that would have ranked first in accuracy last season.
It’s only been one game, and as the preseason rolls along, it’ll be interesting to watch if the team increases their three-point attempts or continues to zig toward the mid-range, while the majority of the league zags toward the three-point arc.
Mills’ natural position was always 2. Last year, with Parker not 100% and Murray still too green and limited offensively, there weren’t many options at PG (Manu always playing more PG as usual). This year that is not an issue with White in the group. It seems more reasonable to slide Mills to the 2 and have White back up Murray. Keep Mills as a backup PG to those two if anyone gets injured or in foul trouble.