Preseason Observations of Spurs’ win over the Hawks

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AT&T CENTER – In their second preseason game of the 2016-17 season, the San Antonio Spurs hosted the starter-less Atlanta Hawks, but for San Antonio, it was their first opportunity to play their new core lineups for a good chunk of minutes in the game. After the Spurs’ starters received their minutes in the first three quarters, the latter part of the bench finished the game, as San Antonio defeated Atlanta 102-91 Saturday evening.

The Spurs began the game with their new starting lineup of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Spanish center Pau Gasol. Aside from Gasol, who looked a little tentative and out of place at different times, the starters had a solid night. Aldridge finished with 14 points in 21 minutes, after he displayed his tool box of scoring methods both inside and out, while defensively, he also showed that even though Tim Duncan retired, Aldridge will still be a force opponent’s will have to get through in order to make it to the rim.

Leonard also finished with 14 points in 25 minutes, and he too showed his variety of ways to score, whether it be posting up defenders and drawing fouls, taking pull-up 3-pointers, or continuing to be a pest defensively.  Regarding Leonard, one interesting method where the Spurs used him midway through the game in the second quarter was at the shooting guard position. Using two different lineups – Parker, Leonard, Kyle Anderson, Aldridge, Dewayne Dedmon, and then swapping Gasol for Dedmon, Leonard played some minutes at the 2 and it showed how much more versatile the team could be offensively. When Leonard was playing the two, he had a smaller defender (Tim Hardaway Jr.) guarding him, and the Spurs quickly attacked the mismatch on multiple possessions. Though it’s just one preseason game, it will be interesting to watch going forward if Leonard and Anderson share more minutes in the backcourt together this coming season.

Parker finished with a game-high 15 points in 20 minutes. What’s interesting was that Parker wasn’t even that aggressive, but instead, he did his best to play defense, facilitate the offense and mainly push the fast break when the window opened, as 9 of his 15 points came in transition. For Gasol, he finished with three points, three assists, and two rebounds. Even though his numbers weren’t eye popping, he did move the ball and facilitate out of the low block and the elbow, and one particular possession – he connected with Aldridge on a high-low sequence, the way Duncan used to do with Aldridge. With Saturday being his first game, Gasol will benefit from more playing time with the starters to develop more chemistry.

Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili were the first two players off the Spurs’ bench, and they played for a few minutes with Leonard, Aldridge and Gasol. Then, to have an entire bench unit, the coaching staff brought in Anderson, David Lee, and Dedmon. With Mills, Ginobili and Anderson, each of them ran multiple pick-and-roll sets with Lee and Dedmon to try to get the defense moving and either open lanes to the rim, or open outside shots. Ginobili finished with 11 points in 16 minutes, as Dedmon reaped the benefits of Ginobili’s passing ability, as Ginobili’s passes caught by Dedmon, usually got Dedmon to the free throw line for free throw attempts. Lee played in some of Boris Diaw’s familiar areas in the offense, mostly at the low block using dribble hand offs, or by constantly being a pick-and-roll option.

Late in the third quarter was when it became time to get some of the younger players and camp invites playing time for the remainder of the game. Those that saw action late were Nicolas Laprovittola, Jonathon Simmons, Joel Anthony, Davis Bertans, Dejounte Murray, and Bryn Forbes. Bertans specifically, finished with 10 points in nine minutes of the fourth quarter, as he knocked down 4 of 5 shots. On his 2 of 3 made 3-pointers, Bertans was usually wide open out of pick-and-pop opportunities, due to his teammates drawing the defense away from him.

“His shots went in, and that’s always a good thing,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich after the game of Bertans. Speaking of Popovich, he and Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina watched the game from the general manager’s box alongside Vice President Monty Williams, and General Manager R.C. Buford. The Spurs were coached in the first half by Ime Udoka, then James Borrego in the second half. Popovich said after the game the reason he didn’t coach was to sit from afar and evaluate players.

Defensively, it’s difficult to grade the team because the Hawks were missing all of their starters, but numerically, the Spurs did hold Atlanta to less than 25 points in all four quarters. Another interesting note was how the Spurs used some 1-3-1 zone sets on defense with different lineups during different possessions.

Up next, the Spurs will fly to Detroit to take on the Pistons and Boban Marjanovic Monday evening. The Spurs are now 1-1 in the preseason.

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