Preseason Spotlight: Bertans, Dedmon and Murray

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 3: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots a free throw against the Phoenix Suns during a preseason game on October 3, 2016 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs do not prioritize on winning preseason games. Last season, in which they won a franchise-best 67 games, their preseason record was only 2-4. Even though these games provide a great opportunity for the Spurs’ front office and coaching staff to evaluate training camp invites and experiment with new lineups, it can be easy for most fans to skip over them and wait to watch the regular season as preseason games do not always resemble the day-to-day basketball most fans are accustomed to from the Spurs. Most core players have a heavy minute’s restriction if they play at all, and when they do play, it’s usually as a part of a lineup that the Spurs would not regularly run. There are, however, a few new players that Spurs fans should keep an eye on to help keep preseason basketball entertaining and fresh.

The Spurs drafted Dejounte Murray with the 29th pick in the most recent NBA draft in an effort to begin shifting towards a more athletic team. Athleticism has long been a weakness of the Spurs and was arguably the biggest advantage that the Oklahoma City Thunder had over the Spurs during their playoff matchups. Murray has already expressed a willingness to buy-in to the Spurs’ defense-first mentality, which should benefit him early on as playing sound defense is the best way to stay on the court as a young player in the Spurs’ system. Other than athleticism and defense, Murray can also contribute through his playmaking and ball distribution ability, two skills that will help diversify bench units. Depending on how quickly the Spurs become comfortable giving Murray more playing time, they could run a small ball lineup with Murray at point guard and Patty Mills at shooting guard, similar to Australia’s lineup that consisted of both Matthew Dellavedova and Mills during the Olympics. As most of the players in front of him in the rotation won’t see much playing time during the preseason, it’s a safe bet that Murray will be playing a lot during the preseason and will be getting good experience playing point guard for an NBA team.

Another new addition who will get a good amount of playing time this preseason and could make some strong contributions off the bench this year is Dewayne Dedmon. Last season, the Spurs’ second unit sustained their offense early on while the starting unit was still developing its chemistry after adding LaMarcus Aldridge. This unit had two main weaknesses – rebounding and rim protection. These weaknesses were manageable during the regular season, but were attacked pretty heavily by the Thunder during the playoffs. Dedmon addresses both of these weaknesses. Listed at 7-feet even, Dedmon’s presence around the rim will deter opposing players from attacking the paint. The Thunder had a pretty sizable offensive rebounding advantage against the Spurs’ bench bigs in last year’s playoffs as well, and Dedmon, should help remedy that. While playing for the Orlando Magic, Dedmon grabbed 12.1 rebounds per 36 minutes on average, which would have ranked him second overall on the Spurs last year, behind only Boban Marjanovic.

This summer, the Spurs also added Davis Bertans to their rotation. Bertans was originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers, but the Spurs acquired his draft rights during the draft night trade for Kawhi Leonard in 2011. Bertans has the size to play either the small forward or the power forward positions and is a three-point specialist. With his shooting, he will be able to space the floor and give the bench an extra shooter, something the Spurs were lacking last season aside from Mills and Manu Ginobili. A couple key areas of focus when watching Bertans are his three-point shooting and how comfortable he is moving off the ball. Some of the more adept shooters in the NBA use their shooting to draw defenders out to them on the perimeter when they don’t have the ball, wait for their defender to start watching the ball, and cut to the basket for easy buckets. If Bertans can become comfortable making plays like that at an NBA level, it will force defenders to honor his shot even more, helping the offense from bench units to operate more smoothly.

While the preseason does not always make for the most exciting brand of basketball, Spurs fans have something to watch for in Murray, Dedmon, and Bertans. Each of these players have opportunities to benefit the Spurs in different ways this season and each should get a good amount of minutes in the preseason. While these games won’t ultimately mean much from a record standpoint, the performance of these players early this season could very well set the tone for their tenures with the Spurs. While it is impossible to know how players will develop, it is possible that any one of these new players could become key rotation pieces in the future. This preseason may just be the start of that journey.

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