AT&T CENTER – The San Antonio Spurs fell to 0-3 in their preseason schedule Sunday with a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Though the Spurs suffered another loss, they played their best half of the preseason, where they built a 17-point lead in the first half against New Orleans. Prior to the game tipping off, the team announced LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay would both be out to rest. Here were some observations from the Spurs’ third preseason game.
The Starting Backcourt: Murray and Forbes
Through three preseason games now, the team has continued to start Dejounte Murray at the 1 and Bryn Forbes at the 2. With two games left, this most likely is the starting backcourt for the first game of the regular season.
Offensively, Murray provides another pick-and-roll creator alongside DeMar DeRozan from the perimeter. Forbes provides an outside threat, and he demonstrated that Sunday by scoring nine of his 18 points in the opening quarter of play. Forbes finished the game shooting 7-of-13 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from three.
Murray finished with six points and two assists on 3-of-7 shooting. He had some creative drives at the rim in both the half and open court, and on one possession, he even took a pull-up three off a screen set by a teammate, though the shot didn’t go in.
Murray’s most impactful area is on defense, where he showed he can disrupt a possession almost by himself. He finished with two rebounds, one steal, and one block in 18 minutes. On one possession, Brandon Ingram got Murray switched onto him. He tried to go down into the post with Murray, but when the entry pass was thrown toward Ingram, Murray scooped the pass out of the air. On another possession in the halfcourt, Murray made a cross court pass get deflected, then he got in the way of another pass and the Pelicans threw it out of bounds.
“He’s been active,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich of Murray after the game. “He feels confident, looks confident.”
“The guy can play defense,” said DeMarre Carroll of Murray. “He’s got long arms. He’s always playing the passing lanes. That’s his stamp (reference to defense).”
No Murray-White backcourt through three preseason games
Over the summer, with Derrick White’s improvement defensively last season and with the return of Murray, the Spurs were expected to have one of the better defensive backcourts when both guards are on the floor at the 1 and 2. Through three preseason games though, that lineup hasn’t been seen at all. With Murray starting in each game, White has been checking in once Murray heads to the bench. Then when White goes to the bench, it’s Murray who returns to the floor. Wednesday could be one of the first times the duo shares the floor when they face the explosive backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Belinelli the backup 3
In the rotation of the second unit, Marco Belinelli also appears to continue to be the primary backup 3 behind DeRozan. With Belinelli consistently getting this role so far in the preseason, it leaves little room for Lonnie Walker IV to get any key minutes in the game.
Belinelli finished with 11 points and while it wasn’t a great shooting night for him (1-6 FG), he did knock down all 8 of his free throw attempts.
Carroll brings his outside shooting
While the loss of Davis Bertans in the offseason hampered the Spurs’ outside shooting, DeMarre Carroll showed Sunday he too can provide a spark from distance when provided the opportunity. Carroll ended up knocking down 3 of 4 threes off the bench to finish with 13 points.
When looking at three-point attempts per game, Carroll narrowly attempted more threes (4.6 per game) than Bertans (4.4 per game) last season. The Spurs have four volume shooters who they’ll be relying on for their outside shooting this season in Forbes, Patty Mills, Belinelli, and now Carroll.
Offense looked better overall, but defense remains an issue
After scoring 89 points in each of their first two preseason games, the Spurs had their best offensive performance of the preseason Sunday putting 114 points on the scoreboard. When looking at their shot selection, they played more of a modern style attacking the rim, shooting more threes, and getting to the free throw line. The team only attempted 13 mid-range looks and just 10 of their points came from the non-paint two.
It’ll be interesting to see if the team continues with this type of shot selection when Aldridge and Gay return to the lineup.
“We’ve got a lot to work on on defense,” said Jakob Poeltl after Sunday’s game, where the Spurs allowed the Pelicans to score 123 points. If you look at where the Pelicans scored from, it was from the three most efficient areas on the floor – the paint (62 points), the three-point line (36 points) and the free throw line (23 points). Just two of New Orleans’ 123 points came from the mid-range.
Defense near the rim was an area where the team missed Aldridge’s presence on Sunday. The Spurs did have one impressive defensive quarter Sunday, when they held the Pelicans to 16 points in 12 minutes. This was something Forbes mentioned after the game, how the team’s halfcourt defense played better, and it was mainly their transition defense that was the area of concern.
Rockets, Grizzlies games remain in the preseason
The Spurs have two preseason games left now where they’ll go to Houston Wednesday and then host the Memphis Grizzlies Friday in their final preseason game.