Austin Toros 101, Texas Legends 96: Hey look, real basketball!
DR. PEPPER ARENA — I was up in the northern regions of Dallas this week for Thanksgiving, far closer to Oklahoma than I was home. All was not lost, however, as the San Antonio Spurs’ own Austin Toros were a mere ten minute drive from my girlfriend’s parents’ house in Plano. Being the family man I am, I ditched them for a couple of hours and headed to the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco to watch the opening game of the D-League season for both teams where the Toros won 101-96. As they say, basketball never stops. Or at least it won’t now that it’s finally started again.
The Toros opened the game in a double point guard lineup featuring Justin Dentmon and Squeaky Johnson. The Toros used this type of lineup a couple of seasons ago when they paired Johnson with Curtis Jerrells to great effect. There are two reasons why this works. The first is that at the D-League level, teams don’t punish you for lack of size as much. It’s a much faster game at the D-League level and not every team boasts lineups with heights resembling your typical NBA roster. There are a lot of under-sized point guards and shooting guards playing in the minors.
The other reason this works is because both Dentmon and Squeaky can handle and shoot the ball. Both guys can bring the ball up against pressure and initiate the offense, and both guys can play off the ball and knock down 3-pointers.
Speaking of knocking down 3-pointers, holy crap the Toros can shoot. In addition to Dentmon and Squeaky, Coach Brad Jones started Luke Zeller and Myles McKay (Lance Thomas was the fifth starter). Coach Jones told me on media day that he thought his team was going to be one of the good shooting variety, and I think he was holding back on me. The Toros shot 6-9 in the first quarter from 3.
If you look down the roster, it’s fairly easy to see why. Outside of Thomas and center Dan Vandervieren, pretty much every player on the roster can knock down perimeter shots. Zeller, the starting center, plays the Matt Bonner role on this team to a T. Watching him in the silver and black offense, I would imagine they just handed him video of Bonner on offense and said “do this.”
The Toros finished the game shooting 9-23 from range on Saturday, but it was enough to do damage. After the Toros hot start from 3, the Legends appeared to change strategy in the second quarter. Instead of helping on drives and leaving men open on 3-pointers, the Legends looked like they simply ushered the Toros’ guards to the lane where they had to shoot over Texas’ Matt Rogers and Jamal Sampson, both 6’11″ and gangly. Too far into the lane to pass out for an open 3, too close to shoot accurately over the trees. In related news, the Toros shot just 1-2 from 3 in the second quarter and committed six turnovers.
To answer the question you’re obviously holding it as I get through this, no, I don’t see anyone on this Toros roster who is NBA call-up worthy — at least for the Spurs. The only scenario I can see one of these guys going to San Antonio is if Matt Bonner twists and ankle or something and the Spurs front office brings in Zeller as a direct replacement for 10 days. Otherwise, there are no major projects here. That will change, obviously, when Cory Joseph comes to town following Spurs training camp. And as much as my basketball love for Lance Thomas burns hot, I think he’s done growing and won’t add much more to the 6’8″ 220 lbs he currently stands at.
The Toros went on to win the game behind 28 points from Dentmon and 25 each from Squeaky and Lance Thomas. Austin opens its home schedule on Friday night against the Tulsa 66ers.