Spurs beat the Spurs 58-50 in Spurs’ first on-court action
SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan looked 27 years old, not 37, Manu Ginobili looked re-energized after a poor playoff run, and Tony Parker was pleasantly nonchalant in the exhibition atmosphere. But that does it for the unimportant side of the Silver and Black scrimmage, a matchup in which the Spurs beat the Spurs 58-50 in the Spurs’ first action of the year.
In more pertinent news, the newly svelte Patty Mills couldn’t take his shirt off quickly enough after he dropped 10 points and 3 assists (a move that drew catcalls from nearly all his teammates), Corey Maggette got to the line nine times in 20 minutes, and Kawhi Leonard was utilized in almost every way during the public’s first look at live action at the AT&T Center.
The development of Leonard will be a season storyline that spends much time under a microscope, and on Sunday we saw it all. Kawhi initiated pick and rolls, found spots to post up, took a few isolation opportunities and even set some screens for other guards, and he was pretty successful doing all of it.
But for now, during preseason, it’s all about the pieces trying to find the best fit. By now we’re familiar with Mills’ style, but the 25-year-old point guard checked in to camp much slimmer than in years past. In fact, it drew a bit of curiosity from concerned teammates.
“I thought he was on drugs,” Danny Green said when he first saw his teammate after the summer. “He looked really skinny. I was like, ‘What happened to you?’ He’s out there running up and down the floor (and) I didn’t recognize him. I didn’t know who he was.
“I think it’s also because he has other motivations. I think he and Boris (Diaw) may have made a bet.”
So far Mills appears to have the upper hand in that wager — one that was later clarified as clearly one-sided. Still, the always quick-footed Mills was even quicker today, activating the #PattyMillsShotCount almost immediately with 10 points on 10 shots. And he outperformed Nando De Colo, one of the multiple backup guards forming a glut at the position. Cory Joseph might be the incumbent backup point guard, but Patty’s contract year appears to be off to a good start.
And he gets a familiar face back alongside him. Jeff Ayres, one of the Spurs’ newest acquisitions, got his first taste of floor time in the AT&T Center, and the young power forward already talks about the level of comfort he feels here.
One of Ayres’ former assistant coaches in Indiana, Jim Boylen, is now Gregg Popovich’s right-hand man, and the 26-year-old power forward has previous relationships with Mills and Spurs assistants Sean Marks and Ime Udoka from days spent in Portland together.
He might know several members of the organization, but he’s never been on the receiving end of an out-of-nowhere Ginobili pass.
“I feel pretty comfortable. I’m (going to) keep playing with the guys and get used to guys’ tendencies,” Ayres said. “There’s nobody in the NBA that plays like Manu and Tim and Tony, so to get reps with them is the best way to get used to playing with them and learning when they’re going to pass.
“You’ve got to learn how Manu passes the ball; it’s never conventional.”
And the big man was solid. He flashed his athleticism and presence on the boards with six rebounds, and he showed his advertised range with a jumper and a little hook shot on his way to eight points. The Spurs have a ton of depth in the frontcourt this season, a valuable commodity with more than a few scheduled nights off on Duncan’s calendar.
There was nothing neat or tidy about this afternoon’s scrimmage, but there was a sense of enthusiasm from the roughly 5,000 people in attendance. After the Finals loss, it was once again good to see NBA basketball in the Alamo City.
As the preseason continues, we’ll continue to monitor the only roster spot that comes with a question. The San Antonio front office has talked a bit about the obvious in recent months: the Spurs could use a big body to play backup small forward behind Leonard. Popovich said last week they can play Ginobili and Marco Belinelli in that slot, but would rather not given their slight builds.
That brings the aforementioned Maggette and Sam Young into the picture. Maggette has made a career of getting to the free-throw line, and he showed that ability in spades today. Obviously, this was only a scrimmage, and we’ll see if the 33-year-old still has the legs for this going forward. Young hit one 3-pointer today and grabbed a couple of rebounds, but his overall performance was fairly ordinary.
The Spurs have a tendency to leave a 15th roster spot free as they enter season after season, a strategy that has worked over the years. But this year, without Stephen Jackson on the roster, there is a legitimate hole that needs to be filled, and two serviceable swingmen to potentially help fill it.
Then again, it seems like year after year there’s one of “those guys” in training camp that represents a position of need for the Spurs, and yet he rarely holds on. It should be noted: Pop and Co. have certainly shown interest in Maggette in the past, though that was years ago. It’s probably safe to say it’s going to take a very strong preseason performance for anyone to grab that 15th roster spot.
Time to hurry up and wait.