Spurs vs. Spurs, Training Camp Scrimmage
San Antonio Spurs fans were treated to a deliciously entertaining intersquad scrimmage this afternoon.Â A note of caution before proceeding to a list of takeaways: this was merely a practice.Â Don’t read too deeply into the tea leaves. It was helpful to see the Spurs play, but far from definitive. My thoughts:
- The Spurs are deep. That’s a bullet. Noted.
- Gregg Popovich already has every excuse in the world to sit his older players one night of each of the Spurs’ 17 back-to-backs. Popovich hasn’t tipped his hat in either direction, but I hope he debuts a sit-a-veteran policy as early the opening couplet of vs. New Orleans and at Chicago on October 28 and 29. Four out of the first five contests situate themselves on one side of a back-to-back equation, and there is no reason to delay a program that provides rest for his older players. Seeing the policy through from–quite literally–opening night is also Pop’s best PR move. If resting veterans is part of an obvious season-long policy, the fans won’t be taken off guard if they attend one of the games in which Tim Duncan is resting. They still might not like it, but they would have been notified of the possibility well in advance.
- Speaking of resting veterans: Friday’s scrimmage saw all Spurs players over the age of 31 sitting on the sidelines. It was the over 31 crowd (Finley, McDyess, Ratliff, Duncan, Ginobili) and Tony Parker, to be precise. There is no reason for any of the aforementioned group to play both sides of back-to-backs this season. The Spurs are plenty deep, with injury concerns, and no shortage of young players that need minutes and an opportunity at live action.
- LJ Ellis offered up this succinct take on Tim Duncan’s play in today’s scrimmage:Â “Tim Duncan didn’t play much basketball in the offseason — and it was obvious during the scrimmage. He didn’t have much success when calling his own number. However, to be fair, Duncan seemed to concentrate mostly on trying to get Richard Jefferson involved.”
- Adjusted Plus/Minus expert Steve Ilardi surprised me a few weeks back. According to Ilardi’s 6 year defensive APM averages, Manu Ginobili is the third best perimeter defender in the league. He trails only Ron Artest and Shane Battier in that department. Striking, right? Well Manu Ginobili looked every bit the offensive and defensive stud during today’s scrimmage. When he’s healthy, only Kobe Bryant and Dywane Wade are better options at shooting guard. Look out, league!
- The Spurs often feature offensive sets with Tim Duncan flanked on all sides by shooters. The Spurs love to shoot the three-ball, and to pin their opponents into one of two disadvantageous commitments: either single team Tim Duncan or double him by leaving a sniper all alone and spotted up. It’s a season of change in San Antonio, and it isn’t. The Spurs ran quite a few 4-shooter clear outs for–wait for it–Tony Parker this afternoon.Â It makes sense, right? Who can guard Tony Parker? He always puts up big man field goal percentages, and his Hot Spot shot chart is not terribly dissimilar to a dominate big. That is, he does most of his damage at the rim.Â It’s Gregg Popovich’s mission for the Spurs to guard like hell this season, but they’ll also be hell to guard.Â Tony Parker is an elite player.
- Will any rookie outperform DeJuan Blair on a per minute basis? I doubt it. He looks sensational.Â He’s the exact same rebounder we saw at Pitt, plus he has soft hands, can finish around the basket, is an efficient passer and, surprise, surprise, has a little bit of a spot up game. Clippers fans, don’t kill me. DeJuan Blair is Blake Griffin’s biggest obstacle on his path toward the ROY. Don’t get me wrong. The total minutes thing will remove Blair from the conversation, but per minute…
- Although, having said that, it’s not all “jeepers ma” with DeJuan Blair. 48MoH reader and Spurs season ticket holder Rick Ashford sat behind the bench for today’s practice:Â “Blair does have a lot to learn on defense. He bit on a shot fake by Bonner (I mean, really, Bonnerâ€™s not going hard to the hole, you know?), and fouled him on a triple. Matt drained it, and the free throw for a four-pointer. Ouch.”
- As low minute situational substitutions, Mike Finley and Matt Bonner are invaluable.
- The story of today’s scrimmage was Parker, Ginobili, Blair, and in that order.Â After those three, I’d argue that Malik Hairston was the most impressive Spur. Quoting Rick Ashford, yet again: “RC [Buford] pointed out Marcus Williams and Malik Hairston as players they were excited about coming over from the Toros. He specifically mentioned Hairston as being the most improved player theyâ€™d ever seen coming from the D-League.” Hairston is a cagey defender with a deceptively effective ability to score. It’s not unthinkable that Hairston and Marcus Haislip earn the lionshare of minutes behind Richard Jefferson. And yes, I realize I’m excluding Mike Finley and Keith Bogans.Â Go Toros!
- George Hill’s numbers weren’t great (does anyone have stats from this scrimmage?), but he’s showing good stuff. It says here that he is one the best back-up point guards in the Association. Big things from him this season.
- Ian Mahinmi continues his routine of flash a little here, fizzle a little there. I’ve watched him as closely as anyone over the past three years, and he looks like a monster in waiting when he slips into a rhythm. But when he doesn’t, he’s simply a clumsy, low energy big. At this point, I’d like to see the Spurs take a sink or swim approach with Mahinmi. Give him big minutes, relative to his role as back-up center, in preseason and throughout, say, the first third of the regular season. My suspicion is that he is in fact a rhythm player who works his way into games by playing up to competition.Â But there is really only one way to find out.
- I can’t resist another note about Ian Mahinmi. His entire game is best described as budding. Nothing has really blossomed yet. Having said that, he’s nothing if not a bunch of fresh green shoots.Â One example from this game: Ian Mahinmi can hit shots from 16 or 17 feet.Â Good mechanics. Nice fluid motion. No reason to think he couldn’t earn a living simply knocking down screen and pops. But, again, he could be so much more. Of all the guys in camp, he’s the most mysterious. I expect Tony Parker will force feed him the ball throughout the preseason in an effort to crack the Mahinmi mystery.
- Marcus Haislip played reasonably well today. The jury is still out, but the early indications suggest he’s a useful player as perimeter power forward or long three. His defense was lacking on a few possessions, but he has the the physical tools of a competent defender. On offense he can put the ball on the floor, hit spot up Js, and, in general, create space for either Duncan or Parker in 1-4 sets.
- Curtis Jerrells outperformed Marcus Williams in their quest to land third point guard duties. Marcus Williams’ transition to point is still a work in progress. Jerrells was not only more comfortable at the point, he had a few impressive possessions. But this was only one practice. And besides, unless the Spurs are willing to part with Keith Bogans, the 15th roster spot is Malik Hairston’s to lose. Strangely, Malik Hairston is fighting for a contract as the Spurs’ 15th man, but if he wins it he’ll immediately become their 8th or 9th man in terms of minutes played.
- The hodgepodge bullet: everyone else looked like themselves, which is actually great news. McDyess, Jefferson and Ratliff snapped into place as snug system fits.
- The Spurs finished practice with a 3-point shootout, which, as you might have guessed, Michael Finley Tim Duncan won. Highlights of Duncan’s shooting at theÂ tail end of this video: