Training camp notes: Spurs open scrimmage

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Photograph by Gabby Ascanio

There will be nights, painful nights, where Spurs center Tim Duncan’s knees cannot sustain the brilliance that his mind  and muscle memory calls forth. The wrong end of a back-to-back will tax them, and a third game in as many nights is probably completely out of the question.

But with a few extra months rest and a lighter load to carry on his again frame, Duncan looked spry and ready to take on all comers during the San Antonio Spurs open scrimmage. No one can attest to this more than Tiago Splitter, the victim of a vintage Duncan throw down.

It was a night of posters for Splitter, who despite a reasonably successful scrimmage (his silver team beat the black team consisting of last year’s starting five 83-75) will probably be remembered most for getting dunked on by Duncan and training camp signee Gani Lawal.

Despite Lawal’s dunk, the Spurs look to begin the season with a front court rotation of Duncan, Splitter, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner after the official retirement of Antonio McDyess left the Spurs short a rotation player and valuable trade chip.

For what it’s worth, and in a public scrimmage between teammates it’s probably not worth much, the Spurs black team started Duncan and Blair, a pairing that found some success through the Spurs blistering start last season but failed in the playoffs. That meant of course that Splitter and Bonner anchored the Spurs second unit.

It would not surprise me to see the Spurs begin the season with Duncan and Blair. So long as his knee is up to the challenge, Duncan is still enough of a weapon and Blair enough of a passer and cutter to coexist offensively while the Spurs best defensive front court player helps cover up arguably its worst. Blair and Splitter cannot coexist offensively and a Blair-Bonner lineup is overwhelmed defensively. Watching both teams, these pairings would seem to be the best stop gap solution.

For all the early preseason talk of bringing in a Caron Butler or Josh Howard, the Spurs appear healthy enough on the wings to concentrate any front office focus on its thin front court. Richard Jefferson can still shoot, his performance from behind the three-point line last year looking like a legitimate improvement instead of an outlier. And while James Anderson has struggled with his shot, historical evidence suggests eventually they will start falling. More importantly, he appears to be doing a much better job this year of getting to his spots and finding shots on the move and off the dribble.

But perhaps the most promising sight of the game was rookie Kawhi Leonard’s comfort in the catch-and-shoot game. Defensively and energetically, the rookie comes as advertised, using his long arms and big hands to get into passing lanes and rack up deflections. But tonight Leonard managed to dial up and connect on a few long range shots. Even better, he did not hesitate in doing so and for the night it would appear that his range extends to more than just the corners the Spurs like to hide their small forwards in.

In other news, Tony Parker is still fast and Manu Ginobili still Eurosteps with the best of them. The Spurs still have rust to shake off, and not a lot of time to do it in.

  • JASV

    is there any link to the whole scrimmage?

  • Duldulao_1421

    THE SPURS STILL A TRUE CENTE AND POWER FORWARD…….THIS IS THE SPURS NEED TO FIND IT…..IF THEY WANT IT TO BE ON THE TOP AGAIN THIS YEAR……..HEY SPURS…….WHY NOT “AK47″?

  • Nick (Italy)

    “Despite Lawal’s dunk, the Spurs look to begin the season with a front
    court rotation of Duncan, Splitter, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner”With the shortage of bigs in SA, I would expect Lawal to be retained as third string PF, but it doesn’t look like you agree. Is there any indication coming from the Spurs organization?

  • Tim in Surrey

    Sometimes it helps to review a rookie’s entire history. For instance, Charlotte fans shouldn’t worry at all about Kemba Walker’s ability to shift to a distributor role because in HS and early on at U Conn, he was a true, pass-first point guard. It’s just that at U Conn, they desperately needed scoring from him last year, so that’s what he did. Something similar is true of Kawhi: He was recruited as an athletic combo forward with a good outside shot. But San Diego State needed him to play more of a power forward role, so that’s what he did. But he has a lot of offensive potential just waiting to be developed. He might not be an offensive force very soon, but before too long opponents will learn to respect his shot and his overall offensive game.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Nick, I don’t think he’s ready–and he may never be. He struggled last year in the D-League, so why should we expect a better performance this year against tougher competition. That’s not to say he won’t contribute, but anything we get this year from Gani Lawal will be pure gravy.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the scrimmage breakdown for those that couldn’t attend. 

    “But perhaps the most promising sight of the game was rookie Kawhi Leonard’s comfort in the catch-and-shoot game.”

    You know….it never was so much that RJ’s game was that bad but more so there wasn’t a decent backup for him.  This is great news and perhaps Leonard can become as Neal was last year to rise above the prototypical “rookies don’t play extended minutes” on this team.

    If so…total focus could then be made to acquiring a decent post player to accommodate Duncan’s foreseen limited time on the court.  All be it, about the only way for that to happen is to have to give up one of this team’s promising perimeter players in either Anderson or Neal to get it done via trade.

    Personally, I would give up Anderson since Neal’s experience in actually playing last year places him at more of an advantage for the team while Anderson is still an unknown as far as what he can consistently produce.  But…if landing an nba caliber starting PF/C could be done in a deal…I’d hate to see him go…and Neal just might be the type of player a team weak in perimeter shooting but long in available big men would want to trade with.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve heard conflicting reports regarding his ball handling skills.  One report suggests Kawhi has amazing ball handling abilities for a player his size while another states he needs to significantly improve in that area.  But one of the best (consistent) reports I’ve heard is in his ability to distribute the ball as well.

  • http://twitter.com/SpursDailyNews SanAntonioDailyNews

    Go, Spurs, Go!

  • Titletown99030507d

    My guess its about having the lowest luxury tax and no new contract commitments going into the next season to coincide with the big salary dump for 2012. I’m all for it. The more money the better off we are to get some great players next season. I said “great” not “Superstars” unless there’s one waiting for us in the lottery after this season. We are at a cross roads right now. Do we risk signing more personnel and fight for a 6, 7, 8 seed and get waxed in the playoffs and end up with a draft pick that will yield nothing or Save our money and go with what we have at the moment and dump more money next season (Timmy/RJ- $31 mil- chances are Timmy may be back and get some of that money hopefully not much) tank the season for that ever desirable lottery pick? Don’t get me wrong I want our Spurs to win but the reality is it’s one or the other. I’ll still support them either way. 

    Wonder where we stand polling this question on this blog? HMMM?

  • Titletown99030507d

    If your serious about making a trade for a decent experienced big. Trade Bonner and Neal for Kosta Koufos. Karl may not go for it anyway since he’s stated he’s going to give Kosta more minutes based on his efforts and play behind Nene and Mozgov. Although a lot people swear on Dalembert ($$$)

    http://youtu.be/UqpPNnpHiZw

    http://youtu.be/wUZZJy3JFmE

  • KG

    “It was a night of posters for Splitter, who despite a reasonably
    successful scrimmage (his silver team beat the black team consisting of
    last year’s starting five 83-75) will probably be remembered most for
    getting dunked on by Duncan and training camp signee Gani Lawal.”Reasonably successful? What more can you ask at a scrimmage than to lead the B team to a win over the A team?

  • BALLHOG

    So we go into the season with our 6’10- 2 guard, Matty Bonner and the amazingly dominate Tiago Splitter (LMAO) as our front court depth?  Really?

      More of D. Blair at the center position?  Moving Duncan to the post and backing him up with Splitter would have been a better option.  That way, Spurs can go out and sign a decent PF with their mid level and the 2 plus mil of cap space created by the retirement of Mr. McDyess.  But hey, strictly “Armchair”!

    By the way,,,,,,

    Who is Blair’s agent?  This young man should be concerned that his being played out of position could destroy his marketability and severely limit his future earning potential. Having said that, smart money points toward  Blair being gone at season’s end. 

    None of it really matters much now anyway.  Looks as if we will indeed endure another season of watching Splitter and Bonner get destroyed night after night.  Seems that since this coach and FO are content with D level players as its supporting cast, its strange that they didnt just keep the Pop’s brilliant combo of Rog Mason and K. Bogans on the roster. 

    Mason, Bogans, Splitter and Bonner….Oh yeah, Pop’s kind of players.  That would probably be his choice of starting rotation right now.  The game has passed him by and left him in the dust.

    On a positive note, congrats to Mr. Novak.  Got away from Pop and Im sure that the Knicks will actually take advantage of his skill set.  He certainly wasnt the power forward savior, but he was a better defender, rebounder and banger than Bonner ever will be.  Pop had to get him outta here though.  When he did play last season, he outplayed Bonner.  Coach couldnt have that #*#&%$ going on.  Coach Poppy immediately benched Novak and kept him there for the rest of the season.  Cant have anyone cutting into Bonner’s 20 minutes per game.  This is easily evidenced by the long line of PF’s that have come and gone in favor of holding onto the dominant game changer, Matt Bonner!

    Absolutely tragic, yet somehow, still humorous!

  • rj

    A tad on the negative aren’t we? I thought the scrimmage was a blast and was a nice reward for the fans loyalty and patience. Way to pitch it on the negative….

    I was in attendance and what i noticed most, more than the $ hot dogs, was TJ ford’s agressiveness in dribble penetration. He really did an excellent job probing the defense and finding the open man. The spurs 2nd unit will be in good hands with TJ ford.

    I cheered for the silver team all the way and shouted my encourgament for tiago splitter to post up timmy, Although he was unsuccessful, he did do an excellent job of getting timmy in foul trouble and did most of his damage at the free throw line. he has no NBA quality post moves as of yet and can’t protect the rim.

    kawhi leonard’s hand looked like camel spiders! he did a nice job of deflecting passes and although he has been garnering praise for his spot up 3′s, they looked really flat and i don’t imagine him shooting consistently this year.

    we were trying to guess who the masked big man was out there. turned out to be ntore dame product luke zeller. i think it was luke…. but alas he floated around the perimiter and took mostly 3pt shots. we don’t need another matt bonner.

    props to popovich for giving the fans 2min of overtime. me and my buddies were hollaring for it.

    now…..can we get another big?….please

    danny green was assigned to tony parker the whole game. i’d imagine he may be our new g hill pg stopper.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Don’t put Splitter in the same convernstation with Bonner and Blair. Just don’t do that again. Are you one of those that needs to be proven wrong again. How about this time play ol Split 30 minutes at least each game.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Why don’t you open your pocket and pay for one of those bigs you desperately want. Yeah I thought so.

  • Titletown99030507d

    And as for Blair what position would you like him to play? 

  • Titletown99030507d

    My wife and I had a lot of fun being there. Like to get those seats I had last night for an upcoming game. And while I was there I realized Manu hates losing even in a scrimmage against his own team mates and well Bonner is Bonner burning the net like his job depends on it. Save it for the playoffs. PLAYOFFS!
    Like KL and JA aggressiveness  and finally their shots were falling. Poor Blair didn’t seem too happy. He lost weight looks good he should just concentrate on the task (and make a few perimeter shots) and he’ll be fine playing behind Splitter.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I’m going to say it one last time. Blair is a rebounding machine. But that’s it. That’s it. Nothing else to his game. Nothing wrong with that. There are teams that need a damn good rebounder for a few minutes a game and we are one of them.

  • bakedroll

    i set down with a few buddies (all mavs fans besides me) and we started talking. now im never one that believes in “tanking” games ala memphis grizz, but ive been thinking….i would easily be content with resting duncan every odd numbered game basically every other game and manu every 2 and tp every 3…now i know thats alot of games off for our 3 best players but i still think we would be a top 8 team in the west even with resting the 3. now if we are in the hunt which i think we will be, we would could manipulate our win-loss to gain a favorable 1st round matchup. if for some reason we are not, then our vets played which essentially devolves into an exhibition season while our younger players recieved a bulk of the mins which really sets us up nicely for the season after (lot of mins for the young guys means alot of film to gauge and the o so important ‘experience”). i know this sounds alot like “tanking” the season but really the season is uber short anyway so why not rest em up and resign timmy for another year or 2 and use this season for what it is,  a practice season in which we are still most likely to make the playoffs…after all does a first or 2nd round exit really matter whether you are the number 1 team or the number 8 team?? i dont think so….you guys have any thoughts on this???

  • DB51

    Where should Blair play at? He is a centre, he cant shoot outside 4 feet so how are you going to play him at PF. As for McDyess retirement, there is no extra cap room for him as we are over the cap. So we are limited to the small mid level.
    Instead of coming in and bagging Pop at the end of every article, how about giving up your opinion on who we should get for our 3 Million mid – level exeption because when I look at the list there isn’t much there.
    Yes we are thin up front, and yes I think Pop and R.C ( The people responsible for bringing 4 rings to S.A) know this. Bt they are not going to rush out and sign someone for the sake of it and lose our last remaining piece of flexability. Players may be bought out, others coming back from overseas so it would be worth it to save it for something worthwhile, rather than spending it on pops mensah-bonsu or some other hack you have complained about Pop not playing obver the years (by the way – where is he playing?).

    And as for calling Steve Novak a banger – funny!! He will look nice sitting in the Knicks blue on the end of the bench every night. Novak and Bonner are the exact same players, just Bonner was the most accurate 3 point shooter last year and Steve Novak wasn’t.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Really? TJ is not TP. He hogs the ball too much and he thinks he’s going to get 20 + every night. HMMM? Pass the ball my friend preferably to the open guy under the basket. 

  • TD BestEVER

    Mosgov should be available……we will just have to check back after a month or so

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  • grego

    I’d take Anderson (more versatile and greater ceiling) over Neal unless you are getting something really good out of the deal. 

  • http://twitter.com/jaceman49 Jonas Chang

    It’s ironic that you say the Spurs need a true C and PF but suggest an SF. I’ve already proposed AK47 but even waiving RJ we can’t afford him.

  • http://twitter.com/jaceman49 Jonas Chang

    There were glimpses in the Jimmer Fredette All-Star game. I think ball-handling and shooting have been the things that Leonard has been working on actively. From what I hear, at the very least, he can use his athleticism to get to the rim and he’s a good enough ball-handler to competently feed the post. The shakiest part of his game was his shooting, and I’m pretty sure Chip Engelland can do something about that.