Training camp notes: Spurs open scrimmage
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.