With Duncan a constant, preseason allows for experimenting with variables
Given an entire training camp and preseason to experiment with lineups and evaluate talent, the San Antonio Spurs were pleased to find their one constant remains.
Tim Duncan scored 21 points on 8-11 shooting, confounding the Denver Nuggets frontline with a variety of jumpers, drives, spins, and dunks as he begins his 16th season with the significant gains in mobility he displayed last season still intact.
It was a vintage Duncan performance, even if some of his teammates feel Duncan himself is far from vintage.
“Old Timmy? I don’t think that Timmy’s old. That’s the new Tim Duncan, he’s still young,” Danny Green said after the game. “He’s still running the floor, getting up and down, beating young guys down the floor and getting easy baskets. That’s why he’s the greatest ever at his position.”
Friday night’s preseason game, the third for the San Antonio Spurs, was a matchup of two teams looking to hit the ground running when the season starts.
The Spurs, returning the same roster from last season, hope to build on where they left off last season. While the Nuggets, after collecting one of the most impressively athletic rosters in recent memory, hope to simply get up and down the floor as quickly as possible.
Both teams achieve their goals in spurts, though only in the inconsistent manner that defines early preseason games.
The Spurs starting lineup featured the same continuity and passing that made it among the most feared teams in the NBA last season, before turning things over to a hodgepodge of experimental lineups.
With Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills out, the Spurs looked to a combination of combo guards, alternating Gary Neal and Nando De Colo at the point guard position; a tactic that only served to unleash Corey Brewer in the open court behind a series of ill advised passes and poor shot creation.
“It’s not easy for me to switch every five minutes,” De Colo said when asked about switching between both backcourt roles in the same game. “But I must work on these positions.”
Gary Neal has never had any trouble finding room for his shot, as evident by his 19 points on 6-10 shooting. But as the primary ball handler he remains susceptible to pressure and lacks the court vision (0 assists) to act as the offense’s primary initiator for extended stretches.
Neal worked best in the final quarter alongside an emerging Cory Joseph and big man Eddy Curry. Both of whom allow Neal to work off the ball and on the periphery of the defense’s attention.
A trimmed down Curry has shown glimpses of the scoring ability that made him such an intriguing prospect coming out of high school; flashing a quick first step along the baseline and powerful dunk for a second game.
While still questionable to make the roster, one could see the benefits of having a Curry-like player creating shots in limited minutes along a second unit with little playmaking ability outside of Manu Ginobili.
“Eddy Curry’s in great shape, he’s able to get up and down the court and still make plays,” Stephen Jackson said. “I think we need to get him the ball a little bit more because he’s really working his butt off.”
And why not? With Duncan already in midseason form, and the Spurs core the NBA’s longest constant, now is the time experiment with variables.