The post-Tim Duncan era is five exhibition games old in San Antonio. It’s weird to see the Spurs competing without their longtime franchise cornerstone, but the team should still be in line for plenty of success in 2016-17.
The Spurs do have one contest left on their preseason schedule, but let’s break down some of what we’ve learned from them so far:
Kawhi Leonard has progressed as a scorer, but still needs some work as a playmaker
Gregg Popovich will continue pressing Leonard into a bigger offensive role during the 2016-17 season, as he’s shown through the preseason. The 25-year-old small forward will be scoring and passing more for the Spurs.
He definitely looks ready to handle the bigger scoring load. Unlike last season, he’s been a magnet for shooting fouls. Kawhi has taken 8.9 free throws per 36 minutes during the preseason, up from 5.1 in 2015-16.
Part of it may be that Leonard is finally getting more superstar calls, but he’s also made a conscious effort to sell contact he gets and fling the ball toward the rim after doing so. Below is just one of many examples of this from the preseason.
The ability to get to the line more consistently will help Kawhi’s offensive repertoire tremendously, especially when it comes to crunch time in key games.
However, he’s also struggled to create for his teammates, which is an area his doubters will continue to point to as a significant weakness. He’s at a decent 3.5 assists per 36 minutes this preseason, but that rate becomes less impressive when combined with his 3.9 turnovers in the same time frame.
His passes are often too predictable, and he’s still learning to hit cutters and shooters in the right spot from any significant distance. See how he zeroes in on Davis Bertans below, making it easy for the Pistons defense to pick off his pass.
Be sure to keep on Leonard’s assist and turnover numbers once the regular season starts.
Davis Bertans might not be a defensive liability
The prevailing narrative on Bertans heading into this season was that he would be a knockdown shooter and finish pretty well at the rim against unsuspecting defenders, thanks to his above-average leaping ability. However, the 6’10” forward was seen as too slow to defend 3s and too weak to cover 4s and 5s.
My eyes from preseason action have told me otherwise regarding Bertans’ defense.
The Latvian is probably never going to be very strong physically, but he’s pretty quick laterally and makes up for his thin frame with his length and activity.
— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) October 4, 2016
In fact, per NBAwowy.com, San Antonio has allowed a measly 88.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to 97.0 points per 100 possessions when he’s off. Considering he’s often playing with a bench unit that doesn’t feature the team’s best defenders, that’s very encouraging.
This unexpected skill (to me, at least) should help him get pretty consistent minutes, especially since he can swing between the 3 and 4 positions.
Manu Ginobili with a prediction re: rookie Davis Bertans: "He's going to play. Pop likes his game a lot."
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 17, 2016
Dewayne Dedmon is struggling to finish on offense and avoid fouling on defense
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of the Spurs’ signing of Dedmon than me. It’s been awhile since the team has had a legitimately athletic big man, so it’s definitely an “excitement of the unknown” situation.
It’s still very early, but Dedmon has had a bit of a difficult time fulfilling his role so far. On offense, he’s made only six of his 18 shots, puzzling considering almost all of those attempts have been within a few feet of the rim. He’s also committed 7.5 fouls per 36 minutes — the tendency to foul has consistently plagued his defense, but there has been no progress there yet under Gregg Popovich.
I’m not writing off Dedmon’s chances at an excellent season (still high), but I’m tempering my expectations for the early part of the campaign, at least.
Bryn Forbes should be the favorite to grab the final roster spot
San Antonio currently has 19 players on its roster, and it will have to shrink that number down to 15 before the regular season begins. Fourteen Spurs have guaranteed contracts, and I think it’s safe to assume all of those guys will make the final roster.
Joel Anthony, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bryn Forbes, Patricio Garino and Nicolas Laprovittola are all in contention for the final spot. Anthony has a bunch of NBA experience, Garino and Laprovittola have an Argentinian connection with Manu Ginobili and Arcidiacono is a fantastic defender.
But it’s Forbes who’s looked like the best player of the five. As an elite outside shooter, the former Michigan State standout gives the Spurs a sniper they can mold in their D-League program and eventually use at the highest level.
Forbes has such a quick, compact stroke, and he’s unfazed by oncoming defenders. In the preseason, he’s 6-of-12 from downtown (he was 16-of-40 in Summer League).
His game is actually pretty reminiscent of Gary Neal’s, who had three respectable seasons in San Antonio. Both are unafraid of taking big shots and can heat up quickly, though defense is a definite weakness.
The Spurs definitely could use some volume three-point shooting, even if Forbes doesn’t bring his stroke to the San Antonio rotation for awhile. The team ranked 25th in threes made last season and is 22nd out of the 35 squads who’ve been involved in the NBA preseason in the same statistic.
Forbes is someone San Antonio shouldn’t let slip away, especially with the league’s ever-increasing reliance on three-point shooting.