The San Antonio Spurs already encountered adversity, with three injuries to their backcourt before any meaningful games happened. This placed Bryn Forbes as the unexpected starter at point guard and created more questions for a team that endured maybe ...and more »
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) is defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Bryn Forbes (11) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 112-108. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The San Antonio Spurs already encountered adversity, with three injuries to their backcourt before any meaningful games happened. This placed Bryn Forbes as the unexpected starter at point guard and created more questions for a team that endured maybe the NBA's most interesting offseason.
Well, two games into 2018-19, the Silver and Black are 1-1. A minuscule sample size, but still enough for a first glimpse at this new-look group. It happened with a win against the turmoil-induced Minnesota Timberwolves and a loss to the sharpshooting Portland Trail Blazers.
Defensive Issues Indeed Exist
San Antonio was set to have Dejounte Murray patrol the perimeter and take another step from his accolade-winning defensive run in 2017-18. Then came the torn ACL, which culminated the rare questions that accompanied the backcourt on defense, entering the season, with the losses of Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and Kawhi Leonard.
Forbes and DeMar DeRozan were never mistaken as elite defenders in their respective NBA careers. The same for Patty Mills, the backup point guard, off the bench. Each are there for what they can do offensively, but the defensive woes against opposing backcourts have become apparent.
Despite the win over Minnesota, Jeff Teague went 8-for-12 (2-for-3 on three-pointers) for 27 points. Jimmy Butler worked his way through at 9-for-23 (1-for-4 on three-pointers) for 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals.
The Blazers' elite backcourt found no issues from the field, either. Damian Lillard went 9-for-15 for 29 points and CJ McCollum dropped four three-pointers and finished with 24 points of his own.
Combined, these backcourt starters have shot 53.8 percent against the Spurs. 80 games still remain in this marathon of a season, but the initial numbers spell out the expected issues.
Two-Pointers Galore From The Stars, But Outside Shooting From The Rest
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan have owned the reputation as mid-range shooters for their respective careers, including the former's 1,255 two-point field goal attempts in 2017-18, good for No. 4 in the NBA.
Through two games, DeRozan already has 39 two-point attempts, which tied him for fifth. Aldridge is not far behind at 34.
San Antonio's stars have just six three-point attempts between them, as a result, but that has not stopped a strong long-range attack to open the season.
At 43.65 percent from behind the arc, the Spurs sit fourth amongst the 30 teams. It's still early to call them a quality shooting team, but they found a silver lining in Murray's injury, with Forbes' inclusion in the starting lineup to add deeper range to a group of four—Aldridge, DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Jakob Poeltl—that doesn't showcase outside shooting.
The bench, however, has provided most of the three-pointers, with 45.1 percent on 31 attempts. Almost half of it comes from Davis Bertans' 6-for-10 mark. Mills and Marco Belinelli have produced one quality game each, but they should maintain a consistent outside-scoring role off the bench to make this group interesting.
There's potential for the 2018-19 Spurs to play better in the field than 2017-18, though at a defensive expense. Will it continue into the second week of the season?
Rudy Gay's Importance And Health
Rudy Gay's Achilles injury from 2016-17 was well-documented in his first season with the Spurs, who brought him back in time to open 2017-18. As a potentially lingering effect, heel ailments accompanied him throughout the 82-game campaign and caused a two-month absence from December to February.
In the 2018 preseason, the 12-year veteran injured his right heel, again, just days before Wednesday's season opener, according to Tom Orsborn of MySanAntonio.com. Gay received "a lot of treatment" and played against the Timberwolves.
In the Blazers game, as noted by Keith Smith of RealGM, Gay landed awkwardly on his right foot and appeared to limp, but stayed in the game.
No matter what Gay's level of health is, the Spurs need him to offer floor-spacing for a starting lineup that doesn't have it outside of Forbes. He's also needed when DeRozan leaves the floor as the primary scorer to work outside Aldridge's paint play.
For now, Gay is 13-for-25 from the field for 15 points as the third man in the scoring pecking order. It's a more suitable role than what he held last season just months off the aforementioned Achilles tear. If he goes down, though, for any time, no one stands out as the third man behind the main attractions.
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