Welp, good run. Prior to the tipoff of their game against the Utah Jazz, the San Antonio Spurs were officially eliminated from playoff contention. After 22 consecutive seasons of taking part in the postseason, the Spurs will be watching the festivities from home this year.
With the playoffs hopes up in smoke, head coach Gregg Popovich decided to sit DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills against the Jazz. As a result, San Antonio predictably stumbled.
At the end of the first quarter, Utah had a 41-24 lead. The Jazz held on to their advantage for the duration of the game. At one point deep into garbage time in the fourth quarter, the Spurs cut the deficit to three points — only for SLC to respond with a 9-0 to ice the game.
All in all, it’s difficult to take too much from this game. The level of play was lower than what we witnessed during the scrimmages. At times, it looked more like a pick-up game than an official NBA contest. That said, we got a good look at some of the younger players — so it wasn’t a total waste of time.
I’ll be writing more soon about the season as a whole but I think all Spurs fans can say that we feel better about this team after what we witnessed in the bubble. In what was otherwise a frustrating season, these last eight regular season games were entertaining and hopefully point toward a brighter future.
Spurs vs. Jazz – Final Grades
The counting stats — 12 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists — were strong for Murray. Unfortunately, his actual level of play left a lot to be desired. He was extremely sloppy with the ball; basic ball-handling was difficult for him on this night, as was making even simple passes. I also didn’t love Murray’s shot-selection and his defense wasn’t anything special. On a positive note, his effort level was high, he did undeniably good work on the boards and he did mix in a few fine passes among the muck.
Lonnie Walker IV
The good: Walker nailed all three of his three-point attempts. Pop gave him point guard duties and it wasn’t a complete and utter failure. He had some good passes and he played hard on defense. The bad: Walker’s finishing was poor and not physical enough. Like Murray, ball-handling was a struggle for him. The second-guessing of himself that has plagued him recently was once again apparent in this affair.
The raw tools that caused the Spurs to select Samanic with the 19th overall pick of the 2019 draft were on display. In his first extended action of the season, Samanic showed off an effortless three-point stroke. I was also impressed by his mobility on defense. For a 6-foot-11 player, it’s undeniable that he really moves his feet well and that he has an advanced feel for the game. On the downside, he obviously has a lot to work on in terms of staying focused, consistently playing hard and limiting his mental mistakes. There are more questions than answers with regard to Samanic’s future but it was at least good to see that his intriguing tools remain.
While the lowered level of play made this not as impressive as some of his previous games, it’s difficult not to be excited about Johnson. He’s a mean SOB when attacking the basket. And not only is he a brute, he’s smart and talented at both drawing fouls and finishing at the rim. His outside shot looks way, way better than it did during training camp. Defensively, Johnson is extremely competitive and has the physical tools (speed, quickness, leaping ability) to more than hold his own.
This wasn’t a notable outing for Poeltl. He did okay-ish work on the boards and defended the rim decently well. Offensively, he smartly moved without the ball and finished better than he had been finishing in the bubble. I liked his passing. I didn’t like his free throw shooting.
Belinelli obviously realized that his NBA future was on the line in the bubble. He showed up to Orlando in really good shape, I have to admit. Against the Jazz, his aggressiveness on offense was sometimes helpful. But at other times, he was just getting in the way. Add in his defensive shortcomings and it’s doubtful that he’s a legit NBA player going forward.
Eubanks had real trouble finishing tonight. Even when he got good position, his touch was wonky. That said, he was rugged, got to the line and exhibited a surprising amount of court vision. Eubanks pulled down contested rebounds and totaled half of San Antonio’s eight blocked shots. Although uneven tonight, it’s safe to say the 23-year-old really helped his chances of sticking with the team with his work in the bubble.
Metu is the opposite of Eubanks. By not cracking the rotation in the bubble, it’s unlikely that he’ll return to the Spurs next season. His athleticism was impressive at times against the Jazz but his lack of natural basketball feel also stuck out like a sore thumb. Metu has tools but this far into his career, one would hope that he’d be further along in terms of turning potential into reality.
Unluckily for Weatherspoon, he hurt his knee three minutes into his first stint on the court. If he would have stayed healthy, he probably would have played 25-plus minutes. Let’s hope that he avoided serious injury as he showed enough potential in Orlando to at least keep him around for another campaign.
Waving the white flag and sitting the players he did — especially White — was the right call. I liked that Pop gave Samanic the start and didn’t pull him when he picked up two early fouls. Giving Walker point guard duties was helpful for his development. Overall, Pop coached very well in the bubble after what would most kindly be described as a lackluster season prior to the pandemic-caused work stoppage.