The San Antonio Spurs will play their first preseason game on Sunday night against the Houston Rockets. Before the start of their exhibition schedule that will see the team play a total of five contests, here are a few Spurs-related tidbits from behind the scenes.
–Keldon Johnson had a busy offseason. Not only did he become the de facto go-to scorer for the Spurs following the Dejounte Murray trade, he inked a four-year extension that will keep him in South Texas through the 2026-2027 season. Along the way, Johnson also managed to find time this summer to lose 21 pounds.
Last season, Johnson played the majority of his minutes at power forward. However, at 6-foot-5, that’s not the position the Spurs see him playing in the coming years.
“Keldon at his best will be a perimeter playmaker” a Spurs source told me, “and that’s where he will be given an opportunity to play. [The weight loss] will help when sliding his feet on defense. It should also help his handle and, the hope is, make him a more dynamic driver.”
To cap off his action packed offseason, Johnson suffered a dislocated shoulder that is expected to keep him on the sidelines for the majority of the preseason — though he’s expected to be ready by the time the regular season tips off on Oct. 19.
-Even prior to the official start of training camp, the 20 players on the Spurs roster have held scrimmages on a daily basis. Onlookers have routinely pointed out two players as standing out. The first one is Devin Vassell.
Vassell enters his third season in the NBA with a starting spot his for the taking. In his second year in the league, he averaged 12.3 points per game. In the 32 games he started, he averaged 13.6 points.
This coming season, Vassell is expected to step into an even larger role. If his play in the scrimmages and training camp so far is any indication, he’s ready for the increase in offensive responsibilities. Reports state that he’s shooting extremely well off the move and in tight windows. He’s also exhibiting promise as a facilitator in pick-and-roll situations and his explosion at the rim is notably improved.
-The other standout has been Tre Jones. His leadership and his ability to run the show made him a sought-after teammate in the scrimmages.
“The winning team was the team Tre was on,” relayed an onlooker.
The only true point guard on the roster, Jones is a 22-year-old with an advanced feel for the game who can pass, finish in the paint and be relied upon to make the right play at the right time. As it stands, Jones is the heavy favorite to be the starting point guard to begin the season.
In 11 starts last season, Jones averaged 13.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Whether he can be a full-time starter in the NBA likely revolves around his shaky three-point shooting. Last season, he was 10-for-51 from three-point territory for a frigid 19.6%. If he can’t shoot it straighter, it’d be difficult to imagine him becoming a long-term solution as a starter.
-Coming into training camp, the original plan was to have Jones and Joshua Primo battle for the starting point guard spot. Unfortunately, Primo suffered an MCL sprain in one of the scrimmages and will miss training camp and at least the start of the preseason.
While Primo is now unlikely to be the starting point guard when the regular season tips off, everyone close to the organization remains extremely high on his potential. In fact, the talk of Primo being a potential franchise player is as loud as ever.
–Until the day that he is traded, Jakob Poeltl will have a spot in the starting lineup. That should come as a surprise to nobody. Not only do the Spurs want to maximize his value on the trade market, Poeltl has a strong argument for currently being the best player on the team.
-With Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones and Jakob Poeltl expected to be in the starting lineup on opening day, who will be San Antonio’s fifth starter? The most likely answer is Doug McDermott. The coaching staff will likely value his ability to spread the court and the steady hand the 30-year-old can bring to the table.
That said, McDermott starting isn’t a certainty. When McDermott missed the end of the regular season last year, Primo was elevated to the starting lineup. It wouldn’t be too shocking to see Primo stay in the starting lineup — even if he doesn’t beat out Jones for the starting point guard gig.
Then again, if the coaching staff is serious about moving Johnson to the perimeter, that opens the door for Jeremy Sochan to become a Day 1 starter. Sochan, a power forward the Spurs selected ninth overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, has turned heads in recent weeks.
“[Sochan] can really defend and he understands the game. He still has a lot to learn and he’s gotta shoot it but the instincts are there,” said a Spurs source after watching him the first couple days of training camp.
-The reports on Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley, the two other players the Spurs picked in the first round of the 2022 draft, are also positive. Branham’s maturity as a scorer has caused individuals connected to the team to speculate that he could see extended minutes early in his rookie campaign. If he plays well in preseason, he should have a spot in the rotation when the regular season begins.
Wesley is said to be playing a lot of point guard with Primo sidelined and “fearless” is the word you hear repeatedly when he’s talked about. The coaches are working on adding a floater to his offensive repertoire so that he can finish in the paint more consistently. His shot-selection is also described as a work in progress. But, through his early ups and downs, Wesley’s competitiveness and intensity have drawn rave reviews.