Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hoopsworld: Spurs Still Ticking?


There was nothing less important in the Spurs' first preseason game than the final score of 85-78 in the Rockets' favor. Spurs' veterans Tim Duncan, Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, and Manu Ginobili all sat out the game, leaving the Spurs with the youngest roster they've fielded in years. The Spurs have seen all they need to see from the guys that sat out last night's game. The most important thing is to find out what they can get from the guys outside of their solid core of veterans.

Three important players in particular were inserted into the starting lineup: Roger Mason, Ime Udoka, and Matt Bonner. While none of them are expected to be a starter, the hope is that they can become contributors and a part of the nightly rotation. That doesn't change despite the poor outings from them against the Rockets.

Mason was underwhelming in his Spur debut, a disappointing sign from a guy who has to have a big year for the Spurs to be successful. At this point though Mason's knowledge of this system is minimal and there is no real reason to be concerned. The athletic and offensive abilities that convinced the Spurs to sign him were on full display though, and we should see a much better Mason as he becomes more comfortable.

Nobody looked more upset about Ron Artest being a Rocket than Udoka when defending him last night. Udoka had his struggles on both ends of the court, which isn't too surprising with the Spurs missing Duncan and Ginobili. Udoka has always been a role player that is capable of excelling when playing off of stars. He needs Ginobili or Parker to do the creating and Duncan patrolling the paint behind him.

The same reasoning could be applied towards Bonner's offensive struggles, although defensively there's no excuse for pulling down just three rebounds in 24 minutes. Robert Horry was an outside threat for the Spurs, but more importantly he was intelligent defender who could hold his own in the paint. While Bonner can shoot from deep like Rob could, if he cannot keep from being a liability on the defensive end and in the paint he's not going to play.

The player most under the microscope outside of the above three had to be rookie George Hill, who was making his NBA debut. Once he got the nod in the second half he made a couple rookie mistakes. Overall though it was evident that Hill belonged and along with those mistakes was some nice moves offensively and an impressive five steals.

Should the Spurs carry the maximum of 15 players allowed this season there is just two roster spots for Charles Gaines, Desmon Farmar, Devin Green, Malik Hairston, Anthony Tolliver, Darryl Watkins, and Salim Stoudemire. Gaines, Green, and Farmar's chances of making the team are extremely slim and as of right now Hairston and Watkins have to be thought of as the favorites to get the final roster spots. There is still time though for Salim to impress and earn a spot on this team, although he has to get healthy first.

With the New Orleans Hornets next for the Spurs on their preseason back-to-back we will likely see more of the veterans. This will certainly make things easier for guys like Bonner, Udoka, and Mason. It will also take away some time from the fringe roster guys. Don't be surprised to see a cut or two from the Spurs in the next couple of days as they start to get closer to trimming their roster down to 15. You cannot really take anything too positive or negative away from their first preseason game. It's early, and if we've learned anything from the Spurs it's that their peaking process takes a bit longer than everyone else's.

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