Spurs struggle with Sacramento’s speed to open Rodeo Road Trip

The Rodeo Road Trip is an annual Spurs tradition that takes the team away from San Antonio for a few weeks in February. This year’s trip started with a tilt in Sacramento against the Kings on Monday.

With starting guard Derrick White out due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, San Antonio looked outmatched on the defensive end and lost 127-112.

Let’s discuss the game with three observations, two questions and one prediction from a Spurs’ perspective.

3 Observations

The Spurs were athletically outmatched

Sacramento loves playing fast. The Kings lead the NBA in fast-break points by a wide margin and play the league’s second-fastest pace.

That fact was apparent right away on Monday. The Kings had a ridiculous 20 fast-break points in the first quarter compared to none for the Spurs. Sacramento’s willingness to attack quickly stayed consistent all game.

I looked into this game’s box score a little bit deeper and found that 25 out of Sacramento’s 50 made field goals were converted with 15 seconds or more remaining on the shot clock. The Spurs only made 11 of their 42 field goals under the same circumstances.

Sacramento was repeatedly getting to the basket on drives. On other occasions, San Antonio was either too slow to cover shooters or would lay off them too much in order to prevent penetration.

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This was one of the best Aldridge/DeRozan tandem games in awhile

A definite bright spot from this game was the fact that Aldridge and DeRozan both had solid offensive games. Aldridge scored 22 points on a 63.2 true-shooting percentage and DeRozan had 24 points on a 68.0 true-shooting percentage.

The pair now has only three games all season where both scored at least 20 points and had a true-shooting percentage of at least 60. The last such occasion was December 26 against the Nuggets.

Aldridge and DeRozan have mostly alternated games when they’ve been good offensively. Can Gregg Popovich find out how to feature them both at the same time in ways that benefit the team?

The Spurs’ bench wasn’t good enough

The Spurs reserves are usually great. The team’s strength deep into its bench is one way it sets itself apart from its rivals.

Against the Kings, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli were both off on their jumpers. They shot a combined 7-of-24 from the field and 3-of-15 from three-point range and the offense as a whole really sputtered when reserve-heavy units on the floor. It didn’t help that normal sixth man Davis Bertans had to step in as a starter for the injured Derrick White.

The bigger problem for the reserves, like the starters, was defense. Yogi Ferrell burned San Antonio for 19 points on 7-of-7 from the field in 17 minutes. Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles had a combined 35 points. Jakob Poeltl and Pau Gasol didn’t make their presence felt enough on the interior. Overall, San Antonio lost the bench scoring battle 60-32.

2 Questions

Is Derrick White the Spurs’ second-most valuable player?

To be clear, I’m not saying that White could be the Spurs’ second-best player. I have LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay solidly ahead of him for now. But considering the Spurs’ current roster makeup, you can make a case that only Aldridge is more vital than White.

Aldridge is easily the Spurs’ best big man. San Antonio would not be a good team if it had to split frontcourt minutes between Poeltl, Gasol, Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks. LMA is No. 1 in terms of value.

But without White, we saw how much worse the Spurs’ perimeter defense gets. It was also terrible at the beginning of the season when White was out or playing inconsequential minutes. On offense, he takes a lot of pressure off DeRozan to create from the perimeter.

DeRozan and Gay are also important. But they don’t change the Spurs’ defense like White does, and I don’t know if their offensive abilities are so much more helpful to the team that they make up the defensive gap. It’s at least a debatable claim to answer this question with an affirmative.

We’ll find out more on White’s value in the next few games as he misses more time.

What does Lonnie Walker have to do to get meaningful playing time?

White was out on Monday. The Spurs’ bench guards were getting carved up on defense and shooting poorly on offense. San Antonio was playing against a team with a lot of speed and youth.

This would have been the perfect game for the rookie Walker to get playing time with the game in the balance. Instead, he played only the final 1:57 when the Kings’ win was sealed.

So if this situation wasn’t right for Walker to play, what will be appropriate? Popovich has stated that “he needs to play.” If he’s not going to play under the circumstances of tonight’s games, what’s the point of calling him up from Austin?

1 Prediction

DeRozan will heat up heading into the All-Star break

This is partially a hunch based on pure regression to the mean. But it’s also partially due to the idea that DeRozan will start to find his confidence again with White not present to take ball-handling reps.

DeRozan will likely see more minutes with spot-up shooters like Bertans, Bryn Forbes, Mills and Belinelli as a result of White’s injury. That theoretically could open things up for his penetration and allow for more points in the paint and free-throw attempts.

This doesn’t necessarily imply that the team will do well if DeRozan heats up. San Antonio struggled quite a bit in the first trimester with him playing well. But ultimately, it would be a good thing for the Spurs to have the second member of their star duo playing like a star again.

Note: All statistics and video clips are from NBA.com unless otherwise indicated. 

Photo: Rocky Widner // Getty Images

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