The San Antonio Spurs will embrace a new philosophy when they open the 2020-21 NBA season on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Even grizzled San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has surrendered to the league-wide trend of up-tempo offense based around a youthful, athletic roster. He is taking the lessons learned in the NBA’s COVID-19-prompted summer bubble and implementing them into his strategy for this campaign, his 25th at the Spurs’ helm.
Expect San Antonio to be tough on defense and freaky fast in transition — at least that’s the plan.
“The way we play is going to stay the same (as it was in the bubble), and everybody’s going to have to adjust to that because the guys did a great job — they enjoyed it,” Popovich said.
“The bottom line, in all frankness, is that I don’t remember us winning a championship last year. I don’t remember being in the playoffs, so it’s time to make a change, play a different way, demand it, and move forward.”
If there is an issue with making that change, it’s that the Spurs — who finished at 32-39 last year and missed the postseason for the first time in 23 years — have a handful of older players who don’t fit the mold.
Yes, San Antonio has its youngest roster since Popovich became coach in 1996, with an average age of 25.5. But it also has veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay.
That trio makes the Spurs the only team with three current players with more than 16,000 career points apiece. How the three adapt full time to the new strategy will be the huge determining factor to San Antonio’s success this year.
The Spurs sleepwalked through the preseason, losing all three of their games by at least 13 points.
The 2019-20 season was supposed to be a rebuilding one for Memphis. Entering with low expectations, the Grizzlies were in the eighth spot in the West when the league shut down and finished at 34-39, good enough to force a play-in game against Portland for the final spot in the postseason. The Blazers won the contest 126-122 to reach the playoffs.
Memphis has one of the youngest rosters in the league, with the average Grizzlies player just 24 years old.
Ja Morant, the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, won Rookie of the Year, averaging team-highs of 17.8 points and 7.3 assists in 31 minutes per game.
Forwards Jaren Jackson Jr. (torn left meniscus) and Justise Winslow (hip injury) will be out for the start of the season. The duo averaged a combined 28.7 points and 11.2 rebounds last year. With Winslow and Jackson beginning the year on the sideline, the offense could be challenged in the early going.
Throughout the preseason, Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins consistently emphasized the team’s holy trinity of strengths: length, versatility and athleticism. He’s been implementing his “daily vitamins” program this offseason, focusing on work on all facets of individual defense.
“We’ve taken a big step on the defensive end,” Morant said. “We’re just finding what shots we’re going to allow teams to take. As long as we continue to play like that, I feel we’ll be fine. We’re trying to be this hardcore team where you fear us when you come to (our building).”
The Grizzlies looked strong in preseason, winning the first three of their four exhibition games.
“I’ve been waiting all this time since we lost in the bubble, but I’ve worked all offseason for this,” Morant said. “Now it’s just time to go in and hoop.”
–Field Level Media