SAN ANTONIO – You know the Spurs are in a rough patch when the player who stepped into the breach after starting point guard Dejounte Murray sustained a season-ending injury will miss extended time with an injury of his own.
Derrick White, a second-year pro, was originally sidelined with pain in his left heel. The Spurs announced Thursday that White would be out for the Silver and Black’s game at Orlando on Friday night.
The decision to sit White was thought to be precautionary, but a report from ESPN surfaced Friday that White could miss six to eight weeks with a torn ligament in the injured heel.
The Spurs confirmed that White underwent an MRI exam Thursday evening that revealed a tear in White's left plantar fascia. The organization says that a timeline for his return has yet to be determined.
The Silver and Black had yet another injury update later Friday, saying veteran forward Rudy Gay would sit out the preseason finale against Orlando with a sore right heel.
White started for Murray in a 130-127 loss in Atlanta on Wednesday, scoring 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 28 minutes. White also finished with six rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.
Popovich said after the game that White was the team’s starting point guard until further notice.
In an amazing turn of events, the Spurs have lost their past three first-round draft picks, all guards, to injuries in their past three games.
Already faced with the loss of All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green in the offseason, the Spurs were dealt a severe blow when Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday night in a 108-93 loss to Houston.
Murray’s injury came two days after rookie guard Lonnie Walker IV, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, tore the medial meniscus in his right knee last Friday in a preseason game against Detroit. Walker had surgery Monday and is expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks, according to reports.
Murray and White were selected by San Antonio in the first round of the NBA draft in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Third-year pro Bryn Forbes is expected to start at point guard in Friday night's preseason finale in Orlando. Patty Mills, the leader of the second unit, will continue to come off the bench. Mills has occasionally started at point guard, but he has made no secret that he prefers coming off the bench and playing off the ball.
Forbes had an outstanding game against Atlanta, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting in 22 minutes. He nailed 3 of 5 three-pointers. Forbes, who signed with the Spurs as a free agent in July 2016, has been praised by Popovich for his aggressive play on both ends of the court throughout the preseason.
“He’s improved every year,” Popovich said of Forbes after a recent workout. “He has developed playing in the G League and he did get stronger. He’s working very hard on defense to try to earn some minutes, and everyone knows he’s a good shooter, so he’s done well.”
The Spurs shot 55.2 percent against Atlanta, hitting 48 of 87 field-goal attempts, including 12 of 31 (38.7 percent) from the three-point line. But their defense was like a sieve. The Hawks shot 58.3 percent (49-84) overall and 41.2 percent (14-38) from long distance.
Murray was not only the Spurs’ floor leader, he was their best perimeter defender. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team last season, becoming the youngest player in league history to make the All-Defensive Team.
Without Murray, Leonard and Green, the Silver and Black’s defense is going to be severely challenged.
Murray, now 22, was selected by San Antonio with the 29th pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft. He supplanted Parker as the team’s starting point guard in January, and averaged 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals in his second season.
One of the best rebounders on the team, Murray had earned the respect of the team’s older players with his aggressive play.
“It is a devastating injury to a guy who was making strides,” Gay said before the team left for its two-game road trip to end the preseason. “But I think we just have to rally around each other and figure out how to make it happen."