Spurs notebook: Neal know his role as reliable Parker backup

In a perfect world, Gary Neal would prefer to do what he does best.

A scoring guard by trade, he would love to be given the green light to fire away whenever he is in the game.

With the Spurs in search of a point guard to back up All-Star Tony Parker last season, Neal often found himself in the unaccustomed position of having to run the second-unit offense instead of supplying it.

Entering his third NBA season, the 27-year-old Baltimore native is steeled to fill a similar role for the Spurs in the campaign to come.

“That’s pretty much how it went for me last year,” Neal said. “Unless an injury or something occurs, or I get beat out for the spot, I’ll probably be the backup point guard again.”

The 6-foot-4 Neal has plenty of competition for the job, starting with Patty Mills, the lightning-quick Australian who turned heads after his late-season arrival last year and at the London Olympics.

Rookie Nando de Colo and second-year UT product Cory Joseph will get a crack, too.

In a snapshot of how the race stands now, Neal started at point guard for the silver team in Wednesday night’s intrasquad scrimmage, while Mills backed him up.

Neal admits he heard the criticism last season that he is not a natural point guard.

“You hear lots of things about the backup point guard and me playing it,” Neal said. “Last year we went on a 20-game winning streak and won 10 games in a row in the playoffs with me as the backup point guard.”

Though Neal admits he was uncomfortable at his new position at first, he believes he grew more confident by season’s end.

His final numbers were almost identical to the season before, when he earned first-team All-Rookie honors. In 56 games in 2011-12, Neal averaged 9.9 points and shot 41.9 percent from 3-point range.

His assists nearly doubled, to 2.1 per game, while his turnovers remained static at 1.1 a game.

Up for debate: Ever the political animal, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave his team a unique bit of homework Thursday.

Before practice, he handed each player a DVD of Wednesday night’s presidential debate to take home and watch.

“Of course, we have so many foreign guys on our team, they were quick to point out they can’t vote, so they shouldn’t be obligated to watch the debate,” forward Matt Bonner said. “Regardless, they live here, so it’s good for them to be aware.”

Bonner, who plans to vote for incumbent Barack Obama over challenger Mitt Romney in November, said Popovich’s message was well received.

“Basketball isn’t everything,” Bonner said. “There are bigger things going on in the country we live in.”

Splitter limited: Center Tiago Splitter, hampered by back spasms, participated only in the non-contact portion of Thursday’s practice.


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Key dates

Saturday: First preseason game — vs. Montepaschi Siena, 7:30 p.m., ATT Center

Oct. 31: Regular-season opener — @Hornets, 7 p.m., KENS, NBA TV

Nov. 1: Home opener — vs. Thunder, 8:30 p.m., TNT

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