Monday, June 29, 2009

Taking the Next Step Forward

San Antonio Spurs
54-28 in 2008-2009
Lost 4-1 to Dallas in 1st round of playoffs

For those of you that read my original NBA blog; Poor Man's GM then you'll note that this is a redundant post from there. I might start with this at first, that is, posting Spurs related things in both pages, but eventually, I hope to be able to do make this more Spurs dedicated, and possibly changing Poor Man's GM to a trade speculation forum type of place.

For those of you getting here for the first time, this is a simple analysis of the moves Spurs have made so far via trades and draft, and how they look moving forward.

Richard Jefferson

First thing we need to discuss is the Richard Jefferson trade. I believe the package ultimately ended up as Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Fabricio Oberto (who was later traded to Detroit for Amir Johnson, and will likely be waived) for Richard Jefferson. If you've read any of my posts in the past, I haven't been entirely kind to Richard Jefferson, and you'll read a lot of posts talking about how Jefferson's +/- and PER aren't really telling since Milwaukee was such a shoddy outfit, especially after the loss of Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd to injuries midway through the season. I also believe that the type of game Jefferson has tends to thrive the most when he's not a focal point of the offense. He's only one season removed from his best statistical season, where he came into the season averaging 22.6 points per game as the third offensive option behind Vince Carter and Jason Kidd during his final season as a Net in 2007-2008. He's a potent offensive option, and honestly, is basically a Vince Carter-clone, as he brings much of the same things, perhaps not as effectively, but his offesnive game is similar. He can hit the open three, not proficiently, but well enough to keep defenses honest, he can create his own shot, he can finish at the rim, being traded to Milwaukee he immediately spiked up to the 2nd option behind Michael Redd, and once Michael Redd was out for the season he soon became the focal point of the offense for the Bucks, which isn't something he's super comfortable with as it seems. So now, on the Spurs, he doesn't need to be, he just needs to let his game come to him. I think overall it's a smart move by the Spurs, while Jefferson's contract isn't exactly pretty, being owed about $29 million through 2011, he does add something the Spurs have needed for a while, athleticism. While Jefferson now becomes less of a focal point in the offense, that doesn't mean that his offense isn't to be respected, playing in the Spurs system is going to get him good looks and ample scoring opportunities, though Ginobili, Duncan, and/or Parker are no Jason Kidd in terms of setting up teammates, they do a solid job of it. Additionally, Jefferson is a known enough offensive threat to really take some of the defensive pressure off of the Big 3, so it's definitely a step in the right direction, as Greg Popovich can afford to rest his Big 3 more, without sacrificing as much on the offense, Jefferson, has shown to be fairly resilient over the past years, playing all 164 games over the past 2 regular seasons.

The big question comes down to how well Jefferson plays defend. All in all, this is a fairly difficult question to assess. Jefferson has never been known as a lock-down defender by any stretch of the imagination, but just how good (bad) is he? In comparing him to the players he would effectively replace (Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka), it's hard to say based on defensive winshare and points allowed, since usage of said players are so different. Michael Finley (surprisingly) has the highest defensive winshare with 2.7 while Richard Jefferson has 2.5, however, Jefferson also allows the most points per 100 possessions (at 110). It's hard to dictate that Jefferson is a horrible defender but it can't be said that he's a stellar one either. HoopsHype calls him, "A tough defender when he's into it." Whatever that means. I think ultimately it means you don't need to hide him on the defensive side, he won't be a liability, but it also means that he probably isn't your best bet to be chasing Kobe and LeBron around the court for 35+ minutes. I think this might be an issue that needs to be addressed as the Spurs move forward, because a wing pairing of Roger Mason and Richard Jefferson or Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson might leave the defense somewhat lacking and I don't believe that Greg Popovich should sacrifice that much defense for the offensive improvement. I'll talk about this later.

The Draft

In this year's draft, the Spurs showed us, as a friend of mine put it, that first round picks don't matter. DeJuan Blair, slotted by some mock drafts to be taken in the lottery, projected by DraftExpress to be taken at the 20th pick in the first round, somehow fell, all the way into the Spurs' laps at the 37th overall (2nd round 7th pick). There's a lot of speculation on how it might be because of his two surgically repaired knees, though not having any ACLs hasn't stopped him from being competitive at games and attending every practice (and game save one DNP), or from averaging 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in his last season at Pittsburgh. If you take a look at his pace-adjusted per-40 minute statistics (the NCAA equivalent of pace-adjusted per 36), this guy is a scary monster: 23 points, 18 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks on 1.8 turnovers, shooting 59.3% from the field. 18 rebounds per 40 minutes. I'll let that sink in a little.

At the very least we know, despite being 6-7, he can rebound, and he can hustle, and he's everything you want in a PF. He was ranked 3rd overall for rebounding in the NCAA, 1st for offensive rebounds (5.6 per game). DraftExpress lists his best case scenario as being Paul Millsap (sweet) and worst case as being Reggie Evans. Even then, at the worst case, you get a guy who you know is intense and hustles and will grab you rebounds, everything you want in a reserve big. Given how well Blair has played, it's pretty apparent that his game can translate into the NBA, if only at 10-15 minute intervals, which is all the Spurs are really asking of him. Both Jack McClinton and Nando De Colo look to be like long-term projects, and I would suspect they get thrown to Austin and left in France respectively.

More to come

Obviously this can't be it for the Spurs. The roster as currently constructed would look something like:

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Roger Mason Jr, Manu Ginobili
SF - Richard Jefferson, Michael Finley?, Ime Udoka?
PF - Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair
C - Tim Duncan, Ian Mahinmi

There definitely is something to be said about continuity and chemistry, but I'm still of a mind to trade Roger Mason and/or Matt Bonner if possible to improve on the roster. I have question marks behind Finely and Udoka simply because they have a player option and team option respectively. Were I the Spurs front office, I'd let Udoka walk, but I don't know why Finley wouldn't take his player option, unless he wants to retire. I believe that the Spurs are going to be willing to pay the luxury tax this season, and therefore even with the addition of Blair and Jefferson, there should be a fairly significant amount of the MLE left available for whatever free agents San Antonio might be pursuing.

The most immediate need to me, is simply finding a defender. There are enough options for scoring, what the Spurs need is someone on the wings to chase the Kobe Bryants, LeBron Jameses, and Dwayne Wades around the court, and make open threes. This could be either via trade or via free agency, now ideally this would be something of a Raja Bell in his prime type of player, but Raja Bell is neither available nor in his prime anymore, so let's look around for someone else. One name that's a possibility might be DeShawn Stevenson, not sure how the Wizards are going to work out their backcourt glut of Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young, Mike Miller, Randy Foye, DeShawn Stevenson, and Dominic McGuire, I'm going to assume that either Mike Miller or McGuire slide to the SF slot, and then Foye would be the backup PG? Hard to say, since the roles aren't really defined, but he's worth a look at. From free agency, I'd still say maybe Marquis Daniels, though he doesn't really shoot very well. Dahntay Jones, made famous after tripping Kobe Bryant, is another possibility, he plays solid defense. Trevor Ariza would be awesome, though I doubt the Spurs would be able to offer anything close to what he'd command. Maybe Anthony Parker? Though it's possible that they look to younger talent for their needs, like someone from Austin or something.

The second need would be the need for a center to play next to Tim Duncan, or rather, a true big that can spread the floor, doesn't have to be center, though it would be nice if he were center eligible. I'm still not sure as of right now that Ian Mahnimi or Matt Bonner are the answer. Maybe Mahnimi develops, but I'm definitely not sold on Bonner. The ideal would be Rasheed Wallace, but if he's asking for at least $8 million, then he's both unaffordable and not worth the price, not at the ripe age of 34. The kind of big that is ideal is one that is able on defense and can spread the floor with some midrange shooting, leaving Duncan alone in the paint. While Duncan can ably hit those 15-19 foot wing jumpers, it'd still be nice to have someone do that for him so that Duncan can operate where he's most effective, in the paint. Another option would be to bring back Rasho Nesterovic for cheap, but perhaps better could be had. I can't really think of anything available, but those are the immediate needs that the Spurs still need to address. Otherwise, looking good.

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