Thursday, July 9, 2009

Almost Done...

Perhaps this is all that RC Buford and Greg Popovich decides to do for this season, all in all, it's not a bad roster, there also really isn't much else that they have to work with anyways. I'm sorry this is rather late in terms of basketball news, and this issue has already been beaten to death, but in case you haven't heard, the Spurs just agreed to terms with Antonio McDyess. Additionally, yesterday, they also signed Malik Hairston and Marcus Haislip. So where does that leave the Spurs? Well, as of right now, their roster (probably) looks something like:

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Roger Mason, Manu Ginobili, Malik Hairston
SF - Richard Jefferson, Michael Finley
PF - Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair
C - Tim Duncan, Ian Mahinmi, Marcus Haislip

Haislip and Hairston are both relatively unknown. However, if we look at their DraftExpress profiles, there are generally good things to be said about both of them (Haislip is considered the 3rd best overseas free agent). If we look at the roster as is, the Spurs have met the 13 player minimum requirement by the league, however, will also be able to add in 2 more players to the roster. I wouldn't be surprised to see Popovich rotate in some more youth and insert him in spot minutes for something, probably defense. I can also see Popovich start cycling out Finley a little more, using him as primarily a scoring option, though given his streakiness, that might be difficult. From my perspective, I can't really see the front office making any other major changes to the roster, so this is pretty much a finalized list of who you'll probably see dress on a game-to-game basis.

With that, let's start breaking down how this roster will work:

The Big Three - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili

Well, the obvious cornerstone of this franchise rests across the shoulders of these three: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. These three will be called to bear the brunt of the scoring load, to make the big shots that the team needs to win, and to be that veteran floor leading presence that the team needs at all times on the floor. If we were to boil down Greg Popovich's offensive strategem for the past couple of years down to its simplest form, it'd probably be something like, swing the ball to one of the Big Three, if he doesn't score he'll be double-teamed so swing the ball around to the open man, either an open three point shooter or lone big man under the basket. Duncan will still have to be the cornerstone of the cornerstone, in that he's still the foundation of the Big Three. Similar to Kevin Garnett in Boston, Duncan will be asked to provide the intensity and be the defensive spark plug for the Spurs, despite going about it an extraordinarily different way than Garnett, I would venture to say, basically in the complete opposite way that Garnett does. Of course, we're not here to discuss the similarities and dissimilarities of two of the best PFs in their generation, perhaps of all time (being Duncan and Garnett). The Big Three are the Big Three, despite being a year older, they'll still be called on to do the things they've been doing since 2003. While part of Duncan's scoring load might be moved over to Parker, the essence of the Spurs is still Duncan's, and he is the core of this well-oiled machine.

The New Old Guys - Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson, Marcus Haislip

I know, Richard Jefferson isn't exactly "old" when it comes to basketball terms, I mean, he just turned 29 last month, that's still on the "right side of 30" when it comes to sports, specifically, when it comes to basketball. However, at 29, Jefferson isn't exactly your idea of a budding young star either, he's pretty much peaked, being exactly what you see. For better or worse, Jefferson will probably have the toughest defensive assignments, filling the shoes of Bruce Bowen and Ime Udoka, while he might not be as effective as Bowen was on the defensive end in his time, Jefferson at the very least is a major offensive upgrade, and an upgrade on both ends of the floor from Michael Finley.

If we compare their (Jefferson, Finley, Bowen) per 36 minutes stats:

Rk Player Season Age

1 Bruce Bowen 2008-09 37

1.9 4.5 .422 1.0 2.3 .429 0.3 0.6 .538 0.4 3.1 3.5 1.0 0.9 0.3 0.6
2 Michael Finley 2008-09 35

4.6 10.6 .437 2.0 4.9 .411 0.8 1.0 .823 0.4 3.8 4.2 1.8 0.6 0.3 0.9
3 Richard Jefferson 2008-09 28

6.6 15.0 .439 1.4 3.6 .397 5.1 6.3 .805 0.7 3.9 4.6 2.4 0.8 0.2 2.0

We find that naturally, since Jefferson played more minutes as more of a primary scoring option, that he scores more. However, it's interesting to note, that while he took more shots than Finley, he was also more efficient at scoring, and also fairly proficient from the line. In looking at slightly more advanced statistics:

Rk Player Season Age

1 Bruce Bowen 2008-09 37

.539 .535 1.3 10.1 5.7 3.7 1.3 0.6 11.2 7.2 104 106 0.3 1.8 2.1
2 Michael Finley 2008-09 35

.547 .532 1.3 12.3 6.9 7.7 0.9 0.5 7.8 16.1 107 107 1.6 2.7 4.2
3 Richard Jefferson 2008-09 28

.554 .487 2.2 13.3 7.5 11.7 1.2 0.4 10.2 24.6 110 110 4.2 2.5 6.7

We find that while Jefferson isn't as effective defensively than either Finley or Bowen, I think that the differential isn't great enough for the Spurs to be any worse defensively than they were last season. In terms of turnover rate, I attribute that to high usage, which I believe on the Spurs, will drop. Note also that Jefferson is effective in generating steals and assists. Jefferson is a player that fits well on a team-oriented Spurs squad. Popovich has worked with Jefferson before on the US men's national team during the FIBA tournaments (2003 I think) so I believe that Popovich understands the kind of character that Jefferson brings to the lockerroom and therefore, any of those intangibles that Jefferson brings can probably at worst be called non-existant. Basically, only good things can happen.

With McDyess, I fully expect him to step right into Matt Bonner's starting spot. In essence he replaces the production of Kurt Thomas, and in my opinion, is a significant upgrade. In fact, many are already drawing comparisons of McDyess to David Robinson in the waning years of his career. If we look at a comparison (per 36):

Rk Player Season Age

1 Matt Bonner 2008-09 28

5.0 10.0 .496 2.2 5.0 .440 0.3 0.4 .739 1.8 5.4 7.2 1.5 0.9 0.5 0.7 3.5 12.5
2 Antonio McDyess 2008-09 34

5.2 10.1 .510 0.0 0.0
1.2 1.7 .698 3.6 8.1 11.7 1.6 0.8 1.0 1.0 3.7 11.5
3 David Robinson 2002-03 37

4.2 9.0 .469 0.0 0.0
3.3 4.6 .710 3.5 7.4 10.9 1.3 1.1 2.4 1.8 2.7 11.7
4 Kurt Thomas 2008-09 36

3.9 7.8 .503 0.0 0.1 .000 0.9 1.2 .822 3.4 6.9 10.4 1.7 0.9 1.5 1.1 4.4 8.8

While McDyess isn't the defensive stalwart that Robinson was, we can see that in terms of scoring and rebounding McDyess is comparable if not better than his predecessors. He certainly won't shoot the 3 like Bonner will, and I expect that should Popovich desire some quick points via the 3-ball, then Bonner will be inserted in with precision minutes. However, we can see that McDyess overall is a much more efficient scorer and definitively better rebounder on both ends of the floor. While he's not going to be a major shot-blocking presence, he can at the very least replicate Kurt Thomas's on-ball post defense.

Rk Player Season Age

1 Matt Bonner 2008-09 28

.611 .606 6.1 17.6 11.9 6.8 1.3 1.0 6.3 14.6 123 104 3.7 2.9 6.5
2 Antonio McDyess 2008-09 34

.529 .510 11.6 27.2 19.3 7.3 1.2 2.1 8.3 15.7 115 104 2.6 2.7 5.3
3 David Robinson 2002-03 37

.531 .469 11.8 22.8 17.6 5.9 1.7 4.6 13.9 16.5 109 95 2.4 3.5 5.9
4 Kurt Thomas 2008-09 36

.530 .503 11.5 22.7 17.2 7.2 1.3 3.1 11.5 12.6 115 101 1.7 2.6 4.3

I'm fairly convinced that Matt Bonner was hidden pretty regularly on defense, so his defensive stats are a little inflated, though I could be wrong. However, given the obvious rebounding advantage that McDyess has over all the other players he fits nicely as a secondary big man next to Tim Duncan. By all reports, he is a good guy, and were it not for a major knee injury, would be a perennial All-Star instead of an above-average role player. At the very least, McDyess and Duncan will provide solid mentorship to the younger big-men in Mahinmi and Blair.

Most people probably don't really have a clue as to who Marcus Haislip is. For good reason, he was drafted in 2002 by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 13th overall pick. He bounced around the league a little bit and then when things didn't pan out, ended up going to Europe to play, and really developed his game overseas. Haislip has been solid, averaging 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in the ACB and 11.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in the Euroleague. If we look at his pace-adjusted per-40 minute statistics:

2008-2009 ACB 49.6

We see that he's got some fairly impressive broken down stats. We have to remember though that Haislip is 28, so any development of his game is translation of his European skills back to the NBA, in which he's had some exposure, so I don't anticipate the gap to be that big. While he's not a great rebounder, I can definitely see him stepping his game up to play big minutes either behind or next to Tim Duncan. If you read his DraftExpress profile, you'll find that the scouts there find his jumper to be significantly improved, and is a go-to scoring option in one of the elite teams in Spain. I easily see Haislip and McDyess becoming the primary options that Popovich plays next to Duncan, and Haislip could surprise a lot of us by picking up any of the scoring load that Duncan seems to have lost with age. The question is, can the Spurs afford to have another big guy that's a somewhat below average rebounder?

The Incoming Youth - Malik Hairston, DeJuan Blair

I haven't heard anything about Jack McClinton being offered a contract yet, so I'm going to say that the Spurs are taking a "wait and see" policy on McClinton and will decide what to do with him after watching how he does in the Summer League. From all reports, it sounds like Hairston has picked up a jumper, which is an added bonus, and definitely makes him an athletic solid addition. Hopefully his defense will also take that jump and he'll be able to make some stops in helping the Spurs reach far in the post-season.

The big talk with the Spurs is about how they stole Pittsburgh product DeJuan Blair with the 37th overall pick in the draft. To be honest, I do recall seeing Blair going top 15 in a lot of mock draft boards, but that didn't happen, and the Spurs lucked out, having a lottery talent pick fall to them in the 2nd round. While a lot of it is attributed to the fact that Blair had reconstructive surgery in high school on his knees, and therefore has no ACLs, the guy only had one DNP last season, and reportedly hasn't missed any practices since then. While health concerns might be an issue, the Spurs need an impact player now, and Blair is exactly that type of player. If you look at the statistics, Blair was the 3rd leading rebounder in the NCAA last season and the leading offensive rebounder at the collegiate level. Almost half, that's right, half of his 12 rebounds per game were on the offensive glass (he averaged 12.3 rebounds per game with 5.6 offensive boards and 6.8 defensive). From all reports in Las Vegas Summer League, Blair has shown great footwork and aggressiveness, getting himself into a position to grab rebounds and make putbacks, additionally, he's shown glimpses of being an above-average passer for someone his size. Additionally, he gets to develop his game behind a solid veteran in Antonio McDyess and Tim Duncan, already a legend and arguably the best PF to ever play the game. You can't help but smile at the thought of that. I don't care how little NCAA play translates over to NBA sometimes, when you have a guy that has a pace-adjusted per 40 of 23 points and 18 rebounds, it's a good day.

The Guys That Have Been Here - Roger Mason, Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, George Hill, Ian Mahinmi

The main thing these guys, at least Mason, Finley, and Bonner, have to do, in my opinion, is come in and make 3s when Pop needs it, much akin to Steve Kerr of old. Mason is basically an offensive stopgap for when Manu is resting. Limited minutes for Finley as Hairston and Jefferson pick up how Pop works and runs the offense and all that as well. Bonner I see as spot minutes to play alongside Duncan, if Pop wants a little more offensive punch in the lineup.

The big questions then are Hill and Mahinmi, and how well their games are played. While Mahinmi has been around for a whole year, he hasn't played due to injury. Hill showed flashes of brilliance when Parker went down with an ankle sprain (after dropping 52 points on like Minnesota or something). One thing Hill has shown he is capable of, which Pop values highly, is his ability to defend at the NBA level. I like Hill as a backup PG, there are some things he needs to work on, but with his defensive efforts, I can see him developing quickly. Maybe I'm optimistic, but think Rajon Rondo less the fancy passing.

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