Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is the roster good enough as is?

The Spurs currently hold the league best 27-4 record.  With four losses coming from New Orleans, Dallas, Los Angeles Clippers, and Orlando, and having beaten each of the previously mentioned teams previously save Dallas, who they will play tonight.  Obviously, we're doing something right.  Gregg Popovich obviously has come up with something that is effective and gets the job done, changing the identity of the Spurs from the traditional grind-it-out defensive squad to a run-and-gun offensive nightmare.  Tim Duncan, like his predecessor, David Robinson, before him, has ceded the keys of the franchise to his long-time partners Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, letting the game flow through them rather than himself.  R.C. Buford has surrounded his Big 3 with a more than solid supporting cast, snagging young talent like George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal, as well as adding the veteran savvy of the likes of Antonio McDyess, and retaining the ever serviceable shooting of Matt Bonner.  Richard Jefferson took the time to work in the off-season with the coaching staff, and looks completely rejuvenated and a stellar fit in the Spurs' new look with the same feel, another championship contender.

Is this enough though?  Currently the Spurs have 13 players on their roster, and Pop is making fair use of all 13 of them due to injury troubles to George Hill, James Anderson, and earlier, Tiago Splitter.  Typically, Pop has preferred, especially in playoffs, the truncated 9-10 man rosters.  Essentially running a 3-4 man front-court and a 3-4 man wing rotation with a 2 point guard system.  With the high performance of the young guns (Hill, Blair, Neal) it can't be said that the Spurs are lacking in depth.  I, along with several other fans certainly cannot wait to see the emergence of James Anderson's full potential.  It's true that we currently can't really add anything without taking away from whatever mojo is working for us now, but I can't quite get this nagging feeling out from the back of my head that we could be better.  Granted, anyone we add now may simply be insurance, and perhaps Buford is holding off on tapping the ever generous pockets of the Holts until some kind of injury comes way, or perhaps quite simply there hasn't been anyone that fits well enough.  Since pre-season we've already gone through the likes of Bobby Simmons, Garrett Temple, Alonzo Gee, and Marcus Cousin.  Here's how the breakdown of the depth chart currently looks (presuming everyone is healthy):

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill, Chris Quinn
SG - Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal
SF - Richard Jefferson, James Anderson, Ime Udoka
PF - DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner
C - Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter

Immediately, the first and second unit kind of take shape, and frankly, they look pretty good.  The return of James Anderson will instantly put Ime Udoka out of anything except situational play, and it's hard to figure there will be any more playing time to the already highly regulated frontcourt, at least in terms of minutes.  While I'm still not a huge fan of James Anderson at SF (though I admit, from the few times I've seen him play, he certainly has the strength and athleticism to make it work), Gary Neal has been playing too well to not have him play.  Neal has easily taken the role of instant offense off the bench, in the molds of Jarren Jackson, Steve Kerr, Brent Barry, and/or Roger Mason, with his nice shooting touch, as well as his continually impressive overall play.  In any given game 12 suit up, and on that list, currently, only James Anderson is not active, due to injury.  However, when he recovers, as I previously stated, Ime Udoka no longer needs to dress for games.  I know Pop always likes to have a backup-backup point guard option; Antonio Daniels behind Steve Kerr, Steve Kerr behind Speedy Claxton, Jacque Vaughn behind Beno Udrih, etc... and here, that's Chris Quinn.

So it appears to me, that we have a pretty nice roster, while the names themselves aren't as flashy as say the depth in Boston, you certainly can't knock the front office for any of these moves/additions.  Given that, I think trading anybody is pretty much out of the picture if we were to make any moves.  So, as much as I would like to see the likes of Andray Blatche, JeVale McGee, or Kevin Love in silver and black, it doesn't look like it's happening.  Therefore, if we are to do anything, we are relegated to minimum contracts through free agency.  Certainly, we don't want to jump the gun, but I like options, so even he doesn't even play, I think it's a good opportunity to add some quality pieces.  Worst case scenario, we find a project and assign him to the Toros.  Here's who I think we can take a look at in the free agency pool:

Joe Alexander (6-8, 230 lbs, 24 years old)
Alexander (not to be mistaken with Seinfield star Jason Alexander) is one of those potential projects I was talking about.  An excellent physical specimen, there's no question about Alexander's athleticism.  Boasting a max vertical of 38.5 inches, this guy can get off the ground.  Unfortunately, teams have passed over him due to the lack of polish he has in his game.  However, he has stellar work ethic, and is simply raw, only having played 5 years of organized basketball prior to his stint in the NBA.  Unfortunately, no one has really taken the time or had the patience to work with Alexander on all the little things.  Given his attitude and work ethic, I think he would fit well with the Spurs, adding a great amount of athleticism.  Given how well one off-season sessions worked for the 30 year old Richard Jefferson, what if the Spurs staff took a little bit of time to develop a younger, equally athletic (albeit more raw) version of RJ?  Sure, Alexander doesn't have the 3 point shooting touch that the Spurs desire in their wings, but that can be developed.  It's there, and I think the Spurs would be a great place to tap this burgeoning talent.  We've seen flashes, in 10 games in the D-League he averaged 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks on 48.3% shooting.

Larry Hughes (6-5, 184 lbs, 31 years old)
Hughes kind of got a bad rep for playing so well in Washington then fizzling when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to such a lucrative deal.  That being said, Hughes adds one thing in addition to his hot/cold shooting and occasionally brilliant offensive play; ball-handling.  A lot has been said about Hughes's attitude, but how much of it was due to lockerroom leaders like Gilbert Arenas and LeBron James?  How much is just how he is?  Hard to say, perhaps it's enough to keep us away, definitely enough to keep us leery.   Nonetheless, he has the tools to be a solid defender, and offensive initiator.  He'd ultimately have a similar role to Ime Udoka, just a little more versatile though.  Think Roger Mason plus, or a poor man's (real poor man's) Stephen Jackson.  I'm not so keen as to whether Hughes can play the SF spot, primarily, can he guard the bigger stronger 3s in the league, but he would make a suitable George Hill-type 1-2 spot defensive stopper type backup.

Jonathan Bender (7-0, 219 lbs, 29 years old)
Boy, he retired early, but then, he had that mini-comeback with the Knicks last season.  While he certainly hasn't been as great as people have wanted him to be, he's a shooting 7-footer that can guard 3 positions, shooting guard, small forward, power forward,  There aren't a lot of 7-footers that can do that, Jared Jeffries maybe? but Jeffries has no offensive game.  How effective Bender's defense is, I'm not sure, but I'm sure his length can cause difficulties for a lot of players.

While I don't relish the idea of pulling old legs, and would rather see us get some young talent, what's there is there.  There is a high bar set for any role player on the Spurs, from the 3rd quarter heroics of Steve Kerr, to the amicable lockerroom presence of Malik Rose, to the clutchness of Robert Horry, to the intangible presence of Fabricio Oberto.  The Spurs are known to do their homework and are good at seemingly pulling talent out of no where.  It's an effective system, and it works.  Maybe the 14th and 15th roster spots aren't important, maybe I'm overly concerned with the last player on the bench to suit up, to me, better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Because I can't leave well enough alone...

The internet is a hostile environment, I sometimes forget that.  I'm certainly glad on some levels that Fundamentally Sound doesn't really have enough of a reader base to create this level of controversy, especially among fellow fans of the same team no less.  Now everyone (or maybe just a few very loudly outspoken people) are getting up in arms about one blogger stating his opinion regarding how DeJuan Blair's skill-set as a central low-post offensive machine isn't a great fit with the current optimal lineup that the Spurs want to go with.  Does this mean I think DeJuan Blair is a bad player?  No.  Does this mean I dislike DeJuan Blair as a player?  No.  A lot of people are probably going to point at yesterday's game against Golden State where Blair netted 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 steals on 7-15 shooting in over 28 minutes of burn, and tell me that Blair can fit.  First, I think Blair can have good games, even in an ill-fitting system, second, it's against the Warriors, seriously.

I'd like to believe that as a player DeJuan Blair has gotten better over the summer.  His free throws look super smooth, and he looks lean and in very good shape, but if we look at his numbers:

Per game:

2009-10 20 SAS NBA 82 23 18.2 3.4 6 0.556 0 0 0 1.1 2 0.547 2.4 4 6.4 0.8 0.6 0.5 1.4 2.7 7.8
2010-11 21 SAS NBA 17 17 19.8 2.6 6.5 0.409 0 0.1 0 0.8 1 0.824 2.6 4 6.6 0.8 1.1 0.4 1.4 2.5 6.1

NBA 99 40 18.5 3.2 6.1 0.529 0 0 0 1 1.8 0.573 2.5 4 6.4 0.8 0.7 0.5 1.4 2.7 7.5

Per 36:

2009-10 20 SAS NBA 82 23 1494 6.6 12 0.556 0 0 0 2.1 3.9 0.547 4.8 7.9 12.7 1.6 1.2 0.9 2.7 5.4 15.4
2010-11 21 SAS NBA 17 17 336 4.8 12 0.409 0 0.1 0 1.5 1.8 0.824 4.7 7.3 12.0 1.4 1.9 0.7 2.5 4.5 11.1

NBA 99 40 1830 6.3 12 0.529 0 0.1 0 2 3.5 0.573 4.8 7.8 12.6 1.5 1.3 0.9 2.7 5.2 14.6

He's getting more minutes, more shots, and missing more.  Sure, he gets a whole steal every game now, but his rebounding numbers remain the same while his scoring numbers have dropped drastically.  Sure he's shooting 30% better on his FTs but he's getting to the line less than half as much as he used to.  From what I've seen, Blair is a better basketball player than he was last year, but still, he's performing worse?  You can argue that he has been moved to the starting lineup where he's playing next to Duncan more... so... Tim Duncan is causing him to miss almost 15% more of his shots?  Is this a case of Blair performing better off the bench than as a starter?  If we look at last season...

As a starter:

23:36:08 4 7.3 0.508 0 0
1 2.4 0.495 3.04 5.3 8.4 1 0.8 0.7 1.65 3 8.8

Off the bench:

16:07 3 5.5 0.55 0 0 0 1 1.8 0.545 2.2 3.4 5.6 0.7 0.5 0.4 1.25 3 7.4

Sure, it's only Blair's second year so we have a very limited sample size, but across the board his numbers are pretty much down with the exception being steals, even from being a starter last season and I'm pretty sure most of those were next to Duncan too, in fact only 4 of his 23 starts were not next to Duncan, and that was because Duncan didn't play those 4 games.  Did Blair's off-season training fail?  Is he just hitting his sophomore slump early?  No and maybe.  As it has already been pointed out, Blair has been working on developing an outside jumper, one that he doesn't have, so despite his improved free throw form, whatever he's developed off-season isn't translating in game.  As people have mentioned, the fact that he's shooting a worse percentage and not getting to the line means either he's not getting calls, he's getting blocked, or he's just not making shots.

I'm always speculating on random trades, and my point is simply this; can we afford to wait until DeJuan Blair fits in?  Maybe.  It's a risk either way, and I'm not adverse to exploring the risk of trading Blair for someone else.  Am I bailing on Blair?  If that's what that's called, the fine, yes, I'm bailing on Blair.  He's not going to magically develop a jumpshot halfway through the season, especially if all offseason hasn't worked.  To me, variable minutes isn't player development, it's Pop figuring out what will work to win the game (and the next), because that's what he's paid to do.  If that means I have no idea what I'm talking about in regards to player development, then paint me ignorant, but from what I've seen of Pop, you get pulled because something's not working (unless it's a blowout). 

While I think DeJuan Blair can be a good, even great basketball player without ACLs, you also have to consider the risk that is involved without a balancing mechanism in an up-and-down sport as intense as basketball.  Does it decrease his shelf-life?  Maybe.  Granted it's a risk you take with every player, but I'd rather "plan for the worst, hope for the best".  What can we get for Blair?  I don't know, but that doesn't mean I'm going to not consider the options.  Anthony Randolph and Bill Walker?  It's an intriguing notion.  We're all biased when we come to this, if you don't like Randolph, you're going to think that if he hasn't been able to develop into Lamar Odom in 3 seasons then it's never going to happen, or rather, DeJuan Blair just has more upside, and brings more positive impact.  I've never met any of these people so I can't say whether or not the Spurs environment might be exactly what Randolph needs to tap that potential we saw.  Which can beg the same question: can we afford to wait for Randolph to develop?  Also legitimate, and maybe that will be the nix on this trade.  I personally find that Randolph mitigates a lot of the defensive liabilities that Blair brings to the table off the bat, so in some sense yes.  Is Randolph better than Blair?  Will he become better?  Hard to say, they're both brimming with potential, but what they bring to the table here and now is important too, and regardless of the ceiling that each player has, Randolph's defense is a better fit than Blair's offense.  Here's a per 36 comparison of their rookie years for you stat junkies:

DeJuan Blair 2009-10 20 82 23 1494 6.6 12 0.556 0 0 0 2.1 3.9 0.547 4.8 7.9 13 1.6 1.2 0.9 2.7 5.4 15
Anthony Randolph 2008-09 19 63 22 1129 6.3 14 0.462 0 0.1 0 3.2 4.5 0.716 4.1 7.5 12 1.6 1.3 2.4 2.6 4.5 16

Even with these trade speculations we are somewhat shackled by the bounds of reality.  I think Blair can become a stud, given time, even on the Spurs, unfortunately, time isn't exactly a luxury we have a lot of.  With Duncan seeing fewer and fewer minutes and adding more and more mileage onto those knees of his, too much has to go right with frontcourt pairings any two of Blair, McDyess, Splitter, and Bonner to compensate.  Let's find a way to mitigate that.  If Blair's play pans itself out, and he ends up being the answer, awesome.  If it's Splitter adjusting to the game and putting Blair on the bench, awesome.  If it's trading Blair for someone else (doesn't have to be Randolph), it is what it is, and hopefully, it pans out and we get better (and win another championship).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The DeJuan Blair Project

According to Tim Varner, the window to this may be closing fast, and since Tim and all the commenters already blew this topic out of the water, I can kind just sit here and say, yes, I agree.  It's not that DeJuan Blair cannot fit with the Spurs (think Malik Rose circa 2003) but the simple fact that he's not.  I don't have a great frame of reference, but as currently stands, DeJuan Blair hasn't stood out to me to be much more than perhaps Jason Maxiell (circa 2005) with better passing and less hops.  Does that mean we trade him?  or do we keep working on him?  Well, I can't honestly say that I have a good answer to that.  For one thing, even if he doesn't have the skills necessary for a Spur he certainly does have the attitude, which sometimes is harder to come by.  However, this issue isn't one that the Spurs possibly haven't encountered before, but rather, one that comes at a fairly inopportune moment, that of Tim Duncan's closing championship window. 

With Antonio McDyess playing well, Matt Bonner shooting the lights out, and Tiago Splitter finally in a Spurs uniform, it's easy to think that Blair is now expendable, but as currently stands, the Spurs need so much going right to ensure success that it's hard figure out what a finalized lineup will look like.  In our previous championship teams Pop has generally used a relatively thin roster, but in today's lineup, we're seeing Pop throwing basically every available body on the floor.  I figure we won't see the 3 big rotation of old, and I'm sure that Pop is still tinkering around with what will work, and how to optimize it for not only the regular season but also moving into playoffs.  So what does that mean for the Spurs?  Can we develop Blair?  I'm almost certain that Spurs could groom Blair into the caliber of player that they need, but the problem isn't that, the problem is whether they can afford the time. 

Should we trade him then?  Blair is slated to make $918,000 this year, this means that the max we can trade Blair straight up for would be $1,247,500 of salary in return.  That's not a whole lot.  We could wait until December and try packaging him with Chris Quinn or Ime Udoka...  I'm not saying there aren't players out there we can't get with him, but realistically, what are we looking for?  I really don't have any straight up answer myself, but let's hash out some of the possibilities here:

The first and most obvious possibility is to just hang on to Blair and try to ride it out and hope that something clicks mid-season.  Personally, if this is the move to be made, at this point in time I would move Antonio McDyess into the starting lineup in place of Blair until Tiago Splitter has shown that he has adapted to the game, at which time, I would insert Splitter in as the starter next to Duncan.  Blair would essentially become something of a sparkplug off the bench, producing with energy, think possibly Carl Landry on the Houston Rockets. 

The second possibility is to trade Blair.  Now Blair as a player is fairly marketable, but as Tim states in his article he needs a bevy of shooters around him to be effective.  We're talking about an undersized center who makes smart outlet passes and can be a premier rebounder when it comes to positioning and hustle.  Here is a list of players that you could feasibly trade Blair for straight up:

Atlanta Hawks:
Jason Collins - C
Jordan Crawford - SG
Josh Powell - C
Etan Thomas - PF/C

I'm not keen on packaging anyone with Blair, simply because other than Quinn and Udoka, I don't know who exactly I'd really want to package.  Bonner thrives in our system and McDyess are both playing well, that leaves James Anderson, who I still have high hopes for, Gary Neal who is playing well, and George Hill, who would be the most value to other teams, but frankly, also would be one of the players I'd want to trade the least.  From the Hawks there really isn't anyone except Jordan Crawford who intrigues me, and with the impending departure of Jamal Crawford due to contract issues, I don't see them parting with Jordan quite that easily.

Boston Celtics:
Von Wafer -SG
Delonte West - G

Frankly, those two players to me we already have copies of in Gary Neal and George Hill, so I don't really see a reason to even think about this.

Charlotte Bobcats:
Derrick Brown - F
Kwame Brown - C
Dominic McGuire - SF

McGuire is probably the most intriguing of the trio that we could get for Blair.  While he's a long, athletic defensive wing, he doesn't really have much of an offensive game to speak of, and I personally don't have enough confidence in the playmakers off the bench to involve him enough to not have defenses take a vacation and hide horrendous defenders (read: Steve Nash) on him.

Chicago Bulls:
Taj Gibson - PF
John Lucas - PG
Brian Scalabrine - PF

Gibson is the primary person of interest, and I can't say I know enough about him to declare him immediately a better fit for the Spurs or enough about the Bulls to determine whether or not DeJuan Blair will be a better fit behind Carlos Boozer or if this would be at best a big step sideways.  My gut tells me that maybe, but probably not since they don't have a bevy of shooters that we think Blair needs.

Cleveland Cavaliers:
Christian Eyenga - G
Joey Graham - SG/SF
Leon Powe - PF
Jawad Williams - SF

Leon Powe is the most intriguing of the list and frankly, I don't see him as a significant upgrade over Blair, significant enough to make the move.

Detroit Pistons:
Jonas Jerebko - F
Tracy McGrady - SG/SF
DeJuan Summers - F

I like Jerebko, I'm sure the Pistons do too, he could be like the second coming of Walter Hermann only Swedish.  T-Mac of 3+ years ago is exactly what we need, T-Mac of now... ew. 

Indiana Pacers:
Josh McRoberts - PF
A.J. Price - PG
Lance Stephenson - SG

McRoberts is one of those that at first glance I kind of looked at and was thought, no way, but the more I think about it, the swap might be better fits for both teams.  It's purely a speculation move, and ultimately, might just be a lateral move, but I actually think Blair fits pretty well on the Pacers' current roster and McRoberts wouldn't be a bad fit as a Spur.

Miami Heat:
Carlos Arroyo - PG
Mario Chalmers - PG
Juwan Howard - PF/C
Jamal Magloire - C

This is the first official time, but certainly not the last time to say that George Hill would actually solve all of the PG woes that Miami has.  If he were healthy and we got Udonis Haslem somehow out of that deal I'd think about it.

Milwaukee Bucks:
Earl Boykins - PG
Jon Brockman - PF
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - F

I like Mbah a Moute, a lot.  Question is though, is Blair that much better than Brockman.  Yes he is better, but is he better enough to lose your best perimeter defender?  Mbah a Moute would solve problems like Jerebko or Hermann would've, not the ideal fit, but we can make it work.

New Jersey Nets:
Stephen Graham - SF
Damion Jones - SF
Quinton Ross - SF
Joe Smith - PF

If Brook Lopez is supposed to be the next Tim Duncan than Blair wouldn't work next to him.  Besides, aren't they developing Derrick Favors?  Plus, most of the players they can offer are ones I wouldn't want either.

New York Knicks:
Toney Douglas - G
Andy Rautins - G
Bill Walker - SG

How much more are we willing to add to this if we could get Wilson Chandler or Anthony Randolph?  Seriously.  Randolph is more of an upside potential thing, but he'd also be a great fit in San Antonio (though attitude might be an issue, or perhaps maturity rather).  Chandler would make a huge impact right away.  Out of the three straight up, I like Bill Walker, I don't know about his defense though.  For the record Tim Varner likes Bill Walker, for Blair?  Maybe we can get more.

Orlando Magic:
Malik Allen - PF
Daniel Orton - PF
Jason Williams - PG

When I think bevy of shooters this is the team, but then, isn't this what they have Brandon Bass for?

Philadelphia 76ers:
Tony Battie - PF/C
Jodie Meeks - G

I know Tiago already addresses this need, but Spencer Hawes anybody?  Worth a look I think.  Otherwise, don't go near this team.

Toronto Raptors:
Solomon Alabi - C
Joey Dorsey - PF
Sonny Weems - SG

While Toronto is kind of that "bevy of shooters" place, I really wouldn't wish that on DeJuan.  Besides, there really isn't anyone worth trading for on that team.

Washington Wizards:
Hilton Armstrong - C
Trevor Booker - C
Alonzo Gee - SF
Cartier Martin - SG/SF

We cut Gee for a reason.  No one else looks worth it, besides they already have Blatche and Yi.

Dallas Mavericks:
Brian Cardinal - PF
Dominique Jones - SG
Ian Mahinmi - PF/C
Steve Novak - SF/PF

We let Ian Mahinmi walk for a reason and Matt Bonner is way better than Brian Cardinal and Steve Novak.

Denver Nuggets:
Anthony Carter - PG
Melvin Ely - PF/C
Shelden Williams - PF

The only player I would REALLY want from the Nuggets would be Tiago Splitter's fellow Brazilian: Nene Hilario.

Golden State Warriors:
Rodney Carney - SF
Reggie Williams - SG/SF

Another bevy of shooters, this is a maybe depending on if Reggie Williams can defend, otherwise I don't like anybody.

Houston Rockets:
Chase Budinger - SF
Jermaine Taylor - SG

We're actually not too much in terms of salary off from being able to pull off a DeJuan Blair for Courtney Lee straight up.  Would I do it?  That's iffy.

Los Angeles Clippers:
Jarron Collins - C
Brian Cook - PF
DeAndre Jordan - C

DeAndre Jordan is an interesting look, but that's about it.  Matt Bonner is better than Brian Cook too.  I passed on the first Collins twin, the second one isn't getting my nod either.

Los Angeles Lakers:
Theo Ratliff - C

Theo's a great guy, but we didn't retain him for a reason.

Memphis Grizzlies:
Darrell Arthur - PF
DeMarr Carroll - F
Acie Law - PG
Greivous Vasquez - G
Sam Young - G

Darrell Arthur is a maybe, but frankly I don't see why Memphis would want Blair.  Not enough of a bevy of shooters.  Can someone please tell Memphis to trade us Marc Gasol for nothing?

Minnesota Timberwolves:
Wayne Ellington - PG

Um... no.

New Orleans Hornets:
Aaron Gray - C
D.J. Mbenga - C
Quincy Pondexter - SF
Marcus Thornton - SG

I like Quincy Pondexter, it might have something to do with being a fellow UW alumnus.  While I think he can thrive in the system, he, at this point, is not necessarily going to pan out more than James Anderson, who says we can't use them both?  We could, but I don't think the Spurs necessarily want two major developmental projects on the wings.

Oklahoma City Thunder:
Serge Ibaka - C
Royal Ivey -PG
Byron Mullens - C
D.J. White - PF

I like the numbers Ibaka is putting up, I'm sure OKC does too.  As much as I think Blair might help the Thunder, they really don't have anything I would want in return.  Not that they're willing to give up anyways.

Phoenix Suns:
Earl Barron - C


Portland Trailblazers:
Dante Cunningham - F
Sean Marks - F
Patrick Mills - PG

Cunningham is another one of those, I like him but so does the team that currently has him, players.  No one else interests me too much.  Patty Mills reeks too much of a poor man's Tony Parker for me to pull the trigger.

Sacramento Kings:
Donte Greene - F
Luther Head - G
Darnell Jackson - PF
Hassan Whiteside - PF/C

I like Greene, I think he has potential, but there must be a reason he's playing behind Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia.  I don't know enough of his game to say for sure.  Jason Thompson is officially expendable, I frankly like him, not sure why other teams don't, but again, how much more are we willing to fork out for him?  At this point in time I can only surmise he'd be Antonio McDyess plus.

Utah Jazz:
Francisco Elson - C
Earl Watson - PG

It's not 2007 anymore so we're not going back to Elson.

Well that's pretty much my take.  If Blair is indeed on the block, the question then becomes first how badly Pop needs that 5th big (we could always bring back Marcus Cousin) to give Timmeh a break.  I'm still of the mind that we could use a "wing" player, someone who can play both SG or SF as a sort of defensive stopper, ultimately, someone like Ricky Davis (a poor man's Stephen Jackson who won't need the ball that much).  The options really are limitless, but also remember, there is a limited list of free agents we could probably get for the Veteran's minimum as well (the top choices in my opinion being Courtney Sims, Chris Mihm, and Marcus Cousin).  I really don't know.  I see the Spurs at least waiting until December when the free agents signed this summer can be traded, but honestly it's going to be a tough call.  I know we all like Blair, but he's obviously not a great fit.  The question for the DeJuan Blair project becomes: can he become one (a great fit)? or do we end the project by trading him to someone who fits better?  I'm not R.C. Buford or Gregg Popovich so I don't have to answer that difficult question, but these are the possibilities I see out there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fixing the Spurs on Paper

We're 12-1 and I'm still talking about needing to fix things?  Really?  Well, yes.  While we are 2nd in total points scored 107.82 ppg we are also 11th in points allowed at 98.08 ppg.  I don't know about you, but while 11th isn't bad, it isn't really something I think Pop is happy about.  I mean, from what I understand, and his "Law of 22" Pop only wants to be allowing 88 ppg, FYI that's 3 points below the league leader in points allowed, that being Milwaukee and New Orleans at 91.08 ppg.  I can go on how while we're 4th in rebounds allowed, how we're also 10th for rebounds per game, how while we are 5th in FG% per game at 47.3% we're 15th in FG% allowed at 45.7%, while we might be first in 3pt percentage at 44.4% per game, we're 29th in opponent 3pt percentage at 40.8%.  So yeah, we're 12-1, but we're also still a work in progress.

What exactly do I mean by "fixing on paper" then?  Well, to put it succinctly, instead of extensive analysis breaking down exactly what plays are working and aren't I'm simplifying and taking a general look at our roster as currently constructed and who (be it realistic or not) can help out.  Currently as constructed our lineups look something like the following:

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal
SF - Richard Jefferson
PF - DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner
C - Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter

With James Anderson's injury, it seems like Manu and Neal are seeing some time at the SF spot behind Jefferson.  Ideally, by playoff time, I see our roster looking like so:

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal
SF - Richard Jefferson, James Anderson
PF - Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner
C - Tiago Splitter, Antonio McDyess

While I can harp about how I want a versatile big man to play with Duncan (read: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, etc...) Blair, Bonner, Splitter, and McDyess are doing an excellent job shoring up the other big man spot.   What bothers me the most about the above stat, is that our opponents are shooting 40.8% from beyond the arc, and frankly, that is what I believe the Spurs really need right now, that is a wing defender that can lock-down opponents on the perimeter.  However, I don't want to tinker too much with the lineup as it currently stands, given that Manu and RJ both in the starting lineup works.  That's why I don't necessarily think the typical single position defensive specialists like Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, etc... is exactly what we need or are looking for.  While we definitely expect James Anderson to fill that role, and I think, in the few games he's played, he's done an admirable job, I think in the wake of his injury and the waiving of various attempts at mending the perimeter defense issue (Bobby Simmons, Alonzo Gee, Danny Green, etc...) this is where we need to improve.  Apparently, as I typed, the Spurs decided to give Ime Udoka another shot.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but Udoka is a known quantity, and he can't be significantly worse than Keith Bogans last season, small risk, marginal rewards, but a sufficient stopgap if that's all he is to be until Anderson gets back.  Personally, here's my list:

Free Agents:

Sasha Pavlovic (SG/SF, 6-8, 210 lbs, 27 yrs old)
It's really been like 3 years since I've seen Sasha Pavlovic play, yes, that was the last time the Spurs won a championship.  One of the big stories about the Cavs going through the playoffs that year (outside of LeBron decimating the Pistons) was the effective defense Pavlovic had against Vince Carter during the series against the Nets.  I'm actually not really sure why he still doesn't have a contract, which leads me to believer personally that his agent is asking for more money than he's worth possibly...

Damien Wilkins (SG/SF, 6-6, 225 lbs, 30 yrs old)
I don't know that James Anderson can't become everything that Damien Wilkins is and more, but in the interim, he's not a bad stopgap.

Outside of these two, there isn't really anybody I can think of in free agency that would be a significant improvement over Ime Udoka, though some honorable mentions might include Larry Hughes, Devean George, and if you're looking for potentially another project; Joe Alexander.

Not Free Agents:

I really don't know if these guys are even available for trade and even if they were whether we would have the assets to trade for them, but they're intriguing to consider.

Wilson Chandler (NY Knicks, SG/SF, 6-8, 230 lbs, 23 yrs old)
Ultimately the players we're looking for you can think of as something like Stephen Jackson lite, we want the defensive tenacity and three-ball, but it's not imperative that he have the ball handling skills of Jackson.  Chandler is a nice fit given his defensive tenacity and explosiveness, he's kind of everything that the Spurs have been looking for over the past couple of years; youth, athleticism, and defense.

Martell Webster (SG/SF, SG/SF, 6-7, 210 lbs, 23 yrs old)
The advent of Nicolas Batum (who honestly reminds me a lot of Tayshaun Prince) made Webster fairly expendable after Batum returned to the court from his injury.  Webster was noted for his defensive effort against Kobe in those heated Blazers-Lakers contests.  While he is one of those hot-or-cold shooters, I like to think of him as Michael Finley-plus.

I could throw in other names like Kelenna Azubuike, Courtney Lee, Anthony Parker or even completely non-realistic ones like John Salmons and/or Stephen Jackson himself.  That's my take.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Revolution of Richard Jefferson: Should We Worry About the Defense?

Would you believe me if I told that Richard Jefferson currently has the league-leading FG% of all wings in the NBA?  Would you believe me if I told you that he's 9th overall in terms of FG% in the league?  What if I told you he was the leading scorer of all players averaging 10-11 shots per game?  What if I told you he's taking 1-5 fewer shots per game than other players in the league averaging 18 points per game?

So what's my point?

Well, certainly it's a small sample size, but it's already a very promising one.  Jason Rogers has named Richard Jefferson as our X-factor player.  And he does have some rather compelling evidence for why Jefferson's performance (not Splitter or Blair's) will be crucial for the success (or lack thereof) as we continue through the season.  That's what an X-factor player is.  Most are aware that Lamar Odom is the Lakers' X-factor player, Josh Smith for the Hawks, the non-marquee player upon whom the team's success hinges, not to say that his scoring double digits will be a direct 1-1 correlation to wins and losses, but it's a good indicator.  There are a lot of ways to explain away Richard Jefferson's stellar 18 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.2 APG on 60.3% from the field and 52.2% from 3 point land.  Oh yeah, he's averaging 2 threes per game (that's made).

He's not being involved significantly more in the offense than he previously was, he's only getting about 1 extra shot per game from last season.  In a BDL Live Chat with Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer I asked about Jefferson's shooting and Dwyer said that Richard appeared to be getting his legs under his shots.  His set shot, I have to say, is very reminisce of Bruce Bowen and Mario Elie at this point in time, and this is something, now that he's comfortable with it, will only continue, perhaps not at a 18 PPG clip, but at a rate that will drive the Spurs' success.

How about his defensive game?  Certainly I can't deny that he's hustling , and maybe this should go in a different post, but I'm consolidating it here.  We can't deny that the Spurs have improved offensively.  They're now 5-1, 4th in the league for points scored per game at 106.67, behind only the Lakers (112.13), Rockets (112), and Suns (108.29).  While that's a nice number to look at, we're also 21st in points allowed at 103.  It's only because of that narrow 3 point margin that we're winning these games now.  Lakers are holding their opponents to 99.63 points per game while Houston and Phoenix are allowing 112.67 and 109.57 respectively, hence their losing records.  To me, it's more distressing to hear that we're giving up 103 points per contest than it is surprising to hear we're putting up 107.  Sure, if averages pan out we'll win more than we lose, but I know that's definitely not good enough.  I know that Pop has this "Law of 22" which is a goal of limiting opponents to 88 points per game (22 points per quarter).  Spurs are hot now, and a lot of that is Richard Jefferson's hot shooting, but it really comes down to defense, and so far it's been a little lacking. 

What's hurting us?  Well simply put, our perimeter defenders (as good as they are) aren't as good as our perimeter defenders were in our championship years (read: nobody defends like Bruce Bowen).  Tack on to that the lack of a shot blocking presence outside of Tim Duncan on the floor consistently, and it really hurts us when our wings are beaten on the dribble.  I'm not going to go into a list of every single big man I wish could play next to Timmeh, but I seriously hope that Splitter steps up soon.  While Blair may be a more viable offensive option at this point, his liability on the defensive end may cost us later.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Regular Season Game 4: Visiting the Suns

Incidentally the only full NBA game I've seen this season thus far was the Suns losing to the Blazers on opening night.

PG Tony Parker Steve Nash
SG Manu Ginobili Jason Richardson
SF Richard Jefferson Grant Hill
PF DeJuan Blair Hedo Turkoglu
C Tim Duncan Robin Lopez
Bench Gary Neal Goran Dragic

James Anderson Josh Childress

Bobby Simmons Jared Dudley

Antonio McDyess Hakim Warrick

Tiago Splitter Channing Frye

I don't normally consider any bench matchup to be "key" but in this case I think I'll make an exception.  Why?  Well, because Hedo has been downright disappointing (there's a reason they played Rashard Lewis instead of Hedo at 4 in Orlando) and Hakim Warrick has been a huge spark plug off the bench, connecting with a lot of electrifying pick-and-roll plays with Nash.  Ultimately what this game boils down to is containing Steve Nash.  He's the key cog that will keep this team moving, and everything else moves off of him.  Not much else to be said.  I'm holding out on George Hill since I expect Pop to be extra careful with him, especially this early in the season, where we have the time buffer to do so.  For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about, George Hill injured his shoulder after an awkward fall due to a flagrant foul from Craig Smith on a layup.

Boxscore Analysis: Spurs 97 - Clippers 88

I wasn't really expecting to do this, but when I started to catch the game on the DVR mode on League Pass, the game actually ended and they blackout the replay for a bit, and I went to bed.  Sorry.  I watched the 1st quarter and that's about it.  So back to these notes.

- Eric Gordon went off.  I think someone commented that we're conceding the mid-range jumper way too much.

- Manu got two quick fouls early, not cool, but hey it happens.  He still got 14 pts and 7 assists in 27 minutes.  I like the efficiency.

- Gary Neal is a nice pickup.  Somewhere in between Roger Mason Jr. and Steve Kerr? 

- Blair is still struggling to find his role.  Just calm down and play your game.

- Splitter finally got some floor time.  He looked a little tentative. 

- 10 boards for 'Dyess off the bench.  Good production.

- Jefferson looks like a man reborn, this could be the start of something very good.

- We need to blow out more teams so James Anderson gets more playing time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Regular Season Game 3: Visiting the Clippers

It's entirely possible and exceedingly likely that I probably will be doing a box score analysis review of this game.  Just warning you in advance.  With that being said, come on.  It's the Clippers.  I really should be ending my analysis with just that.  Seriously though, I REALLY don't want to be the first team to lose to the Clippers this season.

PG Tony Parker Baron Davis
SG Manu Ginobili Eric Gordon
SF Richard Jefferson Ryan Gomes
PF DeJuan Blair Blake Griffin
C Tim Duncan Chris Kaman
Bench George Hill Eric Bledsoe

Gary Neal Rasual Butler

James Anderson Al-Farouq Aminu

Antonio McDyess Craig Smith

Tiago Splitter DeAndre Jordan

While I hesitate to give Griffin the definitive advantage over Blair, it's possible it's just me being a homer.  I've seen enough Griffin highlights to know that while he does have a very wild (somewhat uncontrolled) style of play, he certainly does know how to translate his freakish athleticism into production.  That being said, the Clippers are still 0-3 despite Griffin averaging 16.7 points and 11 rebounds per game.  It'll be interesting how Pop devises the defense to try to contain him, or even let him get his own while mitigating the damage from the other players, namely Eric Gordon.

This brings us to our key matchup.  While I believe that Ginobili has the decided advantage over Gordon, Gordon is a fairly potent threat offensively, and thereby needs to be carefully guarded.  His shot wasn't falling against the Mavericks but I don't expect him to take significantly fewer shots.  Manu and RJ need to just continually make him work on the defensive end, either drawing silly fouls or just getting to the rim.  Hopefully that flusters Gordon enough that he can't focus on the defensive end.  That being said, I want Anderson and Jefferson and Manu, whoever is guarding him (maybe Hill too) to just be aggressive with him, don't let him get easy shots.  Force him to take shots with a hand in his face. 

Finally, this may be the first game we get to see Splitter in action.  I hope that he gets decent burn what with Bonner out and all.  I think he'll be a definitive difference maker, and will make the matchups very interesting.  I'm eager to see how he gets things moving on both ends of the court.  While not a tremendous rebounder, I hope that his shot altering ability combined with Blair's natural affinity for snatching the carom will work together very nicely.  I'm excited to see if he develops a particular mojo with any one player on the roster.

Boxscore Analysis: Hornets 99 - Spurs 90

You'll probably be seeing more of these than you'd like, which means I'll probably be writing more of these than I like, but frankly, I'm not going to get to every game, and I don't actually have television, which means I won't catch any of the nationally televised games either (blacked out on League Pass).  I'm already kind of flailing to catchup with everything, so if you didn't get your news fix, Tony Parker signed an extension.  Yay.  Okay, so what this boils down to is what I can read from the box score.

Saturday I was a little busy so I didn't watch the game, but I was needless to say, disappointed that the Spurs lost to what seems to be an aimless Hornets organization.  Of course with that in mind, I noticed that the Hornets are now 3-0 in the regular season... hrm... Well anyways... here are my notes:

- The fact that both Timmeh and Tony played under 30 minutes leads me to believe that Pop ceded this game fairly early on

- Paul only had 5 assists... I don't know what to make of that.

- Paul, West, Thornton, and Green all scored in double digits, going a combined 4-6 from beyond the arc.  I'm led to believe that we were killed on mid-range jumpers.

- DeJuan Blair was only 2-10 and blocked 3 times, methinks he's forcing things a little offensively, especially considering he didn't shoot a single free throw.  Though 11 rebounds is nice.

- Team only shot an overall 38.8%... yeesh.  Are we settling or forcing?  Either way, not good.  Maybe shots just weren't falling?

- Manu had 23 points but had to take 19 shots with 42% shooting to get it.

- Only TP (50%), RJ (63.6%), and Gary Neal (50%) shot anything resembling a respectable FG%.

- The bigs (McDyess, Duncan, Blair) went a combined 7-28.  I know Okafor is decent defensively... but David West and Jason Smith?

I think this is a degree of inconsistency with the role players we have to get used to.  I'm glad that Jefferson is showing great efficiency in the first couple of games of the season and I hope that continues, because that will be a great benefit, but with Timmeh seeing reduced minutes and decreased production thereby, we're going to need other players (namely Hill and Blair) to step it up.  Hopefully having Splitter back soon will help.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Regular Season Game 2: Hosting the Hornets

Ever since they took us to 7 games in the 2008 Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Hornets have kind of been in a downward spiral...  That being said, there's not a night we can really afford to take off, especially since we're looking for homecourt advantage this year.

PG Tony Parker Chris Paul
SG Manu Ginobili Marco Belinelli
SF Richard Jefferson Trevor Ariza
PF DeJuan Blair David West
C Tim Duncan Emeka Okafor
Bench George Hill Jerryd Bayless

Gary Neal Marcus Thornton

James Anderson Willie Green

Bobby Simmons Jason Smith

Antonio McDyess D.J. Mbenga

Well, we know that Bonner is out for 10-14 days, and with Splitter still sidelined until Monday, this means we have to run small, which works out okay since West and Okafor isn't exactly the biggest frontline you'll run into.  It'll be interesting to see how Blair fares against this kind of front line.  I don't relish having to play small ball with Bobby Simmons manning the 4 in the reserve squad, so I expect Blair to get a lot more burn, and McDyess ultimately to get the brunt of the minutes freed up by Bonner.  While McDyess doesn't have the floor stretching capabilities of Bonner, he's been hitting those midrange jumpers at a fair clip, so I'm not too concerned except with trying to contain the Hornets' guards.  Paul, Thornton, and Bayless are all fairly good at penetrating the defense, with how Collison worked us over last time, we really need to tighten up on denying penetration by the Hornets' backcourt.

Essentially this comes back to a duel once again between Parker and Paul, but the big difference is that I think Tony has a lot more help than CP3 does.  That being said, we cannot dismiss shooters like Belinelli, Green, and Peja, while shots may not have been falling, we can't give them open threes.  Since Timmeh is our only real shot-blocker, the defense needs to tighten up a little.  I expect Blair to continue to play aggressively, hopefully forcing the opposing frontcourt into foul trouble.  While Okafor didn't take a single shot in his first game of the season, I don't expect that trend to continue, and he is a decent back-to-the-basket threat.  I don't know that he'll have his way like Roy Hibbert did, he'll still be a force to be reckoned with.  While I don't necessarily consider Okafor a go-to option, and I didn't watch the game against Milwaukee game, I'm a little confused as to why they don't go to him more.  Then again, I haven't watched enough of Okafor to say otherwise.  David West naturally will be something of a handful, so it will be interesting to see how Blair matches with a more versatile PF this season as opposed to an athletic energy guy like Josh McRoberts.

I get the hunch that Ariza will be put on Manu, but either way, whoever ends up having the off-guard (be it Belinelli or Thornton or Green) needs to really attack the basket.  Word is that Monty Williams is starting Belinelli because his defense is supposedly better than Marcus Thornton's which is saying a lot about Thornton, because Belinelli's defense is pretty atrocious.  So, I'm guessing it's going to be RJ and Anderson who will have those players on them, which means, attack, attack, attack.  While with CP3 anything is possible, this is another game we theoretically should win.  Of course, the question then potentially comes down to playing the Big 3 extended minutes or going for the kill.  I hope it doesn't come to that, but again, CP3 is just that good.  Without major shotblocking/altering on defense, the perimeter players are going to have to go at it much more aggressively.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Notes on the Season Opener

I was able to catch about 2 and a 1/2 quarters on League Pass before going to bed last night (I got home late and I was tired, sorry), and overall, seeing the 122-109 victory we had over the Pacers I'd say that we're looking in pretty good order for the most part.  Of course, that being said, there are points of concern for me personally.  This probably isn't going to be a full-fledged recap, but just some things that I've noticed with in this game.

The Good
- Early in the game the Spurs were pressuring the ball on defense, causing a lot of miscues and were able to poke the ball away for some easy buckets.  Good job at keeping the ball in play, I like how Tony knows to leak on those opportunities.

- RJ is playing aggressively, some easy shots aren't falling, but he's not letting that get to him.  I also like how he's starting to be very active without the ball and attacking the basket consistently.  He won't be the Paul Pierce or even Corey Maggette type foul machine, but he'll get to the line a good bit if he keeps this up.  16 points on 6 shots, I like the efficiency.

- Timmeh is hitting mid-range jumpers like he's a shooting guard.  10-12 from the field, 23 points that I didn't catch watching most of the game.  He's sticking with what he knows works.  He won't be backing people down, but the pick and pops with Tony are working very well. 

- James Anderson has a sweet shot.  I hope they find him more.  I also liked his hustle on both ends of the court.  Michael Finley 2.0 people, I'm calling it.

- Antonio McDyess has a very smooth 12-15 foot jumper, gives Manu and Tony a ton of room to operate.

- DeJuan Blair has developed an immensely smooth free throw.  I like how he's hustling for the ball, while the box score may not have been entirely favorable for him last night, if he does the dirty work he'll get more than his fair share of free throws, and with his touch from the line now I'm sure it'll make a huge difference.

- Overall everyone looked really comfortable with whatever lineup on the court, there is excellent chemistry and everyone seems pretty comfortable with their parts are whatever role they need to do.

- Manu is healthy, and Manu.

The Bad
- I shouldn't have a whole lot of call-outs here, but I can't say that the game was perfect, I mean, I know the Pacers are a hot-shooting offensive team, but we did allow 109 points.

- While I liked the hustle on the defensive end, and I understand what Dwight Howard means when he says Darren Collison is "jerky", there was way too much penetration.  Defense seemed to be sort of like an every-other play thing.  I appreciate us being able to run with the Pacers and keep up with them, we mirrored them too much defensively as well.

- There were a couple (not a whole lot) of broken plays which ended in ugly Matt Bonner dribble-drives.  Can he please not put the ball on the floor?  2nd unit needs to develop a go-to guy (not Matt Bonner).

- Until Tiago Splitter gets back I'm concerned about size.  Roy Hibbert kind of had his way out there with us, which makes me sad because we were projected to have drafted him but Pacers took him early (we got Hill instead, so it ends up being okay).  At the end of the 1st quarter Pop had a lineup of TP, George Hill, James Anderson, Matt Bonner, and Antonio McDyess.  Yikes. 

The Ugly (and other random thoughts)
- Manu drew a 3pt shooting foul on Danny Granger by doing the leg flail and accidentally kicking Granger in the 'nads.  Ouch.  Sorry Danny.

- Mike Dunleavy drew a foul away from the ball for not being able to move backwards near Manu without falling over.

- Overall, the reffing as per usual was a little suspect, but hey, it is what it is.

- Can somebody please box out Josh McRoberts?

- George Hill and RJ got in some foul trouble early in the game.  Fortunately RJ had already done his damage by the end of the first half.

- While the Spurs were able to cling on in the frenetic pace, they need to set the tempo.  I know they want to run, but at times it seemed they were trying to play a little too fast; not every team is going to be as sloppy passing the ball around as Indiana.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Regular Season Game 1: Hosting the Pacers

So this is something that I was planning on doing last season, but didn't get around to, so hopefully, I do a better job this season.  In terms of NBA games, this is one we should win, should being the operative word there, but of course, since it is the NBA, you never know with a single game.  Here's what the matchups are boiling down to:

PG Tony Parker Darren Collison
SG Manu Ginobili Mike Dunleavy
SF Richard Jefferson Danny Granger
PF DeJuan Blair Josh McRoberts
C Tim Duncan Roy Hibbert
Bench George Hill
James Anderson
Bobby Simmons
Matt Bonner
Antonio McDyess
T.J. Ford
Dahntay Jones
Paul George
Tyler Hansbrough
Jeff Foster

So this is a good opportunity for Jefferson's new-found defensive tenacity and summer work with Pop to really start showing some fruit.  I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to catch any of the Spurs' preseason games, but from what I read, the reaction to Jefferson's production thusfar has been mixed.  In the preseason, statistically, he wasn't significantly improved from last season, but some people put it that he looks much better than last year, looking more decisive and comfortable on the court, in the offense, and much more aggressive on defense.  He also seemed to show good mojo with Manu Ginobili (then again, who wouldn't?), which may be part of why Pop moved Manu back to the starting lineup.  Anyways, we know Danny Granger can score, he's got a nice touch from mid to long range.  However, the criticism has been that he doesn't really do a whole lot else, which is why he was bench fodder on Team USA during FIBA in the offseason.  As I've said plenty of times before, in addition to Jefferson being aggressive in with his man defense, he has to punish the opposition on the other side of the floor as well, forcing whoever is guarding him to work or give up easy buckets.

With the slowing Duncan, and lack of Tiago Splitter thusfar, the matchups ultimately come down to pick-and-rolls.  Dwight Howard once said in an interview that Darren Collison is one of the more difficult players to guard off a pick-and-roll simply because he's difficult to anticipate (or in Dwight's words "He's real jerky").  Yahoo Sports has T.J. Ford starting this game, which may be entirely possible, but I'm think it's a Collison start.  How well Parker and Duncan can contain a Collison-Hibbert pick-and-roll offense is really, I think going to mitigate the effectiveness of the Pacers.  Outside of Granger, the Pacers really don't have much of an offensive option, of course that's also pending the effectiveness of Bill Walton working with Roy Hibbert during the offseason.  While Mike Dunleavy is back and healthy, he apparently has nothing between the bones in his knee, so I see his effectiveness being very limited. 

While preseason was a good indicator of who will actually make the rotation, this game will be a better indication of what that rotation will specifically look like.  While the Spurs should handily roll over the Pacers, we do need a lot of things to be clicking.  Mostly, I'm looking for smart defensive rotations and aggressive offensive play from our backcourt.  I say Spurs by 5.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making the Matchups: Utah Jazz

And so on and on and on we go.  Pop has settled into a starting lineup so I'll use that for now, and we'll move forward from there, assuming that Tiago Splitter is healthy by the time this matchup really means anything significant.

Spurs Jazz
PG Tony Parker Deron Williams
SG Manu Ginobili Raja Bell
SF Richard Jefferson Andrei Kirilenko
PF DeJuan Blair Paul Millsap
C Tim Duncan Al Jefferson
Bench George Hill
James Anderson
Bobby Simmons
Matt Bonner
Antonio McDyess
Earl Watson
C.J. Miles
Gordon Hayward
Jeremy Evans
Kyrylo Fesenko

So I know I'm leaving off Tiago Splitter and Mehmet Okur, but both are currently injured, and while we might have an idea of what might happen when they get back, I'm not going to jump into any major conclusions.  I'm no longer entirely confident in a Splitter/Duncan starting lineup, but of course, there's no real way of telling that having yet to see Splitter play a single NBA game.  Okur will likely slide back to the starting C spot for the Jazz when he returns, moving Jefferson back to a more natural PF slot and Millsap back to the bench.  I know that Alonzo Gee could surprise us and somehow make the roster, but I'm really leaning towards Pop going for at least the known quantity of Bobby Simmons.  Probably not the greatest name you can get, but he'll get the job done. 

A lot of question goes to how well Al Jefferson will do replacing Carlos Boozer.  While putting up similar stats, Jefferson is a pretty different player from Boozer, preferring to post up on the left block and isolate.  I can't say I've seen Jefferson play enough to determine anything, but I think he'll be someone that Pop focuses a the defense on a lot.  I also expect Pop to try to push the ball inside, trying to get Jefferson into early foul trouble since he's been known to not move his feet very well on defense.  While Raja Bell is a definitive improvement over Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver or rather a fusion of the two, I still don't know that he'll entirely mitigate the threat that is Manu Ginobili.  If a matchup occurs early in the season, it'll be interesting to see how well Blair matches up against his undersized counterpart of Paul Millsap.  Both are stellar rebounders and just have a nose for the ball, it'll be an interesting matchup.  When Splitter and Okur return to the lineups, I expect Pop to have Tiago guard Memo partially because a sweet-shooting European big is something Tiago is used to seeing.

What this matchup will ultimately boil down to will be the Tony Parker/Deron Williams matchup.  Williams has generally fallen short of the Chris Paul/Deron Williams debate, but I actually really like Williams much better.  For one, he's a lot bigger than Paul and with his speed and handles tacked on to that size, he becomes a nightmare to guard.  While Derrick Rose may have gotten the most recent "Jason Kidd with a jump shot" comparisons, the original "Jason Kidd with a jump shot" was and to me still is Deron Williams.  Not only that, he has a very good vision and basketball IQ, he's someone that Jerry Sloan says he trusts to make decisions on the floor, so he doesn't call as many plays for him to run, this from a coach that coached John Stockton.  While Parker doesn't have the size, he certainly has the speed to compensate.  I would try to attack Williams on offense, make him work hard on defense and force the ball out of his hands either via a difficult shot or having to dish off to teammates early.  Sloan has always been a huge fan of the pick-and-roll so depending on how well Williams and either Millsap or Jefferson are connecting, our pick-and-roll defense needs to be impeccable.  Essentially, the Spurs need to try to force the other Jazz players to try to make plays.  This will be especially difficult trying to contain Al Jefferson on the left block as well.

Essentially the key to this matchup is aggressiveness, which seems ironic given that the Jazz are typically known as a fairly aggressive team, but the Spurs need to match if not surpass that aggressiveness.  However, that's not to say that the Spurs don't play smart.  They need to pressure the Jazz on offense, forcing silly fouls, especially from their frontcourt.  Jazz typically are very physical so the Spurs can't be intimidated.  On defense, they need to force the ball out of Deron Williams's hands, that would be ideal, making Raja Bell make tough plays, but most importantly, they need to play smart on those pick-and-rolls, rotating well and showing hard on the guards, forcing penetration along the baseline to shot blockers, like we always do (or try to).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Frontcourt Rotations: Handling the Bigs

It's pretty hard for me to believe that Tim Duncan has already been playing in the league for 12 years.  34.  Really?  A whole dozen?  David Robinson is a Hall-of-Famer, he's already been retired for 7.  While we've been hearing how "old" the Spurs have gotten (reminder: Tony Parker is only 28), and how pundits keep teetering back and forth between the Spurs being "over the hill" and "not quite out of the picture yet" the Spurs have quietly been making moves to stay relevant.  I mean, in those 12 years Duncan has led these Spurs to 12 Playoff appearances, 6 Conference Finals appearances, 4 Conference titles, and 4 NBA Championships.  If that's not a pedigree for success, I don't know what is.  Of those 12 Playoff runs, only twice have the Spurs been ousted in the first round, so to say Spurs fans are a little spoiled might just be on the money.  I mean, seriously, out of the 1,098 regular season games he's coached, Pop has won 736 of them, that's 67%, last season was the only time Pop was less than 10 wins over .500 since he took over the Robinson-less Spurs 18 games into the season in 1996-1997.

With all the pretext, we jump to what I really was going to post about.  Traditionally Pop has enjoyed keeping his rotations short, especially in the frontcourt, nonetheless, Pop has also been good about getting his frontcourt stars (now just Timmy) rest.  Especially as they get older, Pop I think is more inclined to try to save the legs of his older stars, especially Duncan (given his NBA mileage) and Ginobili (maybe to a lesser extent) for when the games matter more (a.k.a. the Playoffs).  So I wanted to take a more in depth look at who we have and what possible pairings work out.  While it's obvious that Duncan will still take a majority of the minutes, the 40 minutes per game (circa 2001-2002) days are over for him.  So there are still a bit of minutes to go around, with one starter and at least two reserve positions to go around. There's 96 minutes between the two frontcourt positions.  So who gets them?  Let's do a quick overview of the available players:

Tim Duncan (6-11, 260 lbs)

Well, duh.  It's not like I really have to explain myself on this one.  The main dispute in whether or not this man is the best PF of all time is simply whether or not he really is a PF, or a C disguised as a PF because he got drafted onto David Robinson's team.  If you listen to Doug Collins in the 1999 NBA Finals broadcast though, Bob Costas asks (I think in game 2) why this "Twin Towers" pairing of Duncan and Robinson works and Collins says simply because both are such complete (versatile) players.  Both could spread the floor, both could post up, both could alter/block shots, both could rebound, both could run with the ball, both could find the open man.  It's been seven years since Duncan has played with someone the likes of Robinson, and I'm pretty sure that he isn't going to again during his career.  However, since 2003, Duncan has quietly carried the Spurs on his back.  He doesn't have the legs he used to, but Duncan has always been a saavy player, able to play to his strengths and high basketball IQ.  He won't be alter multiple attempts and still come up with the rebound anymore, so that's why we're hoping the other guys step it up.  Duncan, despite his age, is still probably one of the most complete frontcourt players in the game.  He has a litany of post moves and can still comfortably hit that 19 foot wing jumper, so it's hard to imagine who wouldn't fit next to him, I mean, Nazr Mohammed was a viable option, but again, this is no longer the Duncan of old, the Duncan we remember.  He's still awesome, just not 2003 awesome.

DeJuan Blair (6-7, 265 lbs)

Blair has been making a strong case for himself to be a starter next to Duncan in the 2010 preseason.  In the three games Blair has averaged 15.3 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1.3 steals on 55.3% shooting in just under 23 minutes of play.  Those are some pretty good numbers, but the impressive part has been where the numbers aren't.  He's been effective defensively, moving his feet, and while his jumper hasn't been consistent, it's been enough with his defense to show that he can in fact play next to Duncan.  Originally Pop had worried about size and being able to stop opposing frontcourts with a pairing of Duncan and Blair, but Blair's penchant for the ball off the glass as well as defensive tenacity has won Pop over, choosing to start him over the other options consistently for these preseason games.  I can't say I've seen enough of Blair to know extensively how well he plays.  I was elated when he fell to the Spurs in the second round of last year's draft, but aside from a couple of college stats and YouTube videos of him completely owning 2nd overall pick Hasheem Thabeet, I can't say I knew a whole lot besides the fact he had no ACLs.  DraftExpress says his best case scenario is becoming like Paul Millsap, which, I think I'm pretty okay with, but at this point in time, I think he's actually looking like an even better rebounder than Millsap, don't know if he can score as well, but maybe we won't need it as much.  Either way, things are looking good.  I think DraftExpress was being conservative in their upside pick, I think he can get even better.

Antonio McDyess (6-9, 245 lbs)

McDyess is one of those hard working guys you can't really help but like.  While he once was playing at All Star levels in Denver, a devastating knee injury in the 2001-2002 season derailed that.  After bouncing around the league for a few years he resurfaced in Detroit as a super reliable 6th man off the bench.  What makes McDyess so valuable, what makes him so good still (despite the drop in stats) is that he does all the little things; he hustles for those rebounds, he moves his feet on defense, and it doesn't hurt that he has a reliable 12-15 foot mid-range jumper.  Though perhaps not the explosive player he once was, McDyess has the experience of playing with winning teams (Detroit Pistons from 2004-2009) and deferring to stars (Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton).  He knows what he has to do, and he does the under-appreciated blue-collar work that every championship team needs done.  While he won't give you the 20-10 games night in and night out, he'll be that little edge that pushes you over the top in a tight game or even a tight series.

Matt Bonner (6-10, 240 lbs)

Matt Bonner is supposedly the king of adjusted statistical plus/minus (and sandwiches).  While I'm not really a plus/minus junkie, I guess that's a good thing.  If there's one thing that Matt Bonner can do, it's hit open three pointers.  He's actually pretty good at that.  He hit 39% last season and is a career 40.6% 3 point shooter, that's better than most guards.  This works out well simply because it stretches the defense.  You give Duncan room to work inside, or Manu and Tony room to penetrate.  He's a niche player that's found a very nice niche to fit into.  He's not really ideal most of the time (lacking both athleticism and defense) he's a known quantity and Pop certainly knows where and when to fit him in.  With more options, I see Bonner's minutes being limited, but him still being a contributing factor.  Maybe a Danny Ferry circa 2002 role.

Tiago Splitter (7-0, 245 lbs)

We have yet to see Splitter play a single minute of NBA basketball.  Still, when it comes to expectations there has to be more than just a little bit of pressure on Splitter's shoulders, I suppose being one of the best if not the best big man in Euroleague might have something to do with that.  I can't say I've seen a lot of Splitter playing, even on YouTube, but from what I hear, he's a solid post player.  Finishes well at the rim.  From what I saw, he had a pretty ugly (albeit effective) hook shot in the paint.  He's not a stellar shot blocker but he does move his feet and alter a lot of shots, which is good, we like altered shots.  He doesn't rebound quite as well as I'd like, but he's also still a work in progress.  A lot of people have noted after Luis Scola's dominant performance as compared to Splitter's above-average one in the FIBA world championships, that Splitter's greatest asset is his great basketball IQ.  He picks up quick and makes quick and good decisions with and without the ball.  Some fans are content with an improved Fabricio Oberto.  I personally think he has greater upside, but I'm no basketball scout, so I can't say for sure.  If the fundamentals are there though, and with Tim Duncan to mentor him, he could become something special.  While he's no second-coming of David Robinson, he'll probably be one of the better centers in the league, let's just see how he diversifies his game.  I don't know that Pop plays him enough or that he gets the ball enough to be RoY material, but he'll definitely make a big impact when he's on the floor.

DeMarcus Cousins (6-11, 245 lbs)

Yeah, don't I wish.  I know, I couldn't help myself.  Enter somebody I know absolutely nothing about.  He's been pretty productive across the three preseason games, but I don't know if that means anything significant.  With Tiago currently injured, it might.

I'm not Pop so anything I say now in terms of on court pairings is pretty moot, but here's my take on how things will work out.  The first issue will be who is the primary big next to Duncan.  While Splitter was kind of the de facto guy, Blair has made a very strong case for himself this preseason.  I can see it going either way depending on the matchups, though I venture to say that in the long run Splitter generally gets the starting nod, sliding Duncan back to the PF slot.  The nice thing about the trio of Duncan, Splitter, and Blair is that it can potentially work like Duncan, Robinson, and Rose, where any two of the three can play next to each other.  Since Splitter is really the only "true" center on the roster, I figure he should get a lot of burn with McDyess and Bonner sopping up the extra minutes Pop opts to rest Duncan.  I personally can't really envision a Blair/Bonner or Blair/McDyess frontcourt as that leaves our interior rather soft, but if that limits more the minutes of Bonner and McDyess or the minutes of Blair, I can't really say.  Generally speaking, I foresee (health being a major provision here) some kind of a Splitter/Duncan/Blair rotation with McDyess and Bonner filling in spot minutes.  This generally means that Cousin gets cut, but maybe Pop wants insurance.  What do I know?