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.
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?