Monday, December 12, 2011

Our new backup PG

Everyone was a little iffy about whether or not rookie Cory Joseph could fill the role of backup admirably in the Spurs organization. While playing limited minutes, this was still always an important role, and during our championship years filled by players like Antonio Daniels and Speedy Claxton. Now, this is something we don't have to worry about, as I find that the Spurs have just signed T.J. Ford. Ford, while being known for attempting too many one-man fastbreaks, does provide veteran saavy, and is reported to have been focusing more on defense and play-making over the past years, two things Pop loves to hear. Well, I'm done talking. Good job RC, good job.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Searching for Bowen 2.0

Well, as if they knew that I was looking for something write about, the Spurs decide to up and waive Richard Jefferson. I don't dislike RJ, don't get me wrong, but I also recognize he wasn't the best fit on our team. Utilizing the amnesty clause, well, I think Woj from Yahoo kind of explains it so read the article. Essentially what this means is that we have an opening in the 3 spot the Spurs are looking to fill. Once again, while James Anderson and Gary Neal are both on the roster, neither are exceptionally suited for playing the small forward position, and while I'm hopeful about the potential of Kawhi Leonard, we don't exactly have a lot of time to wait for him to develop. So where does that leave us? Looking for a 3.

Woj mentioned talks about Josh Howard and Caron Butler, given that we only really have the mid-level exception to spend, those are some decent names. Butler and Howard are both coming off of injuries, both looking to finish off their careers with a championship and I can't say that the Spurs are a BAD place to go for that, they have as good a shot as anyone else. Granted whoever the Spurs sign will have to likely split time between Leonard and Manu given how much Pop likes playing small ball now, but hey, I think you've got a good shot at it. Woj also mentioned Butler being more interested in playing in Chicago, where he would likely start at the SG spot where Chicago is greatly lacking.

Now Butler and Howard are all well and good, but the question we have to ask isn't necessarily who the best available free agent is, but rather, what exactly are we looking for. With RJ gone, and Timmy, Manu, and TP all a year older, it seems to me that Pop is looking for a more versatile wing defender. I'm still of the mind that most of the offense will continue to run through Manu, Timmy, and TP, so ultimately I think we're looking to improve defensively without losing a huge amount offensively. Sort of a stopgap while Engelland does his thing with Kawhi Leonard. So given that consideration, we basically go back to something of a Bruce Bowen blueprint, maybe with a little more offense. Realistically, I suppose it would be something between Bowen and RJ talent wise. Additionally, MLE is important, because that's all we have to pay, I don't think there are many big hot-shot superstars right now so I think we're okay on that front, but it's something to be noted. Some of these choices are obvious, but let's see who's out there.

1.) Tayshaun Prince
Prince, I think, has felt somewhat under-appreciated as of late in Detroit, especially with the changing of the guard to a younger team. Granted, I don't know if he will settle for just the MLE, but he sort of ideally fits everything that we're looking for. Generally quiet and hard-working, Prince averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last year on 47.3% shooting and 34.7% from beyond the arc. They're not gaudy numbers, but they're not bad. Some of the older Spurs fans may have a very clear recollection of Prince from the finals in 2004 and 2005. He's kind a solid blue-collar working type, he doesn't get much hype, but at 6-9 he's a long and able defender. He looks super skinny and has that awkward looking lefty shot, but he seems a good fit. The question for Prince (at age 31) is less of will he fit, because I believe that he would fit almost anywhere, given his skillset, but rather, will he settle for the MLE?

2.) Shane Battier
Naturally, when you talk about defensive specialists in this generation, you cannot fail to mention Shane Battier. Battier averaged 7.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game last season, but we also have to remember that he was traded to Memphis after 59 games with Houston for Hasheem Thabeet. Being 33, we know that Battier knows his window is closing, and I'm certain Battier wants to win as much as anyone. Since the playing field is pretty level with the MLE, unless some team decides to over pay Battier, the question is a matter of where Battier thinks his chances are better. Memphis wants him to re-sign and play with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph while Miami wants him to play behind LeBron James. Where does starting next to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili rate on that scale?

3.) Josh Howard
The primary difference between Josh Howard and Richard Jefferson is mindset. If Josh Howard is serious about coming back to the NBA, and he's able to regain a good amount of his game from when he was playing in Dallas, then I'm all for it. He's a solid defender, and able to score off of the primary pieces of the offense. San Antonio may not be a bad place for him to try to make his career comeback.

4.) Jared Jeffries
As much of an offensive disaster Jeffries is, he is a 6-11 stopper on the wing. I'm sure Knicks are interested in trying to keep him, but I don't know how hard they'll try. Certainly he's not the most ideal candidate, but he is a solid and very long defender. If Jeffries is our option, then let's hope that Tiago Splitter has improved a bit.

5.) Grant Hill
Hill has sort of made his comeback in Phoenix after being declared the second coming of Jordan in Detroit and then Mr. Glass in Orlando. Hill is hardworking and has proven that he still has a lot of game even with his age. Hill is actually a pretty ideal candidate and I think would fit into the Spurs system well. While I don't think he'll command more than the MLE I also think he has sort of found his niche in Phoenix. Of course Phoenix does also have a glut of perimeter players in Josh Childress, Mickael Pietrus, and Jared Dudley. So you never know.

6.) Al Thornton
Al Thornton would be higher on my list if it weren't for the stated fact that he wants to be in the spotlight (or would rather have more playing time on a bad team than less playing time on a contender). Obviously he doesn't really have the talent to be the go-to guy and he'll probably be platooning a bit of time, but the amount of playing time here in San Antonio is a good chunk, particularly given how Pop treats his rookies (with the exception of Duncan). We know he can score, and he's a very physical, tough defender. Does he have the mindset of a Spur? Well, maybe not, but maybe the lockerroom in San Antonio could be a good influence for him.

7.) Caron Butler
Why is Butler so low? Because frankly, I was very disillusioned with Butler after he was traded from the Washington Wizards. Not that I'm looking for Butler to drop 24 a game anymore, he's not the go-to guy anymore. Nonetheless, I don't think Butler's that great of a defender (I could be wrong) and he's a fairly inefficient scorer as we saw on the Mavericks. If that's the case, I don't know that he'd be a significant improvement over Richard Jefferson other than the contract, and frankly, I think we can do better.

8.) Dominic McGuire
Why is San Antonio so great? It's because it's where are these random no-namers (i.e. Matt Bonner) can make a name for themselves. Dominic McGuire is a tough, long, athletic SF, the question, like it was for Jared Jeffries is whether or not he can hit a shot. I like McGuire a lot, but I see him more as a developmental project than an immediate fill to our need, and frankly, with the development of Kawhi Leonard, is not something we need. Additionally, with the shortened season, it's not really something we can afford either. However, that being said, I wouldn't be opposed to a player like McGuire on the roster.

9.) Jamario Moon
What ever happened to the feel-good story of 2008? Well Moon, if anything is a solid defender and a decent shooter. After a short stint of his Cinderella year at Toronto and a disappointing showing at the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest, Moon just kind of fell of the map. Given his history, I think Moon is of the hard working ilk, and that always rings true with Spurs fans as well as the front office. Can he contribute at a starter level? Dunno, looking at his history, it seems that he's taken progressive steps backwards, but given that, he's seen his playing time nearly cut in half as well. Starting for the Raptors he did average 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1 steal, and 1.4 blocks per game in about 27 minutes of play. 27 minutes sounds about right for the amount we're looking to play him. Of course it's been like 3-4 years since then, so we wonder if he can still pull it off. Still, maybe we can get him as the Ime Udoka replacement.

10.) James Jones
If the Heat land Shane Battier, James Jones becomes somewhat expendable in Miami. He's probably not the most stalwart defender that we'd hope for in our SF but he's a 6-8 three point specialist and we all know how Pop loves his three point specialists.

Of all the remaining free agents I personally don't think we can get any of them. I intentionally disregarded RFAs because I'm pretty sure that the teams would just match, particularly for players like Luc Mbah-a-Moute and Jonas Jerebko. This is my take on who we should take long hard looks at, but I'm not in the front office. Of course, I trust RC, so I'm sure he has a good reason for getting whoever he ends up getting. Hopefully, whoever it is, he'll be the difference maker this year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Should the Spurs run in free agency?

Well, I'm sure it's more of a question of can they rather than should they, and frankly, I don't know that they can. Currently, the roster remains pretty much the same, with the addition of rookies Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph, acquired at the cost of George Hill, which, while sad, when all is said and done, was pretty worthwhile. currently ranks the Spurs as 8th overall in their power rankings, behind the likes of Miami, Dallas, OKC, Chicago, LA Lakers, Boston, and Memphis (of all teams), which I can see being relatively fair given the shape of the team. While indignant about being overlooked, as we have been so many times about so many things, I can understand why these 7 teams are ahead of us, because frankly, I think any of these 7 teams can handily beat us in any given playoff series. So the question again comes down to what do we need? and where do go from here?

Obviously, Duncan at age 35 and Manu at age 34 cannot sustain the team long term, like the Boston Celtics, with their aging trio of Kevin Garnett (35), Ray Allen (36), and Paul Pierce (34), this is probably their last run if they make one. Now, I believe that a classy organization like the Spurs will keep Duncan and Manu until they decide to retire, and I believe that classy players like Duncan and Manu know when to call it quits. It's also realistic to believe, that as good of a point guard as Tony Parker is (now 29), he's not a franchise cornerstone. With the changing of the guard for the Spurs, beginning with the drafting of Tim Duncan in 1997, David Robinson was fortunate to have, well, Tim Duncan. From 1997 through 2003, Gregg Popovich only needed to play 3 bigs for his rotation, Duncan, Robinson, and the ever serviceable Malik Rose. They got 2 championships from that front court rotation.  In 2005 and 2007 Duncan was able to get away with less well known frontcourt partners of Nazr Mohammed, Rasho Nesterovich, Fabricio Oberto, and Francisco Elson thanks to two things; the ever saavy veteran play of Robert Horry and the fact that Duncan was in his prime. Today's front court lineup unfortunately contains an older Duncan, who is probably closer to the then older Robinson now than his more youthful days, and a plethora of role players. Some mixture of Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter just isn't going to cut it.

The season is shortened, and unfortunately, unlike in 1999 we don't have a well-established team already, Kawhi Leonard is a rookie for crying out loud. Sure Manu won one his rookie year (2003), but remember they also had an established wing rotation with Stephen Jackson and Bruce Bowen. So given our current roster generally established:

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

The question remains do we try to leverage any one in free agency or should we try to make a trade? Unfortunately, neither situation provides us with many options, but they are things to be considered. As much as we need a big, the big names of the free agency are mostly bigs which we can't afford, as much as I want Nene, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, or even Samuel Dalembert, there's likely going to be a team with much more cap flexibility that can snatch up these players quickly. So who's left? Well, should we even be looking at bigs? Should we trade for one? These are all questions that I don't know that I can address. Who can we pick up cheap? With 12 spots filled we have 3 left on the roster, and given how much Pop likes using Bonner, McDyess, and Blair can anyone find playing time that's left or does Tiago eat it all up?

It's a tough question, and personally (as much as people will disagree with me about this) I don't believe DeJuan Blair is a good fit for this team. I think he's a great player who will work well in a system that suits him, and this is not it. We also have to remember though, that Blair is on his rookie contract, which might I remind you was from the second round, so maybe we get a solid backup PG? It's hard to say. All this being said, I can perfectly understand RC Buford and Gregg Popovich deciding to stand pat and see where things go, and given the upside of Kawhi Leonard, and now a full season of James Anderson, I feel I may be pleasantly surprised. It's easy to point at the needs we have right now, but hey, I trust they know what they're doing. If this is Timmy's last run, let's make it a good one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Fresh Look at Kawhi Leonard

I'm probably super late in posting this but a friend of mine pointed me towards a good look at what a number of rookies may look like in the NBA, or at least, what the rookie/sophomore game would look like if we are fortunate enough to get an All-Star Game this year.

This is a link to the Jimmer's All-Star game which was hosted in BYU. The two teams were comprised of various draftees, including several first and second round picks. One team was captained of course by BYU star Jimmer Freddette, the other by the Spurs' own first round pick, Kawhi Leonard. It was a good chance to see the skills that Leonard would bring to the table and I liked a lot of what I saw. Leonard finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and no turnovers on 8-17 shooting for the night. Leonard's team also did come out with a very convincing victory.

Leonard definitely was a factor defensively, but what was very impressive was his offensive game. He showed a couple of pretty good dribble-drive moves, not afraid of drawing contact, having a smooth finish at the rim. Under pressure, Leonard does show a bit of a tendency to revert to his old, ugly jump-shooting form, and rush his shot, but I'm sure that's something Engelland can deal with.What I was particularly impressed with, was his ball-handling skills, which the commentators continually pointed out being something he worked on significantly in the last couple of seasons. The team often ran him as a point-forward, even with guards like Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas on the team. In particular, the commentators pointed out Leonard's ability to feed the post and see the different passing angles. While I don't expect him to take over much of that job from Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker, it certainly eases my concerns regarding a backup point guard.

The future looks bright to me. Seeing Leonard in action makes me hope that this lockout ends all the more.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Unfettered Optimism: The next big thing

Fact: Spurs haven't had a top 15 pick since Tim Duncan.

That is, until now, until Kawhi Leonard.

While it's sad to see George Hill go, you can't help but be excited about a guy who is athletically as gifted as the San Deigo State product. Tack on the hard work ethic and the Spurs excellent coaching staff, you can't help but get excited. I have to say I'm excited. Then again, I'm always excited at the prospect of fresh young talent. With James Anderson fully healthy and Tiago Splitter a whole season acclimated to the NBA, you can't help but smile at that glimmer that will be the 2012 season, provided there is one with this whole lockout that's looming. However, with an infusion of young blood and the level-headedness of our savvy vets, you have to think that we have something good going on here. I'm intrigued to see what R.C. Buford will do with the impending free agency, but this isn't about that, this is about the draft. While I'm somewhat intrigued by the talents of Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbek, the immediate here and now force us to look closely at the games of Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph.

Let's start with the big name: Kawhi Leonard.

If you took the 3 minutes to watch the Sports Science video above, you'll have learned that Kawhi's arms are longer than Andrew Bynum's and his hands are as big as Shaquille O'Neal's. Wow. Despite standing only 6-7, that's impressive, majorly impressive. Tack onto that the fact that he is laterally quick enough to defend SFs and may eventually develop the strength and bulk to defend PFs, we have an amazing defensive tool in our hands. If his DraftExpress profile is to be believed, Leonard's upside is that of Shawn Marion, and I'm pretty sure they are referring to the 2007 Phoenix Suns Shawn Marion (though the 2011 Dallas Mavericks one does now have a ring), with a worst case scenario of Luc Mbah-a-Moute, who is still one of the more able perimeter defenders on a defensive-minded Milwaukee Bucks squad. Besides, Leonard does have one thing on Marion, his shooting form actually looks decent, and he's working on it. You can't help but think that Spurs are excited to have a young athletic player, willing to work on his jump shot, who has been actively working on his jump shot working extensively with shooting coach Chip Engelland is going to turn out something special. Adding Leonard also does another thing, it forces Richard Jefferson to fight for his playing time. Added motivation, good stuff. While Leonard doesn't entirely solve the problem of a shot blocking big man next to Duncan, he does provide a viable option to play small, being long and versatile enough to probably play some PF for stretches. We'll see how much of an offensive repertoire he develops, but if he can even just develop a decent jump shot (letting Chip do his work), then Leonard will become an immediate boon to the rotation, adding size and defensive tenacity to the squad.

Now let's look at the less heralded name: Cory Joseph.

There's actually some pretty good reasons to be excited about Joseph as well.

Now Joseph, being the 29th pick of the 1st round wasn't a huge household name coming into a weak draft year. Now here's a familiar story, a not-really-PG type that the Spurs reached for. Does that sound familiar? No, I don't think Cory Joseph will become the next George Hill, but I do think he has the potential to become a solid rotation player that can make an impact as a backup PG. While not a stellar ball-handler, Joseph has the tools to shoot from almost anywhere on the court, I don't see him playing huge minutes, but enough to give Tony and Manu a breather. Unlike Hill, Joseph will only be asked to run the offense, which he does reasonably well, reading through various scouting reports, it's hard to gauge Joseph's skills as a PG, but there is hope as he is known to play low-mistake basketball running the point. I could hope that he would become something of a poor man's Kirk Hinrich, but that might be asking for much, but it does give you an idea of the mold that I think he could fit in. He's not extraordinarily large at 6-3, nor extremely athletic, but he does have a reputation for being a pesky defender, and that, combined with his vast offensive arsenal, in a controlled setting may be something that the Spurs can use in a backup PG. While there are questions about Joseph's ability to play PG, I think things might work out alright, especially as Pop will likely still run the offense through Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Looking at the Spurs roster currently, there are still a number of questions, but certainly things are looking up:

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

While we are lacking solid playmaking ability in Joseph, Neal, Andeson, or Leonard, I believe that if Joseph just plays smart, low-mistake basketball, then the little time that he gets when both Parker and Manu are on the bench won't be as big of a liability as we might suspect. Additionally, it's hard not to get excited when Leonard's strengths are precisely what works in the Spurs' system: grabbing the rebound and making smart outlet passes. While I'm still not enamored with our frontcourt rotation, I think all-in-all, things are looking up. We're in a good spot, and we'll see (after the lockout) what we can get out of these kids.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What Made the Twin Towers so Special?

I was reading this post about how Mike Brown may attempt to bring back the Two Towers in LA and while you do have two talented 7-footers on the Lakers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (and possibly third 6-10 versatile forward in Lamar Odom), I'm pretty convinced, it won't be even close to the original iteration of Tim Duncan and David Robinson that won the 1999 championship.  Maybe I'm wrong about Andrew Bynum, but let's consider the skill sets that were in place to make Robinson and Duncan so successful, so far as winning two rings running a 3-man frontcourt rotation with Malik Rose.

1.) Dominant low-post threat that draws double teams

We can't deny that David Robinson was an explosively athletic player, and he had a solid low-post game to go with it.  For years, he single handedly carried the Spurs deep into the post season.  I've also heard tell that (in his prime) Tim Duncan in the low post is probably the closest thing you can get to an automatic two points (I want to say Chris Webber said that but I don't know).  So far though, this doesn't limit our options, because if we look at it, a lot of players had this skill, Shaquille O'Neal first and foremost, but I would posit that Shaq would not have brought a revival of the twin-towers.  So far though, for our comparison, let's say that both Pau and Bynum meet this requirement.

2.) Solid mid-range shot that demands respect

Essentially, this is the role of every single big man that played next to Tim Duncan after David Robinson retired.  Antonio McDyess does this admirably, but players like McDyess and Bonner and even Robert Horry don't give Duncan rest in the low post.  This basically is a way to show that the big man is still in it even if he's not in the low post.  Robinson had his 10 foot straightaway jumpers from the free-throw line and Duncan had his 12 foot wing bank shots.  You have to respect those shots.  Defenses are forced to choose between some pretty potent poisons when determining defensive matchups, I imagine it was quite a nightmare to figure out who to matchup against Duncan and Robinson, the Knicks in 1999 showed us that.  They got away without it with the savvy play by Fabricio Oberto, but you could hardly call him a second tower next to Duncan.  Pau for all intensive purposes meets this criteria, he's got a solid mid-range game (better, arguably than Duncan's).  Bynum's limited range limits the effectiveness of any matchups that can be exploited.  If the defense isn't worried about Bynum's mid-range game, then Pau Gasol's effectiveness in the low post becomes mitigated, because Bynum's man can roam and help.

3.) Ability to pass out of double-teams and find the open man

A lot of big men have fairly underrated ball-handling skills and passing games: Shaq, KG, Yao, C-Web, and I would posit that Duncan and Robinson are among those.  Robinson, I don't know if he had elite passing for a big man, but at the very least, it was good enough to get the job done.  Simply put, you can't punish double teams if the ball can't get to the open man.

4.) Defense - Shot blocking

This is pretty obvious, so it would seem, but essentially it's like two lines of defense, so many shot angles at the rim are taken away, it's hard not to get swatted.  I mean, we're talking a combined 5 blocks PER GAME average between Duncan and Robinson in the playoffs of their '99 championship run.  That doesn't count all the altered shots (but consider they averaged 21.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs, 15.8 of those defensive).

I don't know if I covered everything, but these are the basics for a Twin-Tower type offense to work.  Does Mike Brown have that to work with in LA?  Hard to say.  It helps that like Duncan, Gasol can guard both PFs and Cs so they can always keep one of the two big men on the floor, but can Bynum step it up and be the second piece of that?  Only time can tell.  My gut says no, but I could be wrong.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Regular season success: Is that all we were made for?

Being a cynic, there's always something bitter-sweet about having to say "I told you so."  Because, while I do relish being right, I don't like being right about bad things.  While I may be completely off base in saying that the reason the Spurs are down 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs has anything to do with any analysis I may have put out previously, it still bothers me that we are down 3-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies without Rudy Gay.  It makes me sad.  Of course, I could just be continually underestimating the likes of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Sam Young, Tony Allen, Shane Battier, and Mike Conley.  Adrian Wojnarowski has already declared this the death of a dynasty, and frankly, I don't know that I entirely disagree with him.  While he pays lip service to never writing the Spurs off because of the classiness of the organization, he already has.  As Graydon Gordion has surmised, Gregg Popovich was out-coached, which I also may or may not agree with.  Why am I so ambiguous?  Well simply put, it's because I haven't really watched the series too much, but Graydon brings up an excellent point: we should be winning at least 4 out of 5 of these matchups, but we're still losing the game.  Why?  I don't know beyond the fact that the Spurs are playing like crap, which I can't say for sure, but if they weren't, we wouldn't be down 3-1 against the Grizzlies after an embarrassing 18 point rout in Memphis last night.

Given we're in this position it's hard not to draw comparisons to the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks of 2007 and their first round defeat at the hands of the 8th seeded We Believe era Golden State Warriors headed by Baron Davis and the maniacal coaching of Don Nelson.  Already, writers are throwing out the possibility of only the second 8th seed upset (since the Warriors in 2007) since the first round series moved to seven games.  The only question that we as Spurs fans have to ask is, how did it all come to this?  Shouldn't we, the top seeded playoff powerhouse, be standing tall over the team that has been among the laughingstock franchises of the league since trading Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and the rights to Marc Gasol?  I could go on spouting how I thought Popovich should have played Tiago Splitter earlier in the series to mitigate any damage Marc Gasol would do to us, I could say any number of things, how we needed another defensive big man to be a shot blocking presence in the paint, but what's done is done, and frankly, the regular season had me convinced I was wrong anyways.

I've always touted a couple of things that the Spurs needed this season to be successful, a shot blocking presence and a defensive minded wing player, neither of which we really addressed (no I don't consider Richard Jefferson or James Anderson really an answer to the latter issue).  But then I thought, hey, what do I know about basketball?  From the box scores, my immediate reaction is that the offense is stalling.  While Duncan is rested, we can no longer expect him to take over a series, while both he and Antonio McDyess have shown that you can extend your career through smart playing and veteran savvy, it's not 2003 anymore. While Tony Allen claims Manu "faked" his elbow injury, I think if that were the case the series would be 3-1 in the Spurs favor.  From all appearances, we're not playing Spurs basketball which we need, but that's not why I'm here.

Let's look at our roster really quickly:

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

That is our roster.  Sure you might throw Chris Quinn in there, but I wouldn't consider him a major part of the rotation.  We played a wheeling and dealing offense that honestly stunned a lot of teams.  However, a lot of it predicated on so many things going right.  Now, people have argued with me that every team needs a lot of things to go right in order to win a championship, but my reservation with the Spurs was simply that we didn't have much wriggle or buffer room.  This is no longer 1999 where would expect Duncan and Robinson to combine for almost 60 points, 30 rebounds, 10 assists, 12 blocks per game in a low possession 90 point game.  This isn't 2003 where Tim Duncan could single handedly score at will and dominate a whole series on both the offensive end and the defensive end.  Sure Duncan can still put up numbers, but the onus of the offense now falls to the backcourt tandem of Parker and Ginobili.  Now, I still believe that there is no one in the league that can stop Ginobili other than himself, but as we've seen time and time again, as great as Ginobili's competitive spirit is, his body has betrayed him enough to give him the consensus label of "injury prone".  While few guards can stay in front of Tony Parker, he's not one you would expect to take over a game for you.  Despite being arguably the best transition guard in the game, you cannot win a series purely on the transition game alone.

Where does that leave us?  Expectations have certainly been high, but have we really just been deluding ourselves into nostalgic dreams of grandeur?  A lot of pundits and fans would say yes.  I think we can squeeze one more good run out of this team though, and while there have been pleasant surprises, there have been drastic disappointments.  Richard Jefferson was never the game changer we needed him to be.  Certainly, he's filled into his Sean Elliott/Bruce Bowen/Michael Finley type role quite nicely, but unlike either Elliott or Finley before him, Jefferson certainly has not taken over any game.  Gary Neal has been a stellar find but let's be realistic, isn't he just a marginal upgrade over Roger Mason?  Am I asking for the impossible?  Maybe.  I know we probably won't get another star in the near future.  Few players these days want to play for an old-school small-market franchise, even if it is one of the best franchises in the league for the past decade.

We had the best record in the regular season, and as the Cleveland and Dallas have shown us, that means little in the post season.  It's easy to lament things past at this point in time, but in the face of another humbling playoff exit, we really have to ask ourselves: do we have what it takes to win a 7 game series?  Maybe it's a mental thing, but my call is just that we're seeing really how precariously built this Spurs team was in the first place.  I hate to say it, but: I told you so.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Best Record Beware: Does Barkley know what he's talking about?

There are a couple of things I'd like to go through on this specific post, and I'm kind of juggling ideas of how exactly I go about doing that while I'm actually writing this.  Somewhat unprofessional, I know, but not being a journalist, I'm okay with ditching professionalism for colloquialism.  So there are a number of things that spurred this post.  One of the major ones was a statement made by Charles Barkley:
"I got Dallas and the Lakers ahead of the Spurs to be honest with you.  To be honest with you, if the season ended today I think Oklahoma City can beat the Spurs because I think the Spurs are a little overrated to be honest with you because I think they play very hard, they play very smart but I think they are missing a big guy to be honest with you.  Tim Duncan is struggling on the downside of his career but I just don’t think they don’t get enough easy baskets because their two best players are Parker and Ginobili, and I love Ginobili, but I believe in jump shooters being your go-to guy to be honest, that was my only knock on Oklahoma City.  I always tell people you don’t win with jump shots.  They have gotten better around the basket defensively but I think Dallas and the Lakers are the two best teams in the West." 
Now, when I actually sit down and read that, it's really confusing to me, but I think I get the gist of it.   I think.  Essentially, Barkley is saying that despite the league best record, the Spurs aren't his favorites to win a championship, which can be a legitimate statement.  It was only in 2007 that we saw the league-best 67-15 Dallas Mavericks embarrassingly ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the Cinderella We Believe Golden State Warriors, lead by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Jason Richardson.  We saw in 2009 66-16 Cleveland Cavaliers get destroyed by a Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard pick-and-roll in the Eastern Conference Finals and then in 2010 the 61-21 Cavaliers saw LeBron James check out during the second round against the Boston Celtics.  So if we've learned anything from history, we do know that regular season record isn't necessarily indicative of anything.  In 2006 the 64-18 Detroit Pistons were upset by the Miami Heat, led by Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O'Neal in the Eastern Conference Finals.  So that means in the last 5 years, only the 66-16 Boston Celtics of 2008 both held the NBA league-best record AND won a championship.  That's not to say that there is a negative correlation, but rather, that they are probably less related than one might initially imagine.  Fair enough.

That brings me to the second point though, which is where Barkley thinks that all these other teams are ahead of the Spurs, which I'm not entirely sure about.  While it's fair to say that on paper, Lakers have an edge, I don't know that you can definitively declare the Spurs patently "worse" than the Mavericks and Lakers considering that the Spurs at worse can split the season with either team, having already beaten both teams twice out of their annual four meetings.  I mean, on paper, sure, the Lakers and Mavericks "look" better, but that isn't always telling.  I mean, seriously, when was the last time the Spurs "looked good" on paper?  2003? Yet with all these no-name players and journeymen and such, the Spurs have managed to cobble together consecutive playoff appearances and 4 championships since Duncan's rookie year in 1998.  However, I can still see that just based on intuition how Barkley would pick the Lakers over the Spurs (though maybe it's bias that causes me to dislike the Mavericks and wonder how anyone could think that team is good).  Let's look at all these teams that Barkley likes over the Spurs:

Tony Parker
Derek Fisher
Jason Kidd
Russell Westbrook
Manu Ginobili
Kobe Bryant
Rodrigue Beaubois
Thabo Sefolosha
Richard Jefferson
Ron Artest
Peja Stojakovic
Kevin Durant
DeJuan Blair
Pau Gasol
Dirk Nowitzki
Serge Ibaka
Tim Duncan
Andrew Bynum
Tyson Chandler
Kendrick Perkins

George Hill
Steve Blake
J.J. Barea
Eric Maynor
Gary Neal
Shannon Brown
Jason Terry
James Harden
James Anderson
Matt Barnes
DeShawn Stevenson
Daequan Cook
Antonio McDyess
Lamar Odom
Shawn Marion
Nick Collison
Tiago Splitter
Joe Smith
Brendan Haywood
Nazr Mohammed

Matt Bonner
Luke Walton
Ian Mahinmi
Cole Aldrich
Chris Quinn
Devin Ebanks
Brian Cardinal
Nate Robinson

On paper, I can kind of see where he's going.  I mean, the Lakers do have the formidable frontcourt rotation of Gasol/Bynum/Odom to continually deal with, and of course the machine that is Kobe Bryant.  Additionally, Blake and Barnes aren't significant steps down from Fisher (which I know isn't saying much) and Artest.  Now, I am somewhat predisposed to disliking Dirk, so maybe I underrate him a little, but with an aging Kidd and Marion and a shooter as streaky as Jason Terry, it's hard to say that an equal number of things has to right for the Mavericks as it does for the Spurs to win a 7 game series against any one of these teams.  Granted Tyson Chandler is the 7 foot interior defensive anchor that Erick Dampier never was and Dirk never will be, but can we really say that Beaubois and Barea are significantly better than Hill and Neal?  As for OKC, while adding Perkins and Mohammed give them one of the better defensive frontcourt rotations of Ibaka/Perkins/Collison/Mohammed, paired with the ultra-effective pairing of Westbrook and Durant, I can see this being a very good team.  I can understand who they might be considered a contender now, but first, Perkins needs to get back healthy, until then we have to reserve our judgment.  I wouldn't want to play any of these teams in the playoffs, but do I think we have a legitimate chance of beating each one?  Yes.  Certainly, "anything can happen" does apply in the playoffs, especially with teams as good as these four, but blanket statements like "I have the Lakers and Mavericks ahead of the Spurs because I think they can beat the Spurs in a 7 game series."  are just kind of ignorant, because on the flip side, it's so close that the Spurs could just as easily win said 7 game series.

Which kind of leads my rambling to my last point, which is simply, I don't think Charles Barkley has watched a Spurs game.  Essentially, he labelled Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili "jump shooters" and went on to say, "you don't win with jump shots".  Okay, fair enough.  76% of Ginobili's shot attempts are categorized as jump shots on, but so are 81% of Kobe Bryant's, 86% of Kevin Durant's, and 88% of Dirk Nowitzki's shot attempts, furthermore, Tony Parker only has about 52% of his shots categorized as jump shots, so essentially, the go-to guys on the Spurs are less jump shooters than all the other teams.  That was a lot of numbers, let's see if a chart can help:

Tony Parker
Manu Ginobili
Kobe Bryant
Pau Gasol
Dirk Nowitzki
Jason Terry
Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook
% jump shot
% close
% dunk
% tip
% inside

Okay, so the premise is that the more shots you take inside, the easier the two points are.  Well, if that's the case, the Spurs get the most easy shots for its two stars.  I mean, the Mavericks are pretty much just jump shooters other than Tyson Chandler.  If jump shooting doesn't win, then the Mavericks shouldn't really be that good right?  Maybe I'm just confusing myself now.  Anyways.  My point is this, the Spurs may not be the clear favorites, but they have to be in the talk.  My take is that given all the ups and downs of this year, you can't really count them out, and there is no definitive favorite.  My other point is that Charles Barkley has either a) never watched a Spurs game, b) very ignorant about the Spurs' players, or c) all of the above.  That being said, I've never really taken Chuck too seriously when it comes to legitimate basketball talk, so I'm not going to start now.