Thursday, April 14, 2011

OD: Spurs - Limping in?

So Fresh, So Clean

I've had a lot of Spurs fans bemoan the teams sluggish efforts the last few weeks; it's funny how the oldest team in the league in the Lakers, who do not have the top seed in the west like the Spurs, are promoted as have an "on and off" switch that they can flip at will. Hell, they equaled the Spurs worst loss streak, yet the Spurs have been nationally written off as a "pretender" to the crown.

I could go on all day about the bias, but it's something that Spurs fans should be use to by now. So when I hear some of those diehards already start to shrug the Spurs off as one of those teams that have already "peaked," I try and point out how futile it is to try and treat the last 10 games as any sort of evidence of a decline, or that it is even truly representative of the current state of the team.

To recap, the Spurs were up six games on the Lakers with 10 games to go. Pop had already begun the conservative approach to managing Tim, Manu, and Tony's minutes, and George Hill saw an increased role. 

Did Pop envision Timmy going down for a week? Probably not. 

Did Pop envision Matt Bonner and Gary Neal would shoot just 27% from the arc in Timmy's absense? Probably not. 

Timmy was a reliable force in that he gave you 10 solid points, and 7-10 rebounds a game. With him out, that kind of slack is not as easy to make up when your other key contributors go cold. We can just look to the law of averages and be thankful that the shooting percentages will even back out, and be glad that Red Rocket's  flaccidity was just in the regular season. 

The Spurs see the Grizzlies in the first round and - wouldn't you know it - the number 1 seed in the west is again getting no respect. Many believe that this number 8 has a legitimate shot at knocking out the Spurs; I admit "athletic" front lines did give our pick and roll game some trouble in the regular season, especially going through the low post. But now that Rudy Gay is out for the year, I really can't envision who could make up his scoring differential on the Grizzlies, not to mention how inferior their bench is to the Spurs'. 

Even if Manu's injury to his less dominate right-elbow hinders him or removes him from a couple of games, there are still so many on the Spurs roster (see: George Hill, Gary Neal) who could easily make up for the loss of Ginobili in the short term. Yes, I know Hill or Neal might not have the majestic schnoz or yamaka shaped bald spot to give him extra "clutch" powers, but they have the ability as long as he stays aggressive.

Here is my power ranking list of the top 10 Spurs at the end of the season (previous ranking in parenthesis):

DeJaun Blair: Mutant w/o ACLs
  1. Tony Parker + (2): After a healthy diet of escargot, the fast French man has seemingly been better than ever. Parker is the most consistent scoring threat on the team, and if he is able to find driving lanes, the game is pretty much over. 
  2. Manu Ginobili - (1) The extent of Ginobili's injury is still in doubt, but luckily for the lefty he hyper-extended his right arm. Manu has seen his playing time significantly reduced as the season waned, with George Hill coming in to give him a rest. Even though there have been some games in the last few months that have come down to a last possession that Ginobili has mucked up, he still gives the Spurs the most clutch final shot opportunities in a close game. 
  3. George Hill + (5) Hill was tasked by Pop to fill some of the scoring voids left when Timmy went down for a stretch, and then when stars took a couple games off. He responded nicely, recording season highs in scoring during that stretch. The way the Spurs are built now as a run-and-gun shooting team, Hill's ascension is essential to maintain a penetrating force (snicker) through opposing team's interior when the starters go out; only by staying aggressive can Hill keep the Spurs momentum going.
  4. Tim Duncan - (3) Duncan's playing time has been extremely coddled by management, so here is hoping he can play with abandon and get back to his championship form. Even though the majority of the offense no longer runs through him, Timmy's defense, rebounding, basketball IQ, and court-vision make him an important cog in the pick and roll game. 
  5. Gary Neal - (4) Neal was the diamond in the rough during the regular season. Though he went a little cold from the arc, he (unlike Bonner) is still adaptable and a threat even when his long-shot goes cold because of his clutch short game; also, have you seen this kid turn and shoot on a dime? Gary Neal, by himself, can be the difference between a close game and a blow out.
  6. Antonio McDyess + (8) "McNasty," as we call the crafty vet, has been dependable - when he can stay on the floor. He has had a tendency as of late to rack up some early fouls as a starter, especially when he is matched up against a big and athletic opposing center. Lets face it, most people in the league are faster than McNasty, but he has a money short-shot and some of that veteran experience that can be invaluable in close game situations. He sort of fills that role that Robert Horry once filled - not the manwhore role - but the spry sage. 
  7. DeJuan Blair - (6) No one is quite sure how it happened, but DeJuan Blair found himself deep in Pop's doghouse at the end of the season, and found himself stripped of his starting role, cutting his playing time in half. He has come back stronger as of late, and is a genuine physical force under the rim even though his finishing can at times be as elegant as Helen Keller trying to find a bathroom. 
  8. Richard Jefferson - (7) Let me just say, if I see this guy fail to complete a dunk or a layup again, I will hack into his computer and release his collection of  Grizzly-Men in Banana Hammocks . I implore you Richard,  just stay behind the 3 point line. You're less annoying there. 
  9. Matt Bonner -- (9) The Red Rocket has been in a bit of a slump, but he still earns his keep on the defensive side of the ball and his rebounding ability. Like Gary Neal, if he manages to get hot, he can be the barometer on whether or not the game will be a blowout. 
  10. Tiago Splitter + (12) With his increased playing time at the end of the season, Splitter impressed the hell out of me. There were times when he looked light years beyond DeJuan Blair in his ability to finish, and he is no where near the liability on defense he once was when he was failing to recognize assignments and rotations. Chalk it up to being a foreign rookie who has to not only learn the non-native lingo, but the system of the team in that same language. Splitter could be on the cusp of having a breakout postseason, especially if we fall behind those teams with athletic interiors. Fun fact: when Splitter was guarding those athletic big men, the Spurs were actually in the positive in terms of scoring differential and field goal percentage. What does this mean? Splitter might be the best defensive presence on the team. The problem: there just is not enough data or playing time to truly call it a trend, and there still might not be that trust from Pop to gain him quality minutes in the playoffs. 
Rumor has it, Memphis has hired Eva Longoria to sit behind the Spurs bench and hawk-stare Tony Parker down in an effort to help steal one game on the road when the playoffs start on Sunday. The Spurs are set to counter by having coach Pop get his unsightly visage as close as possible to her face in order to scare the beauty off it. 

No, Coach Pop, she will NOT love you!

Series VS Grizzlies: Spurs in 5 

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