Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The San Antonio Spurs, otherwise known as the Celtics of the Western Conference, were not as fortunate as their Eastern akin last season. Both teams’ championship windows, so to speak, were thought to be closed, but Boston was able to prove the world wrong with their Cinderella championship run. The Spurs looked to do the same and were in good shape after a surprisingly easy first round victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
But in the second round, against a fast-paced Phoenix Suns team that kept pushing it down their throats, the Spurs started to show their age. Tim Duncan was the only consistent player, as Manu Ginobili faded after a brilliant first round and Tony Parker got taken to school by Steve Nash.
In the East, Boston is one of the three teams that have a shot at making the Finals and look poised to defy age once again this season. One has to wonder if the Spurs still have enough left in the tank to do the same in the West, a conference that has less star power than the East, but more playoff caliber teams.
There’s a chance, perhaps its not as good of a chance as the Celtics have, but there’s a chance that the Spurs can make one final push for the Finals.
There’s a chance because Tim Duncan isn’t done yet. You may not remember or recall Duncan doing all that well last season but even though his per game averages dipped (due to a reduction in minutes), Duncan had his best year in the past three seasons. On a PER36 basis, Duncan averaged his usual 21 points and 12 rebounds and continued to pour in points at a high clip. He shot 52% from the field overall (3rd highest % of his career) and shot 43% from 16-23 feet, continuing to bank home shot after shot.
Duncan’s offense will continue to be there until his arms are too tired to take 15 shots a game but his defense has suffered. If you watched the Spurs’ series against the Suns, you definitely would have noticed the cornucopia of pick and rolls that the Suns ran with Amare Stoudemire, either leaving Duncan helpless in the paint as the more athletic Stoudmire got right by him or forcing TD to switch and guard Steve Nash, who routinely faded away and hit the mid-range jumper over Duncan.
Thankfully, the Spurs got themselves some help for Duncan this off-season. Tiago Splitter, the Spurs 2007 first round pick, decided this summer that he would make the transition from the Euroleague to the NBA. Splitter is an above average shot blocker that would be the first skilled seven footer Duncan has played with since David Robinson. Splitter will start the year on the bench, with DeJuan Blair starting at the forward spot, but as the season goes on he should have opportunities to take over the starting center role, putting Duncan back at his more natural power forward position and erasing some of the defensive deficiencies he has shown as he ages.
Manu Ginobili figures to have a couple of more years left in him as an all-star caliber shooting guard. The contract extension the Spurs gave him was a bit too generous but he was one of the league’s best players for the majority of last season. His ball-handling has improved since he entered into the league, he’s an underrated defender, he’s a willing passer and he’s a good shooter in either the point guard or shooting guard role. Manu is really one of the better players in the league and would be in the discussion with the likes of Kobe and Wade at shooting guard if it wasn’t for his inconsistency, a problem that often arises because of his inability to stay healthy.
Still, this should be yet another season of under-the-radar brilliance from Ginobili. His ability to facilitate and run an offense has grown so much over the years and he’ll continue to do that in 2010-11. This development in Ginobili’s game has had one negative side effect: Tony Parker is no longer a necessity for the Spurs. Parker saw a major decline last season as he averaged his lowest points per game since 2004, likely because he lost most of the quickness that made him unstoppable when going to the rim. Now, he’s a speedy point guard that has lost most of his speed and he’s a bad perimeter shooter. On top of that, defensively, Parker is subpar at best and he’s not in the same area code as Ginobili as a passer. To be honest, the Spurs are probably better off trading Parker to the Knicks for some young talent know rather than waiting for his $13.5 million contract to expire at the end of the year.
Part of the reason losing Parker wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Spurs is the emergence of George Hill. Hill can play the point guard position with Ginobili at the two, providing a nice interchangeable dynamic in the backcourt for San Antonio. Unlike Parker, Hill is a knockdown shooter from long-range, converting spot-up three pointers at a 44% clip last season, and is a great defender at the other end, even against bigger two guards. Hill reminds me a bit of Bruce Bowen. He’s not nearly as good defensively, but he gives it his all on that end and he’s a fantastic shooter from the corners, which is a shot the Spurs love to rely on.
Hill bursting onto the scene gives the Spurs a dynamic and extremely efficient guard to play alongside of Ginobili and thanks to the draft they also have a good rookie in James Anderson to assume the duties that Ginobili had as the sixth man. Hill’s play also made the signing of Richard Jefferson very questionable. Jefferson was a disaster in his first year with a Spurs. His athleticism, which he relied on heavily, wained and he was a 36% spot-up shooter. On defense, he was even worse, often out of position or disinterested. Gregg Popavich never seemed to like Jefferson last season and it seemed like a miracle when he agreed to forfeit the second year of his deal to test the market. But instead of taking the cap space and using it on a valuable asset, the Spurs resigned Jefferson until 2014 on a deal worth close to $40 million.
And perhaps the biggest asset that Hill has is his suffocating defensive work. Because Jefferson is long, tall, and athletic, his acquisition was as much of a defensive one as an offensive one in the eyes of many. However, Hill has become one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball, showing the ability to stick with quick guards like Aaron Brooks and Chris Paul by moving his feet and bother bigger players like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade thanks to his length. Popovich says that Hill is his favorite player on the team. The reason he gave was because he still laughed at his jokes while veterans like Timmy-D and Manu have stopped caring because they have heard them so many times, but I am willing to bet his defense has just as much to do with that.
I just don’t see why retaining Jefferson was necessary when Hill is more than capable of producing at the wing position and rookie James Anderson is entering into the league as an expert scorer. Several other capable players could be had at a much lower price but for whatever reason, Jefferson will be San Antonio’s small forward this season.
Though not a superstar or one capable of carrying this team on his own once Duncan retires, I see Hill as one of the next generation Spurs that will form the core of the team.
The other next generation Spur, so to speak, is DeJuan Blair. The statsheet doesn’t do the man justice in any game he plays in. Blair may very well have been the best pure rebounding big man in the league as a rookie. The way he uses his wide frame and tremendous wingspan to overcome players who are taller than him are a testament to the principle that rebounding is as much about positioning before and after a shot is taken as it is about being tall, long and athletic. Dwight Howard is the best combination of athleticism and positioning, but if Blair could get up like Howard, nobody that’s on the floor with Blair would ever get a rebound. There is a very good chance that Blair will challenge, if not win, the rebounding crown if he keeps his starting job in San Antonio.
Even though Tim Duncan is one of the all-time greatest players in NBA history, he could use a player like Blair around him to hassle on the boards, oat least moreso than he needs Antonio McDyess or Matt Bonner. There is literally not one single play of his that you can watch and say he did not give 100% fighting for a rebound. On the offensive glass, the kid is already one of the best in the league. According the Basketball Value, the Spurs grab 12.62% more offensive rebounds when Blair is on the floor then when he is off the court. Astounding numbers for a kid that fell into San Antonio’s lap in the second round after health concerns turned him from a potential lottery pick into the biggest steal of the draft.
The Spurs may not win the NBA Championship this season. They may not be able to come up with close wins like this over scrappier teams like the Blazers and Jazz and they may not be able to overcome the amount of talent the Lakers have, but even though seeing Ginobili, Parker, and especially Duncan start to lose the battle with father time is hard to stomach for Spurs fans, having both Hill and Blair waiting in the wings to lead this team is a sight they should be happy to see. And if the Spurs get that lucky break, if Duncan continues to be his hall-of-fame self, Ginobili manages to stay on the floor and their young quartet of role players (Hill, Blair, Splitter, Anderson) continue to improve, then perhaps we could see a repeat of what Boston did last season out west.
The San Antonio Spurs are very excited that they’re best foreign prospect Tiago Splitter decided to come to the United States to put on the silver and black. Splitter was drafted with the 28th overall pick in 2007 but he has matured into a much better big man than projected during his past two seasons playing overseas in the Euroleauge.
Splitter is not a young prospect with a lot of international experience like Ricky Rubio, rather he is rather old, at least for an NBA rookie, at age 25. But he does has played a lot of big games at a high level both in the Euroleague and with Brazil’s National Team.
Once you get passed that, though, Splitter has looked very good. Offensively, you can tell he has a lot of that European big man skill that guys like Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitizki have, at least when it comes to his touch around the basket. Tiago has not shown much range, but again, he does resemble Pau and Dirk with his ability to finish at the rim with either hand and over defenders.
Splitter has shown a very quick turnaround flip shot that he has mastered on the block. He’s got more than a few post moves, some of which are deliberate, and this little beauty of a shot is a perfect way to keep the defender off balance. While being defended by Lamar Odom against Team USA, Tiago made this move look oh so perfect. He backed Odom down on the block and in the blink of an eye his hands were up from his hip and his body was turning towards the basket as he flipped it in perfectly. Odom had his arms straight, extended all the way, which is hard for anyone to finish over, but Splitter made easy work of him.
I’ve seen enough of his work to say that he has a very nice skillset offensively. He’s long, quick, smart and really that’s all you need to be to be considered the best center the Spurs have seen since David Robinson. Splitter isn’t the #1 option for Brazil, though they ran a ton of pick and rolls featuring him as he cuts to the basket, which is a good thing. He’s not going to be the goto post player for the Spurs. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and maybe even Richard Jefferson will likely be featured before Splitter and that’s OK. Tiago isn’t an out of this world talent that will eventually be the leader of this team but he is a very capable offensive player that will complement the rest of the team well.
Defensively, Splitter did a good job of protecting the rim against Team USA. He played the angles well, stopped Lamar Odom from getting good looks at the rim (aside from one in the final two minutes that he had to concede due to his four fouls but Lamar missed anyways), and even cut him off baseline on a senseless drive by Odom. He has shown good instincts and has the desire to get stops that his team needs. I’m not sure how much of that could by pride or that he was playing against Team USA. It may not be any different than how he plays in the NBA but there is a chance that a jersey with Brazil on the front and an opposition with USA on the front would get his juices flowing more than someone in a Mavericks jersey will.
Nonetheless, from everything I have seen, Splitter has the tools to become an effective option for the Spurs on both ends of the floor. Tim Duncan is aging and is in dire need of a center that can protect the lane with him and take some pressure off of him on offense as well. Tiago can do that, at least more than Antonio McDyess could. And if rebounding actually is an issue (or at the very least, not a strength), Splitter will have the pleasure of playing alongside Duncan, who still averaged 10 rebounds in 31 minutes last season, and DeJuan Blair, who averaged 6.4 rebounds in 18 minutes a game in his rookie year, with the second unit.In a way, I think Kevin Durant is the new Tim Duncan. Despite the media’s love for the Kobe-LeBron headline, this last decade as been more about more Kobe and Duncan fighting for the NBA’s . Kobe and Duncan have combined for nine rings over the course of their careers and they have more of a difference in personality than James and Bryant do. Kobe is the demonstrative teammate that yells at his troops constantly and Duncan is the quiet superstar that talks in cliches and rarely downs his teammates, which is similar to Durant, who is the new nice guy in the NBA. As Duncan and Kobe age, the superstar battle that will be between Durant and James.
But the NBA may not be Durant and James’ yet. Bryant is still going strong, coming off of back-to-back championships and Duncan is as good as ever.
Duncan has lost a bit on the defensive end, where he was one of the best to ever play, so his overall ranking amongst the top of the NBA has slipped a tad. His long arms no longer make up for his decline in foot speed and he can be a bit of a liability on pick and rolls because of his lack of help on the weakside. That being said, numbers still rank him as a premier defender on the pick and roll and overall.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Duncan was the 42nd best defender on the pick and roll and allowed just .86 points per possession overall, the 96th best mark in the league. Duncan was still the anchor of the Spurs’ defense last season despite his decline physically, but he was still able to carry the Spurs’ to the ninth best defensive rating in the NBA and held his man 14% below their normal production over the course of the season. Duncan is still a genius on that end. He knows where to be, how to use his body on post-ups and how to make sound defensive rotations. His body can no longer keep up with his mind, at least not like it used to, but he is still a more than capable defensive player.
Offensively, Duncan hasn’t really regressed at all. His efficiency is incredible for someone his age. He ranked as the 21st best post-up player in the league last season, scoring a point per possession on the block, an amazing figure. Duncan also scored one point per possession, the 76th best mark in the league.
He’s still so, so good at banking in shots from the mid-range. Whether he’s on the baseline or facing up on either side of the free throw line, that bankshot is money seemingly every time he takes it. Duncan also remains an above average rebounder because of his instincts on the glass and an extremely effective passer out of the high post, posting the 15th best assist ratio out of all centers while rarely turning over the ball. Duncan also had the highest PER of any center in the league last season, topping the list at 24.79.
Duncan may be on the wrong side of his career and he may be getting longer in the tooth by the day, but he’s still one of the league’s best players and he is essential for success in San Antonio. Ginobili has the ability to be the best player on the team on some nights, but without Duncan, without that dominant big man that can still change a game on both ends of the floor, Manu wouldn’t be able to lead his team to success. If Duncan continues to be himself, even if he sees another decrease in minutes, he’ll be the most valuable player in San Antonio
- Tony Parker will be traded to the Knicks mid-season.
- Manu Ginobili will average 18 points per game.
- Tim Duncan will average 20 and 10 PER36 yet again this season.
- DeJuan Blair will rank in the top five in rebound rate this season.