On Dec. 29th, Bill Simmons had Marc Stein and Ric Bucher on the BS Report to talk everything NBA. They spent 10 of the 103 minutes talking about the Spurs, but the problem is that they do not follow the Spurs very closely. I'm sure they catch the nationally televised games, but when your job is to cover all 30 teams, are you really watching every game that the Spurs play? Plus, Simmons has been on his book tour since the season began and I doubt he's had time for more than a handful of Spurs games. So, I do not feel as if they watch the Spurs as closely as you or me, but more than that, none of them are Spurs' homers. Simmons loves the Celtics and Lakers, Stein and Dirk eloped last summer, and Bucher is generally unbiased. So what you get is three guys attacking the Spurs with no one defending them. I thought their conversation could have used a somewhat biased Spurs' fan, (enter Fred, stage right.) In the following article, I will break up their three man weave with a 1-2-1 zone.
"The BS Report is a free-flowing conversation that occasionally touches upon mature subjects. First of all, this is the BS Report with Bill SImmons. It might be cool, I don't know, and if it's not I don't care. Bill Simmons works for ESPN, he's also named the Sports Guy, and he writes a chronicle sports column. He must be a popular dude. The BS Report. It's got a real dirty sound. Like a rusty steak knife cutting through a well aged steak. Now, now, now, the BS Report with Bill Simmons."
(Transcripts for their conversation are unavailable so I paraphrased their conversation below. If you would like to hear their original conversation, fast forward to the 46:46 mark of the BS Report, 12/30, Part One. This conversation took place just before the Spurs beat the Timberwolves.)
Simmons: Why is Manu an afterthought on this Spurs team? What's going on with him?
Bucher: He still does not have confidence in his body. He just hasn't recovered all the way from his injuries. He also has not developed a comfort level with his new teammates. This is essentially a brand new team and they are not comfortable playing with each other yet. Pop calls it a loss of corporate knowledge. They don't have any role players that know what it is to win a championship. And Tim and Manu are no longer dominant. Tim does not even draw double teams anymore.
Simmons: I know. It's sad.
Fred: Whoa, whoa, whoa, guys. That hurts. It feels like I just got stomached punched 36 times in 10 seconds. I agree with Buch that Manu is still not healthy. I mean, he's healthy but he is hesitating. But the guy is improving with every game. We are starting to see flashes on the old Manu a few times a game now, and that's reassuring. In fact, I'm going to predict he ends up 1 rebound shy of a triple double against the Wolves tonight.
And yes, it is a brand new team, but that's not a reason to write them off. In fact, that's a reason that others should keep them on their radar. If this team can come together, they arguably have the best 11 man rotation in the NBA, next to the Magic. Their ceiling is very high.
I completely disagree that Manu and Tim are no longer dominant. First, did we not just establish that Manu is still recovering from his injuries? If that's the case, let's wait till we have a healthy Manu to decide whether or not he is still dominant. And as far as Tim goes, it seems like you have not been paying attention. He is playing like the Tim of 2005. The weight he lost has allowed his to gain a step and he is jumping much better than he did in previous seasons.
There are two reasons that teams are not doubling Tim. First, Tim is being patient and conservative early in the season. He is involved in pick and rolls and generally catches the ball 10-18 feet from the basket to avoid physical punishment. It is very difficult to successfully double team a good, tall passer when he is faced up to the basket because he can see the defense coming. If Tim posted up on the block more often, I would argue that you would see teams employing a double team. In addition, if you are defending the Spurs, who are you leaving to double team Tim? Bruce Bowen is gone and Bogans hits his shots with consistency and also is capable of putting the ball on the floor. Leaving Tony leads to a plethora of problems. And although RJ has struggled, he has proven that he can hit the three pointer consistently. So the reason teams are choosing not to double Tim has less to do with him declining, and more to to do with his supporting cast improving.
Stein: Well, I think it takes a year for new guys to understand the system and the Spurs have a lot of new guys. They thought RJ would give them a good amount of 25 point games that would take pressure off of the big three, but that is not panning out. Drafting Blair was a godsend for them. He is saving them right now.
Bucher: The difference is that previous Spurs teams had role players the required few touches to make a big impact on the game. Now they have guys that require the ball to make a positive impact. Bonner, Mason, Hill, RJ, they all need touches to be effective.
Fred: Again, I feel that y'all are selling reasons to not hit the alarm as ones to abandon all hope. The fact that it takes time for new guys to get acquainted with a system means we should give the Spurs more time before being so judgemental. Now, RJ has struggled, that is more than obvious. But I think what he has shown us has been encouraging. If he can learn to be more efficient, that is to say take fewer funky fade-aways, he can still pan out. RJ can get to the line, finish on the break, and hit the three. Is he going to average 25 ppg? No, but that's not what the Spurs need. They needed another offensive weapon, and if efficient, RJ can and will fill that void.
I think the fact that the Spurs have role players that require the ball is a good thing. This implies that they are offensive minded. The Spurs' big three are no longer capable of playing 35+ mpg, which means that someone needs to score when these guys are resting. The reason for their early struggles is that they are not yet comfortable playing with each other. Buch, you began by pointing this out.
Stein: Well, it's too early to write this team off. No one wants to see them in the playoffs, not even the Lakers.
Simmons: So if you had a choice between Portland and San Antonio?
Stein: I would want to play the Blazers and it's not close.
Bucher: Yeah, I agree and that's the point.
Fred: Finally, we've been talking for five minutes and that's the first positive thing y'all have said about the Spurs. This goes back to our main theme that the Spurs have a high ceiling and if healthy, they could be very dangerous. I'm excited to see how these guys play after the All Star break. If they are still struggling, fine, it's not happening this year. But if they start rolling, I wouldn't want to be caught downhill, especially if Blair is leading the charge; that would hurt.
Simmons: I have one more Spurs related topic. I've been hearing rumors that maybe Pop has beat on Manu for too long and he's had it and wants out. What do y'all think?
Stein: And you have to take into consideration the player. Manu is not a guy that would be bothered by something like that. I think he's bothered by his contract uncertainty. He is a free agent and doesn't know where he's going to be next year. That would bother anyone.
Simmons: Well, Manu looks like an unhappy player so we are saying that he does not have confidence in his body and contract uncertainty is bothering him. So he's basically a head case right now.
Fred: Hold up guys, not cool. You can attack RJ and everyone else as much as you'd like, but back off Manu. I will do way more than lock y'all in a dark closet for that nonsense. Unhappy, Simmons? Where are you getting that from? To me, he simply looks like a player who is coming back from injuries and is trying to shake the rust off. You are having unhappy, rust confusion. Manu still plays with fire, unfortunately his timing is off so the plays we are used to seeing every possession happen once or twice a game. But do not call him unhappy. Frustrated? Probably. Rusty? Definitely, but he is not unhappy. He plays with a passion that unhappy people would be unable to muster.
And I am only half-buying the contract uncertainty angle. I think he knows that the Spurs just want to see him healthy before making an offer. This is something that would bother other players much more than it would bother Manu. Money has never been a huge issue for Manu. I mean, he signed for substantially less than Tony was making.
Bucher: And San Antonio would never trade Manu Ginobili. From a local standpoint, it would be like trading Larry Bird. Manu is the kind of guy that you have to go down in flames with. San Antonio, with their Hispanic culture and the way Manu plays, just cannot part with him The only way it would happen is if Manu demanded a trade, and he's not going to do that. Take away the basketball court, just from a human interest standpoint, the Spurs could not part with him.
Stein: But what do you have to pay him to bring him back?
Bucher: Money has never been an issue for Manu. He accepted the Spurs first offer last time because it was interfering with his wedding plans. And he took less than Tony was making which I think was outrageous.
Fred: Okay, this is better. So we agree that the contract thing is not the issue. Money is not a concern for Manu and he knows that the Spurs will take care of him in the end. So it is simply rust. He needs to get his timing back and regain confidence in his body. As I said, he is improving with every game so let's give him another month before we call him a shadow of his former self.
Simmons: One last thing about the Spurs. They remind me of the Jazz at the end of the Stockton, Malone era. Same coach, same main players, but they have aged and just never found the right role player replacements.
Fred: That's how you want to end this, Simmons? With that unfair comparison? I'm sorry, but I can't let you get away with that. The Spurs have not only done a better job of replacing their aging role players, but I think most would argue that their second unit is an improvement over any second unit they have ever had. The problem is that they are all brand new to the Spurs and have not mastered the intricacies of playing with each other yet. And yes Simmons, I do say 'yet' because with time, they will get there. Will it happen in time for the playoffs? I think it will if they can remain healthy and get enough reps. I realize that is a big 'if,' but this is a superior position to be in than 25 of the other teams in the league are experiencing, and I'll take it. Thanks for having me on guys, later Stein and Simmons. Buch, if you visit the Hanover plains before I do, say 'hi' to Dartmouth for me. I'm out.