I'm in a weird business.
Yesterday afternoon inside the media trailer a prominent local columnist (not the most famous, but the second most), the chief bay area AP sportswriter, and several of the local 49ers beat writers were discussing the behavior of the San Francisco Giants beat writers and several of the local sports radio people.
Basically, they were all hot and bothered by how much homerism the Giants playoff run inspired. The two main local beat writers, in the opinion of the folks in our trailer, had sold their souls and become "paid team stenographers." The columnist suggested that the behavior of one of the radio guys, where he was swearing in delight on twitter about the Giants' success and crying during a phone call after the final out of the clinching game, was a fire-able offense and that it was clear he was trying to get hired by the baseball team. Then there was the TV analyst who compared winning the title to the birth of his children, which drew a lot of mocking and head shaking in the room.
To say that these people are not respected by the local scribes is an understatement, but at the same time, it should be noted that most of the people doing the criticizing aren't from here and weren't Giants fans growing up, while most of the fellas they were ripping are and were, so I can see both sides of it.
Here's what bothers me. It's one thing for the 49ers beat writers to walk the fence and be neutral in their coverage of the team, because they're beat writers and not paid to have opinions. But all the major columnists here are over-the-top negative and snarky in my opinion, even when the situation doesn't call for it.
Do they behave this way because in order to show you're objective you purposefully have to go overboard the way? Is it a backlash toward the fans and the team PR people that they openly despise (sportswriters hate fans even more than athletes hate sportswriters: fact), or is it the only way to advance your career in this business?
Probably some combination of all three. All I know is fan happiness seems to be the mortal enemy of the most of the media folks I've met. It's bad for business. The columnists I know all openly root against the teams they cover and aren't bashful about admitting it. I asked one once why that was the case and the answer I got was, "They're not the ones paying me."
Which is fine, but isn't there a difference between not rooting for a team and specifically rooting against them? That's where the line gets blurred.
Being a witness to the gripe-fest brought home the uniqueness of my "coverage" of the Spurs. I manage to be unprofessional, homerish and negative all at once. It's a bad journalist hat trick.
I'm very proud.
As were the parents of these girls, no doubt.
Unrulli Sports - 11/10/10 (via ThePulseNetworkTV)
Now let's talk some Spurs...
Believe it or not, but I come baring roses, not thorns. Sure, I could be snarky, point out all the negatives about almost losing a home game to a terrible Clippers team on a SEGABABA that was missing Gordon, Kaman and Davis, but I won't. The fact of the matter is that not only did we NOT lose, but there was never a moment in the game, not a single nanosecond, where I felt we might. It wasn't a question of "if" but rather "how" and "by how many."
And you know what? There's something to be said for that. Would you like the wins to be easier and cleaner? Of course? But the most important thing is to get that dub. Like all the players say, each one they get now is one less they'll have to get in March and April, where I haven't checked the schedule, but I've been assured that's it's filled with FOGAFINIs like @ Orlando- @ Miami and @ Lakers- @ '96 Bulls.
You think the second night of a back-to-back is bad? Try dealing with it after time travel machine lag. The worst.
So yeah, let's enjoy the wins as they come, because they won't 6-1 stretches won't happen often. Leave the frownies and the consternation and the hand-wringing to Pop. It's why he gets paid the big bucks.
Besides, if you've been paying attention, I mean really scrutinizing the games, you've surely noticed that the team is making incremental progress. Splitter improves game-by-game. Blair isn't quite so terrible as he was when the year started. Tony is digging in more defensively. People seem to have an idea of their roles on the team. I think both individual and team defense is starting to improve, little by little, and we're fighting through picks better, closing on shooters quicker on the P&R and our bigs have been outstanding defending the basket, even the undersized Beast.
Really, with the personnel that we have there isn't much more room for improvement defensively, as depressing as that may be to hear. Tony and Manu are both gambling too much, but with their physical limitations I'm not so sure that's necessarily a bad thing. The Spurs have made more of a commitment to being a fast break team and a big part of that is getting turnovers. If they can come up with a few easy buckets here and there overplaying the passing lanes, why not? They just have to be smarter about picking their spots and I think it's something that Pop will talk to them about and it's going to be a work in progress.
One thing I'm positive about is that with Duncan at 34 and no Bruce Bowen on the roster, the days of us being a phenomenal defense that can shut people down by playing 'em straight up and not worrying about forcing turnovers are a thing of the past. Well, unless Tiago (Leg) Splitter keeps improving at a geometric rate and he can play 35+ minutes a night, that is. The way the rules are stacked against the defenses these days - NFL defenders needs to quit their whining compared to what the NBA guys have to deal with - every team has to use the basketball equivalent of a "blitz" and try to pressure and confuse offenses. Shooting percentages will increase, but turnovers will increase too, which will only further increase shooting percentages.
As I was saying, aside from Tony and Manu's gambling, the other major thing I notice is that we're not rotating out to three point shooters as nearly well as we need to. Though again our starting guards have been guilty of this, it's more often been RJ and the newer Spurs (Neal, Anderson, Blair and Dice). I'm not sure if it's reasonable to expect a dramatic improvement in this regard because in the case of Jefferson and McDyess it's pretty hard to teach old dogs new tricks. There is only so much RJ's limited
IQ basketball IQ will absorb. I'm more hopeful the young guys can learn good habits.
Two areas that have hurt us of late are the points we've conceded off turnovers and on second chances. Again, I'm not sure how reasonable it is to expect much change here. If we're going to be the kind of team to force more turnovers, it's only logical to assume that the rest of the NBA will be as well. If you want us to turn it over less then you can ask Manu and Tony to pretty please with a cherry on top play smarter, but the real culprit is that we're not throwing it into the post to Duncan as much. We're extremely dependent on just two guys to create virtually all of our offense right now instead of three or four, which would be ideal.
As far as defensive rebounding goes, it's the by-product of our emphasis on fast breaking. The guards and wings are getting out on the lanes off the misses, hoping that the bigs will get the board and make the quick pass. If you want to rebound better, tell RJ and Manu to plant their keisters in the lane. Also, tinyball is obviously not going to help matters.
If you want to focus exclusively on the Clippers game (what a novel concept for a game recap), then it seemed to me that Pop's central message was "Griffin is literally their ONLY threat, don't let him beat us." I think some of our guys took their scrubs too lightly. Craig Smith, Rasual Butler, Ryan Gomes, DeAndre Jordan, Brian Cook and Al-Farouq Aminu combined for 69 points on 29-of-48 shooting by my count. The inside guys advantage of Tim being maybe 50% of himself because of the flu bug and playing 22 so-so minutes. He really should've sat this one out and my guess is if Splitter were more up to speed and Rocket were healthy, he would have. The Clips whodats shot 7-of-10 from three which is a bit of an anomaly, even if they were open. They didn't get to the line much though, and weren't very accurate when they did, so it evened out.
Is 95 points too much to allow a dilapidated Clippers team? Without a doubt. But we shot 49.3/61.1/86.7 ourselves. It's a brave new world for your boring ol' Spurs.
On offense there were a number of bright spots. Hill knocked down a couple of threes and looked more assertive. Blair looked like he's starting to figure a couple things out. Splitter hit some free throws. Jefferson was deadly on catch-and-shoots. Positives on top of positives stacked on top of more positives. Even the shots we were missing were almost always high quality open looks. The passing, screening and moving off the ball is all well ahead of where I would've expected this early into the season and with so many new parts on the roster.
I want to focus though on the starting backcourt.
Call me crazy, interpret this as a shot at The Wee Frenchman if you like, but from my perspective it's not so. Something is different about Tony this year. He is looking to pass. Is it maturity in his game? A directive from Pop? His own reaction to having more talented teammates around him?
My guess is no, on all three counts. As I said before with RJ and Dice's defensive rotations, it's tough after a certain age to get a player to be smarter. I don't think Tony suddenly figured out how to pass. He always knew how. That's largely been my frustration with him. It's strictly a matter of want-to. And I don't think this has much to do with the boss. It's way too soon in the season for Pop to be having any "come to Jesus" talks with Tony. Those happen after prolonged ball-hogging stretches of five, six games. And then Tony makes a point by being too unselfish on purpose and Pop yells at him to shoot more. It's a cute game they play annually. I definitely don't think it has to do with Tony respecting his wing shooters more than he has before. This guy has played with Bowen, Barry and Findog, some of the best three point shooters in the game, as well as a more athletic version of Manu. If he wasn't dying to dish it to them then this group certainly won't impress him.
Here's my theory: Tony, like most athletes, has a fairly healthy ego. I think he's noticed that he's no longer in the conversation for top-five point guards. Now everybody talks about Paul, Williams, Rondo, the old stand-bys in Nash and Kidd, and the new pups in Westbrook and Wall. What does everyone in this group have in common? They're passers. Tony used to wedge his way into those top point guard lists by sheer virtue of the Spurs' postseason success. He had to be in the discussion based on sheer principle, even though his numbers didn't necessarily dictate it. But now, with the team a few years removed from their last title, he's kind of been forgotten, as have the Spurs as a whole. It's indisputable that nationally when one thinks of the Spurs, it's Duncan one, then Manu and then Tony.
I believe the light bulb went on for Tony that if he's ever going to be taken seriously as a point he's going to have to be more of a playmaker and I believe he's sincerely making a concerted effort to think pass first. He still picks his spots for shots, but he's definitely looking to get other people shots now. I completely admit that there are other factors involved, from Duncan initiating the offense less, to the team's emphasis on running, to the simple fact that guys are shooting a high percentage and thus getting him more dimes, but to the eyeball test Tony looks like a different guy, and I'm definitely not the only person on PTR to have noticed it.
Obviously, I'm thrilled by this development.
Manu, meanwhile, had a very unusual game for him. Usually we think of him in that Derek Jeter (shudder) mold where you really have to watch him every day to truly appreciate him and he does so many things that don't show up in the box score. Hackneyed cliches, but ones that absolutely fit in his case.
Against the Clippers though the box score flattered Gino considerably. He had four turnovers and it easily could've been six or seven, if not for some hustle by RJ and a pair of fine catches by Tim and Blair. His defense was, for him, fairly atrocious. He was reluctant to make himself a big part of the game, preferring to float as he did fairly often in his younger days against shitty teams when Tim and Tony were more dominant players. He only attempted nine shots and to my untrained eye it didn't look like the Clips were paying any special attention to him. He just didn't look very energetic or into it to me.
But you look up and the guy had 22 points on nine shots. Maybe the quietest 22 he's ever had. Sure, it's not 27 on eight shots against a great team, but it's not too shabby. Perhaps it is a sign that we have taken Manu's brilliance for granted. It used to be that anytime he scored 20, it was big news on PTR. There was usually a signature play involved whether it was a dunk or some crazy layup. But now Ginobili's offensive arsenal (and his confidence) has expanded to the point where he can have a "quiet" 20. Knock down one three per quarter, throw in the random leaner/floater/layup/17-footer, sprinkle in a few freebies, and presto, you've got 22 points.
It's this subtle thing, the difference between a guy who can score and an NBA scorer, but I think Manu crossed it for good around 2008. We can still go nuts when he hammers one down on somebody's head or makes some crazy pass behind his back through somebody's legs or blocks some superduperstar's dunk (my favorite play of his was that spike of Cook's jumper in the fourth) but as far as his scoring goes, it's okay for us to yawn after games like this. For Manu 30 truly is the new 20.
As long as he's ahead of LeBron in PER, it's all good.
What's not good is James Anderson's stress fracture. Out of nowhere the rookie is out two months, minimum, and who knows if he'll ever be find his form and contribute once he gets healthy. Will Pop even let him or will the rotation be set? The timing of the injury and cutting Garrett Temple certainly doesn't make much sense to me, but few things Pop does ever does.
I suppose it will force Hill to play more and more effectively, while also solidifying Neal's role on the team. Gotta love how one game after Neal went nuts to help us beat the Bobcats Pop benched him against the Clips. Does anyone here REALLY believe Sean Elliott's explanation, that it was because of LA's "length." Come on. It's just typical Pop, playing mind games and humbling the rook.
Maybe now Gee gets a real look and maybe the injury will force Pop to really abandon tinyball for good. We can only hope. I just feel bad for the kid. Hopefully the injury happened early in time that he can come back and contribute. I just know that when I read the words "stress fracture" I think of Manu and those aren't fond memories. Anderson does have youth on his size.
Will Pop give up on him for the year? If we're going well, definitely. It's a tricky spot for us fans. If you want Anderson to contribute this season you're almost in a position of rooting for the team to struggle or for someone else to get hurt. Obviously no one is going to do that, and if you do, I don't want to know you.
Your Three Stars:
3) Tony Parker. See above.
2) James Anderson. In memoriam. Made two of three bombs.
1) Tiago Splitter. Without a doubt our best defender against the Clips. No contest. Three blocks in 16 minutes and he drew another charge. Rebounding pretty well at both ends too. 13.8 points, 9.4 boards and 2 blocks per 40 minutes. I'm loving what I'm seeing out of him.
Up Next: Saturday, Vs. Philadelphia (2-6). Preseason ends on Saturday for the Spurs against a young athletic Sixers squad who are fairly reminiscent to the Clippers in that I don't want to think too hard about finding a better comparison. They're middle of the pack in scoring and defending, but they play in the East, so that's not impressive. Even worse for them, they're undersized and a poor rebounding team. Since it's the first night of a back-to-back, I would expect Timmy to put everything he has into this one, considering that @OKC looms on Sunday. We need to get this game and the other one is gravy. The wins all count the same in the standings.