I'm such a wordy bastard, oftentimes my comments get away from me, lol.
I've been encouraged to repost my overlong comment of nearly 2000 words to Stampler's most excellent recap of the World Series Champion Giants (since about '87) and the Spurs' Game Three of this fledging season.
My edited repost follows after the jump:
Stampler observed that one take-away the Spurs should learn from the Giants this year is the critical importance of defense -- the Giants have great pitching but one of their weakest batting lineups and yet prevailed. I agree that D is key, but am not 100% certain that this San Antonio group is going to give us fans the kind of 'lock-down' defense that we've become accustomed to in (championship) years past. I think the Spurs can still 'bring it' for short stretches during every game, but they'll have to show consistency on whether they can force opposing teams into one or two bad-shooting quarters that make those teams have to fight back from 10+ point deficits for the remaining time in each game... still, it's early in the season, so the players whose defense I have questions about may surprise me by exceeding my expectations. I'm just not holding my breath expecting this year's team to hold opponents to league-leading lows in points scored or FG %.
Stampler's favorite play wasn't Manu's sweet pass in for Splitter's first NBA points and dunk, but when Simmons fouled Griffin after the flagrant 2 that injured George Hill. He wrote
Simmons retaliating not against any random Clipper but their franchise player sent a message: You take out one of our guys, we’ll take out one of yours. We’re not pushovers.
which I agreed with. Over the summer, someone bemoaned the fact that the Spurs lacked an NHL-type enforcer... I'd say we have one now.
He did warn us that it's still early days:
Obviously it’s incredibly early and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, especially considering that we haven’t played anyone remotely good, but I like that both of these guys aren’t shy about hoisting up open shots from 25-feet away when they have clean looks.
and I agree. I'm tempering my optimism somewhat because, so far, we've only beaten two teams that aren't very good (despite not playing great ourselves) and split a pair between two 'good' teams that are possible playoff teams (though likely to be in the bottom half of the WC bracket). We lost to NOOCH, a team that should be in turmoil (sort of) due to their PG situation, and tonight beat a Phoenix team that is substantially different from the one that swept us in the second round of the playoffs last year. I'm happy about tonight's win, but the margin of victory (and error) was small, so I wouldn't be too cocky about it. In any event, given the Spurs' early schedule, we probably won't have a clear picture of where we stand with respect to top-tier teams until later this year, or early next.
Regarding Anderson and Neal not being shy, one of the things I love about Pop as a coach is that he expects his sharpshooters to take their open shots. It's more than a 'green light' - he'll likely chew out shooters when they pass up the shots they're supposed to take. That's why it's so aggravating to me when a shooter who's lost confidence is on the floor and passes the rock when he's supposed to shoot it. At least this year we have enough depth that we can swap in another shooter with fresh instructions from Coach to shoot the d@mn ball on open looks.
Speaking of shooters taking the shots they're supposed to take, can you believe RJ 2.0 tonight? Three straight triples made in the 4th quarter (despite missing one earlier in the game) from the same spot on the left corner, sparking a 9-2 run. And his fourth trey of the night was the go-ahead basket near the end of the quarter, part of the 8-0 run that led to the victory. I'd say that Bruce Bowen's corner office has a new occupant. And the Suns fans who have been ecstatic about RMJ leaving for the Big Apple can now 'Fear the Rage.' :)
Actually, I figured (hoped?) that RJ 2.0 would be the story for this year, so his resurgent play has not been too big a surprise for me. Neal, otoh, came completely out of left field... I wasn't sure if he'd even make the roster, much less the rotation, much less shining the way he has done thus far.
Speaking of Neal,
Not only can Neal and Anderson both shoot the ball from range, but they both look more comfortable than I anticipated dribbling it, passing it, and taking pull up jumpers.
That's very true, but it's not all... their defense, though hardly Bowenesque, has been a pleasant surprise. I credit Coach to a certain extent for this, because he emphasized wing defense as a need in training camp, and said more than once that making the roster and securing playing time would depend on defensive effort. I think both Neal and Anderson, as well as Simmons, got Pop's message loud and clear... and have responded.
As for our other ROY candidate :) Stampler observed
Of course the game also marked the debut of Tiago Splitter. While he looked to me like he nervous and unsure what his body could give him Monday night, the concept of team defense didn’t look foreign to him at all and he already looks very adapt at hedging on the pick-and-roll and rotating on defense. It’s way too soon to tell what we can expect from him on offense, but I know he’ll have to rebound more aggressively if he wants to play big minutes (well either that or learn how to shoot threes and write a sandwich blog). He’s definitely an athlete though and I liked how he puts his arms straight up in the air to bother shooters the way Duncan and Pau Gasol do.
I think Splitter has very good fundamentals and footwork… credit his coaches and work ethic and all that time watching/analyzing Duncan on film. Even if he doesn’t score a lot, even if he doesn’t grab rebounds himself, he’ll be an asset on the floor, if he brings his defense and blocks out his man. I actually don’t expect him to have a lot of rebounds stat-wise, as he’s known more for paying attention to keeping his man occupied, but his efforts will probably help our other bigs with their rebounding stats (particularly Blair, should the Spurs play them together).
About the new blood, I agree +infinity with Stampler here:
Watching these three guys play it looked fairly obvious to me that they all would benefit greatly from playing with Manu, to be their shot creator and stabilizing focus. The key to the championship teams in ‘03, ’05 and ’07 was that they didn’t need Manu to be their best playmaker AND their best three point shooter. Manu’s good from long range, but streaky. He’s better off driving and kicking to open specialists. I would put McDyess and Hill (provided he’s healthy) back into the starting lineup and have Manu on the bench along with Blair and three new guys.
imho the second unit is darn good already (I think they outplayed our starters at times vs. the Clippers), but put in a playmaker like Manu with them and they’d be deadly, even though I’m not sure how much unrestrained driving to the hole the Amazine Argentine is going to do this year. And, even given his streaky behind-the-arc shooting, he’s the guy I most often see making key triples a critical points in games.
I get chills thinking about a Splitter/Blair/Anderson/Neal/Ginobili second unit. Anyone else? Splitter and Blair inside or in the PnR would benefit greatly from Manu’s playmaking, and the two sharpshooters would have open looks every time Manu went into the paint with the ball. A plethora of options, as TD might say.
And yet, even with Hill hurt and unavailable, Coach Pop declined to try this tonight against the Suns. They went with Temple as the backup PG, but it seemed that both Nash and Dragic had his number. So Manu and Parker had to play somewhat heavier minutes, to make up for Hill's absence and Temple's relative ineffectiveness.
Stampler's "Three Stars" for the LAC game were Dice, RJ 2.0, and the Nail:
3) Antonio McDyess – His jumper still isn’t quite there but he’s rebounding extremely well (10 in 23 minutes) and is playing the best defense of any our bigs so far, which isn’t exactly a high bar to clear.
I worry about Dice playing too many minutes in the early going, but yeah, he’s been solid. Unfortunately, he and Duncan will continue to pile up minutes until Bonner is back and/or Splitter is trusted by Pop with more playing time. I remember him making a nice mid-range jumper, then missing one almost immediately after, in the Clippers game, so I’m not sure if it means it’s on or off. Mechanics looked good.
2) Richard Jefferson – He looks very confident shooting it from wherever he is on the floor, and if a defender is close to him on the catch he simply pump fakes and goes past him to the hoop. If this is the RJ we get all year, we’ll be a contender, bottom line.
Confidence is key. I’m glad to see him play with confidence again; it makes last year seem like a bad dream. His ability – or maybe the confidence in his ability – to make mid-range jumpers is forcing defenders to contest his shot and not sag off when he gets the ball, which gives him the opportunity to blow past with a fake and a quick first step. This is the RJ 2.0 I wanted to see this year after his hard work over the summer, and I hope we get more of the same…. agree that he could be the major difference-maker between ‘being in the mix’ and being an ‘also-ran.’
1) Gary Neal – His shooting touch kept the Spurs in the game early and as the game went along he showed all facets of his game. Very impressed at how easily he’s caught on to what we’re doing at both ends of the floor and he doesn’t look intimidated or confused at all.
As I mentioned above, he’s my biggest surprise so far this year. Another role-playing gem in the making.
As far as tonight's game was concerned, Stampler had these predictions:
It’s going to take some getting used to not having to face Amare, but Turkoglu will present his own problems for our defense and unlike the first three teams we’ve faced, the Suns have a serious second unit with Frye- Warrick-Dudley-Childress-Dragic. As was the case in the playoffs last year, they’ll try to stay even with their starters and make hay with the bench, so it would really behoove Pop to play Manu with the subs again, or the first six minutes of the second and fourth quarters could get ugly. Because of our unfamiliarity with their remade roster, our injuries to Bonner and Hill, Splitter not being in game shape and just the fact that it’s a road game against a likely 2011 playoff team, I have this as an "L." Therefore, it’s the fellas first chance to pleasantly surprise me and get the RAGE back to even.
Turkoglu hasn’t played especially well with Phoenix, but I fear a breakout game against his former team. (Did not happen) Then again, we could run the offense thru whoever he’s guarding and present the Suns with their own set of defensive problems. (Timmy's unstoppability tonight made this moot.) Their second unit is still potent and could cause us fits, but we can be hopeful because they’re even more unfamiliar with our own potent new bench. (I was totally wrong... their bench outscored ours 45-26... then again, Warrick's 19 points and 31+ minutes were more starter-like than Turkoglu's numbers, and Neal played limutes, so I understand my mistake.)
If Manu doesn’t come in with our second unit, who will be the backup PG/playmaker since Hill will not be suiting up? Temple? (Turns out it was.) As much as I’d like to see if his D vs. Dragic is as good as some PtR’rs think it is (turns out it wasn't), I doubt that Pop will go there. (Turns out I was totally wrong.) It makes a lot of sense to me to start Neal at SG and bring in Manu as the backup PG for this game, though of course there’s the risk that the Suns would run the offense thru J.Rich to see if he can abuse the rookie. (What makes sense to me didn't make sense to a coach with four rings... go figure.) Temple could still see playing time as the backup SG, or perhaps they’d bring in Simmons in as the backup SF and move Anderson over to SG for the second unit. (Didn't happen this way at all.)
I hope Hill will recover soon and be effective... we need him as the third guard backing up Manu and TP. And I'm still looking for that breakout game from Blair. I lovin' what I'm seeing from RJ 2.0, Anderson, and Neal so far, and am hoping the Splitter's minutes and play will ramp up soon. Overall, I'm impressed at how well and comfortably each player seems to be fitting in to his role on the team... this will be a very dangerous group if they gel the way I hope and expect.
Bring on the Rockets!