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If NBA veterans like Powell and Curry aren't likely to claim a roster spot, is their real training camp value strictly for practice?
Now that J.R.W has discussed Eddy Curry with his usual optimism, let's talk about the other veteran big in training camp, Josh Powell, and why he and Curry might have more value as camp players than potential additions.
You may remember Powell from his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he played a minor role as a backup and won back-to-back championships. He was their fourth big after Bynum, Odom and Gasol, which meant he played sparingly and wasn't particularly effective. Before joining the Dark Side, he played for the other LA team in what can be described as his best season. Powell scored very little but rebounded the ball well, especially on defense.
When his contract with the Lakers expired, Powell wanted a pay day and left LA. Unfortunately for him, fringe rotation players don't usually get multi-year contracts, and Powell ended up playing in Atlanta on a one year deal. He didn't exactly shine there, but like most of his career, he provided good bang for the buck at barely above the minimum. The problem for Powell and his chances at being anything more than a 3rd big on a bad team is that he basically never developed; he was the same player in Atlanta that he was with the Lakers.
When the lockout struck, Powell signed in China, where he averaged a respectable 16.7 points and 8.3 boards in 32 games. After that, he had a brief stint in Switzerland before signing with Brujos de Guayama of Puerto Rico, where he averaged 16.1 points and 9.2 rebounds. In his path to make a comeback to the NBA, Powell did what he had to do: dominate inferior opposition.
So what could Powell bring to the Spurs if his was to make the final cut? Well for one, a mid-range jumper. In his last season in the league, Powell took 1.5 attempts from 16-23 feet while connecting on 44% of them. As a pick-and-pop deep bench big, he clearly has skill and could benefit from the fact that the Spurs don't really have someone that can do this other than Duncan. On defense, and I'm working from memory here, he was a mobile big that could defend pick-and-rolls decently enough. He lacks the bulk and strength to bang with centers, but he's certainly long and scrappy enough to defend power forwards. For his career, he rebounds around the same percentage of available defensive boards that Matt Bonner or DeJuan Blair pulled down last season and is a decent offensive rebounder.
Overall, Powell shows some skills that every team wants from its bigs, like a mid-range jumper and a willingness to defend, but nothing jumps out in terms of potential. He's a 29 year old player and it would be silly to expect him to develop areas of his game he has never excelled at before. As a deep bench guy you can do worse than Powell, but the Spurs already have five bigs under contract at the moment. If the idea is to employ a 6th, a younger player with upside would be a smarter use of the roster spot and resources. But maybe the Spurs are not looking to add anyone for the season and are simply trying to find the right fit for camp. Are the Spurs using Powell (and Curry) in training camp to improve their current big-man rotation, instead of trying to add to it?
The Spurs' bigs struggle closing out on jumpers, partly by design - as the team is willing to concede mid-range shots - and partly because they do not recover quickly enough. As Serge Ibaka's 11-11 night showed, you can't simply allow open looks anymore because most teams have bigs that can hit from mid-range or beyond. Having someone like Powell trying to get a spot on a team would be a good way to challenge Bonner, Blair, Diaw and Splitter to step up their defensive game when guarding a jump-shooter in the same way that having a big, strong post player like Curry could test how well the Spurs' bigs can handle such an assignment. Unlike undrafted rookies or athletic guys with little skill, veterans like Powell and Curry come with NBA-ready skills already at their disposal and have been around long enough to understand that, while they are fighting for a spot, the coaching staff needs to focus on the players that are guaranteed to be on the team. It is also in their best interest to behave as professionally as possible, since this is probably one of their last remaining chances of landing a roster spot anywhere else. Pop's stamp of approval likely carries some weight around the league and getting it would increases both Powell's and Curry's chances of reviving their dwindling careers.
Unless something catastrophic happens, neither Curry nor Powell will don the Silver and Black this upcoming season; a fact that leads to frustration for fans, who would rather see those spots go to young, high-upside players that could break out and be contributors. But what these veterans could do is help the guys already on the team improve in areas in which they've been struggling. I understand that going against Curry won't get Splitter ready to face Dwight Howard, and DeJuan Blair won't have as much trouble closing out on Powell as he'd have bothering Dirk Nowitzki's shot. However, seeing each react to the type of player that has bothered him in the past can help the coaching staff get a better read on how the guys currently on the team would fare in certain situations and adjust the game plan accordingly. It's possible that PATFO didn't hand out invites thinking of a roster overhaul, but of having the players they'll rely on during the season face the type of opposition that pose issues. And that's a good use of camp bodies, if you ask me.