Grading the Spurs Individual Performers Against the Clippers

The Spurs beat the LA to nearly every ball, and in every game.
Quick Game 4 Spurs-Clippers thoughts before I get to the grades/preview:

I think Pop kind of took a dive.

Well, maybe not a dive per se, but you can't tell me he would've been terribly bothered if they lost that game, and at the very least he wanted exactly what we got, a close game that had to be pulled out late in the fourth quarter. Jeff Van Gundy pointed out during Game 3 that the team hadn't really been challenged like that in the playoffs, and even in that game where they were down 24 early, the comeback was so sudden and thorough that they had a solid 8-10 point lead through most of the fourth quarter, so it wasn't very stressful. It was good for the Spurs to face a team with their backs to the wall in a back-and-forth game, and it also gave Pop a chance to see the small-ball lineup of Duncan-Leonard-Ginobili-Green-Parker in crunch time, which I believe we'll see a lot of against OKC.

The main reason the game looked fishy to me was how the Spurs guarded the pick-and-roll, or rather how they didn't. Through three games they either trapped Chris Paul outright or at least steered him heavily toward the baseline. In game 4 though it looked like a carbon copy of our "meh" regular season defense, where the Spurs just played the pick-and-roll like any other slappy team and gave Paul free rein to go middle.

Pop knew the offense would be good for 95-plus points. He just wanted to ensure that the Clips would be in that neighborhood as well. Letting Paul be Paul again was the only way. And if CP3 did it so well that it opened up another 20 point lead for LA and if the Spurs started sloppily again on offense, then it would've been an "L" and Pop would've finally gotten what he wanted, an excuse to yell at some people and not having to answer stupid winning streak questions any longer. Win-win.

In the grades you'll note I'm including what the player's PER was for the series. However, since I couldn't find any websites that would tell me that, I had to estimate. I did this two ways. One method was to average out what a guy's total postseason PER is against what it was after the Jazz series, either adding or subtracting the difference as necessary. Since both series ended in four games, the average between the two should be close, right? Well, not exactly because some guys played more minutes in one series than another. Another, probably closer to exact method, I got from JRW. I added each player's game score for the four games, divided it by the number of overall minutes they played for the series and then multiplied that number x 48. You'll see that in all but a couple of exceptions the range between the two methods was pretty close. Just pretend the PER is the middle of that range and be happy.

Tim Duncan: A

21.0 ppg, 9.3 rebs, 3.3 asts, 2.0 blk, 1.0 stl, 1.3 TO, 59.4 FG%, 80 FT%, 34.0 mpg, +69, +.507/min, 27.6-30.0 PER*

You know in "A Boy Named Sue," where Johnny Cash sings, "I've fought tougher men, but I really can't remember when..." well that's how I feel about Timmeh's playoff series against the Clips. I know he's had better playoff series, but it's been a long while, right? The Suns series in 2007 and 2005 are both comparable, but he gave up a boatload of points to A'm'a'r'e in both, in part due to the game plan. I think 2006 against the Mavericks might have a solid case, and I do recall Duncan himself saying it was the best one he ever played, so let's go with that unless you want to get way back to the David Robinson days.

Obviously the thing that makes this series special for Duncan is that he did it at the ripe old age of 36. It helped him greatly that A) the Clips didn't really have anyone for him to guard B) he's surrounded by a great team, and C) the sweep reduced the wear and tear that would've likely set in with a prolonged series. Still, at this stage of his career we couldn't have possibly asked for any more from Duncan in any single facet of his game.

His only two periods of haggard play were both excusable, if you think about it. Duncan started extremely sluggishly - as did everyone else - because of that afternoon start on the road; and then in game 4 he was poor to close out the first half because he'd sat out basically for a full quarter (so about 40 minutes) and was stiff. Overall though, he had pretty much everything going in his repertoire, jumpers both in the lane and on the left elbow and baseline, pump fakes and drives, floaters, jump hooks, you name it. And those two backdoor passes in the fourth quarter were sublime.

Defensively, by the time game 4 rolled around, it seemed like Blake Griffin had either figured out, or had supreme confidence against (or willing accomplices in the refereeing crew, take your pick) all our bigs besides him, so Duncan had to take on that challenge, while simultaneously trying to protect the rim against the drives of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe. It wasn't always pretty, but I blame Duncan for very little of it.

Going forward, I think the Clips were a good warm-up for Timmy because the Thunder will be similar in that he'll get to play a lot of centerfield defensively and won't have to worry about anyone grinding him down in the post. I imagine Serge Ibaka will get his share of open 15-footers, but I'll give those up all day to protect against Russell Westbrook's drives. Tim's going to have to be a monster on the boards, and offensively I imagine he'll be taking his usual high-screen jumpers against Kendrick Perkins, while making hay in the post against the slimmer Ibaka and Nick Collison. The Thunder typically play a lot of small ball, with Kevin Durant at the four, but they know that's going to be doom against us, right? We'd probably have an eFG% of 70% against that, I'd guess. Of course, they'd probably have 68% against us.

Boris Diaw: B+

7.5 ppg, 6.3 rebs, 3.0 ast, 0.5 blk, 1.0 stl, 0.5 TO, 48 FG%, 57.1 3PT%, 50 FT%, 26.0 mpg, +55, +.529/min, 16.34-17.9 PER*

Unquestionably the MVP of the series through the first two games, Diaw fell back to earth somewhat on the road. Fatigue may have had something to do with it, as he had to play four games in six days, and more minutes than he's been accustomed to. When you factor that he had to dig in against Griffin for most of those minutes, you can see why his play would slip somewhat. More troubling to me was Diaw's field goal attempts through the four games: 9, 7, 6, 3; and his assist numbers: 5, 4, 2, 1. Basically his usage trickled down to practically nil by the end.

Did the Clips start paying more attention to him defensively and rotating more aggressively? Not really, and even if they did, that should've meant more dimes. Instead Diaw just started hot potato-ing the ball and lost his aggressiveness. This simply will not do against the Thunder, as Diaw will need to make Ibaka pay for not coming out on him. He must shoot the ball.

Defensively Diaw should get a break as Ibaka doesn't have that many ways to hurt him. He just has to box out and respect the guy's 15-foot jumper. Diaw isn't nearly the shot blocker Ibaka is, of course, so he really has no excuse to be anchored to the paint like his counterpart will be. He's not gonna do much good down there trying to challenge the likes of Durant and Westbrook and all that's gonna happen if he tries, is a bunch of soft and-1s. OKC does like to go small quite a bit, so I doubt Diaw will get 26 minutes per in this series, but I suspect he'll contribute more offensively than defensively, which hasn't been the case so far during his Spurs tenure. One area he'll have to do well though, is on the boards. If the Spurs allow as many second-chance opportunities against these guys as the Lakers did, they're screwed.

Kawhi Leonard: B+

10.0 ppg, 6.5 rebs, 0.8 asts, 0.8 blk, 2.0 stl, 1.0 TO, 56 FG%, 50 3PT%, 75 FT%, 29.0 mpg, +34, +.293/min, 17.92-20.3 PER*

We know Leonard is pretty good. Heck, the guy made the All-Rookie First-Team. Still, it's hard for me to comprehend how he could possibly elevate his play in the playoffs as 20-year-old, yet somehow he's done precisely that. Just when I thought that Pop would start limiting his minutes more and more at this stage, preferring to go with the more experienced Stephen Jackson, Leonard has forced the issue (to be fair, so has Jackson, in reverse), emphatically declaring that he's one of the most vital, irreplaceable cogs in the machine. He's not going anywhere.

Leonard is currently leading the NBA with a .650 true shooting percentage in the postseason. The funny thing about his three-point stroke is that he doesn't seem to have many roll in-and-out on him a la Ginobili. He either swishes the shot or unleashes one of those flat scuds that chip paint off the rim. Leonard's ability to hit that corner three is important of course, but what's great about him is that he can score in different ways, whether it's running the floor in transition, shooting that pull up jumper from 12 feet or cleaning up on the boards. It will be critical for Leonard to continue his hot shooting, because the Spurs will need to make Durant - a notorious roamer - work on defense and to punish him for his lapses.

In the three games against the Thunder this year Leonard averaged 14.3 points on 61.5% shooting and 71.4% (5-of-7) from downtown, along with seven rebounds and three assists per game. In short, he hasn't exactly been intimidated by these guys. Conversely, he's done a decent job on the other end against Durant, as the Thunder superstar shot 46.8% (22-of-47) against the Spurs in three meetings.

Leonard's defense will obviously be a huge focus of this series and while he was greatly overrated in that regard for most of his rookie campaign, he improved by leaps and bounds in the postseason. I figured going into the Clippers series that the relatively plodding (and limited by a broken hand) Caron Butler would be right in Leonard's wheelhouse, and Butler didn't disappoint, where even the shots he made were contested pretty well. Durant will be ten times the challenge that Butler was, but all I want from Leonard is to stay in front of him, keep his hands up and not pick up cheap fouls. Keeping Durant off the line will be critical in this series. Also, like Diaw he has to help out on the boards.

Usually Leonard finishes games on the bench as the Spurs go with Green, Parker and Ginobili to close games, but Durant's presence will insure that he's out there down the stretch unless Jackson is having a particularly productive outing. It's almost unfair to expect so much from a kid who's not even old enough to drink yet, but here we are.

(Oh, Kawhi, if you do a good job, then LeBron will be your next assignment.)

Danny Green: A

12.3 ppg, 4.0 rebs, 1.5 asts, 0.8 blk, 0.8 stl, 1.5 TOs, 56.3 FG%, 57.9 3-PT%, 50 FT%, 25.3 mpg, +57, +.564/min, 17.63-19.1 PER*

A better percentage from three than from two and from the free throw line? If that doesn't scream Bruce Bowen 2.0, then I don't know what does. Well, except for that whole "guarding the other team's best player in crunch time," thing. Green had a monster series, shooting at least 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep in all four games and helping to shut down Chris Paul again and again when he had to. We've all seen Paul draw cheap fouls late in games, but Green was able to bother him with his length, was able to keep his arms straight up, and strong enough to not get bumped off his spot.

There are still minor quibbles with Green's game. I wish his shot selection was better at times (Leonard already seems to have a better grip on that aspect of the game). I wish every lay-up attempt wasn't a heart attack waiting to happen. I wish there was a little button I could press that would send a minor shock at him every time he even thinks of attempting that hideous floater of his or a pass longer than ten feet. I wish he could dribble.

Then I remember that he's a 24-year-old, coming off his first real season in the bigs, and that he's not blessed with anywhere near the athletic gifts that Leonard is. I mean, for a Spur he is, but as far as NBA wings go, Green is probably in the 40th percentile, no? He's got decent arm length though, and he can move laterally well enough. If Green can ever figure out how to get around screens, he's going to have a very lucrative career as a pro.

Against the Thunder, I think we'll see quite a bit of him on Westbrook, with Parker spending time on Thabo Sefolosha or Derek Fisher. If Harden gets hot, he can switch there in the hopes of cooling him down. Again, as with Leonard on Durant, Green has to avoid foul trouble. It hurt the Spurs big time when he picked up two quickies in game 3 against the Clips. Offensively, my guess is that Westbrook will spend some time on him, with Scott Brooks not wanting to pick up fouls (or fatigue) guarding Parker. Westbrook doesn't play any defense and constantly spaces out, so Green will have to bury him with threes. Green was 12-of-25 (48 percent) against the Thunder this season, but 9-of-14 (64.3%) from deep. I guess the lesson there is don't shoot it anywhere near Ibaka.

Um, the Spurs season will depend on Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Tony Parker: C+

17.3 ppg, 3.3 rebs, 7.8 asts, 0.0 blk, 1.3 stl, 4.0 TOs, 36.1 FG%, 16.7 3-PT%, 82.8 FT%, 37.0 mpg, +73, +.493/min, 13.2-15.08 PER*

If you told me before the series that Parker would shoot 36% and average four turnovers against the Clippers and that just about everyone on the bench would be below par as well, I would've thought that spelled a shocking and terrible upset or at the least a seven game series. It's a testimony to how well the four other starters played (and perhaps also an indicator of how flawed the Clippers were) that the Spurs were able to sweep aside CP3 and Co. despite Parker's relatively pedestrian performances.

No doubt most of you think I'm being far too harsh, so let's get the positives out of the way first. It's true that the Clippers focused the entirety of their defensive game plan - such as it was - on stopping Parker. It's true that the wee rapping Frenchman (TWERF? Did I ever call him twerf?) [Editor's note: No, you didn't. I just checked. -jrw] did lead the team in +/- and had a perfectly respectable 7.8 assists per. He also did a pretty good defensive job on Paul, trading the assignment with Green back and forth based on Pop's whims. And yes, Parker was pretty good in the fourth quarters, as has been his custom. All those points are valid.

Howevuh... every team worries first and foremost about stopping Parker, so I can't quite give him credit for overcoming that, and it's not like the Clippers defense was that daunting. For the most part I thought that Parker's jumper was wonky, that his overall shot selection was poor at times, and he uncharacteristically missed too many lay-ups and floaters. I'm not reading too much into it, choosing to optimistically go the other way and say that he's gotten them out of his system in time for a real opponent. Also, as always, I thought he ignored Manu too much when the two of them shared the floor, but you're free to ignore that complaint.

I'm not a mind reader, but I'm guessing that Parker's game plan against the Thunder will be "to come out aggressive" and his mode will be on the "attack" setting. Sounds random, I know, but it's just a hunch I have. Can't say I'd blame him if he indeed felt that way, as Tony had all kinds of success against OKC this year. Personally though, I was even more impressed by his most recent game against them where he had 25 and 7 in a road win, than the 42 point, 9 assist game he had against them in February. In that encounter nobody on the Thunder was ready to answer the bell. They were listless and sluggish, going through the motions. In the final regular season game though, they were more than ready to meet the challenge, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Parker, with Westbrook particularly intent on not being embarrassed again.

It took Parker about two minutes to figure out their scheme. He patiently drew the defense to him over and over and found Duncan and DeJuan Blair for easy layups, time and again. Once the Thunder adjusted their coverages, he got it out to Green and Leonard on the corners. When OKC adjusted to that, Parker finally went to work and got himself some easy layups. Basically he was like a surgeon, slicing them up. He - and by extension the Spurs - had an answer for every tweak OKC presented to them defensively, and that's the main reason I'm predicting they'll win the series. The Thunder's only hope is that Parker gets sucked into some mano-a-mano duel with Westbrook, but I think he's smarter than that. And if he's not, Pop will be prowling the sidelines to remind him to be.

The matchup should favor Parker for several reasons. First off, he'll have more rest, both literally, in terms of minutes played, and figuratively, because I figure he'll get to relax a bit on defense by getting to cover Derek Fisher, where all he'll have to do is not allow open threes. Defensively he's smart enough to know where his help is and to steer his guy accordingly. Offensively, there's less pressure on him to score, so he'll have the luxury of picking his spots and getting more quality looks. As long as Parker keeps the turnovers down and continues to feed the shooters, we're solid. Finally, there's the fact that Parker won't need much time to adjust to Westbrook's pace and class. He's coming off a series where he faced Paul and the super-athletic Eric Bledsoe. Westbrook, by contrast, has dealt with slugs like 58-year-old Jason Kidd, who can't do anything but shoot threes; and two guys in Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions who had no hope of staying in front of him. Parker will seem like a cross between Allen Iverson and Lionel Messi by comparison.

Manu Ginobili: B-

14.0 ppg, 3.0 rebs, 4.5 asts, 0.5 blk, 0.5 stl, 2.0 TOs, 40.5 FG%, 28.6 3-PT%, 84.2 FT%, 28.0 mpg, +10, +.089/min, 17.91-18.8 PER*

The best thing you can say for Ginobili's series against the Clippers was that it was better than his series against the Jazz. He scored in double figures all four games (barely), shot it slightly better, and got to the line more. What Manu could not do for any consistent spell, outside of game 1, was to seize a game by the throat or to rally teammates to his cause. For whatever reason, he just wasn't a difference maker out there, regardless of whether he was playing with the starters or the bench crew. It's a concept completely foreign to longtime Ginobili observers and even to the 2012 Spurs during the last two months of the regular season.

Some of that has to do with the success of the starting unit of course. There are simply fewer opportunities for him to take over or save the day when things are already going hunky dory without him. Another factor is that he and his bench mates were facing better competition, as the Clips left Paul and Griffin out there for a big chunk of minutes in the futile hope that it would do them some good. Simply put, our bench rarely got to feast on their scrubs and the Clips don't have that many scrubs to begin with. Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin are their two best defenders.

Still, with all that being said, Manu is just not being aggressive enough for my liking. He stops the ball far too often a la Carmelo in waiting to see what the defense is going to do instead of just attacking them before they get set. He also tried to force too many passes to guys who didn't have that much more, if any, advantage over him as far as who their defenders were and what their position was on the floor. Finally, he passed up too many open shots, particularly in the final two games. Even his meager number of field goal attempts is misleading because a couple each game were prayer shot-clock-bailouts.

I'm not alarmed yet, but I would be if he weren't trending upward. I'm guessing the importance of these games will ratchet up Manu's intensity to the desired level, but I don't see him forcing anything at the outset. If I know Ginobili's mindset like I think I do, he won't feel the need to change anything unless the team drops a game or they're in a competitive situation where they are trailing by a few points. Indeed his most energetic moments against the Clippers were in that second quarter in game 3 when the team was fashioning a late run to cut the deficit from 20 to seven. Typically though, Manu has a "don't fix what's not broken" mentality.

What I'm interested to find out is how Scott Brooks will adjust to Ginobili. Thabo Sefolosha has had some success against him in the past but he's a starter and Manu's a reserve. He and James Harden play in similar rotations, give or take a couple minutes here or there. Will Brooks switch things up and have Harden start? Will Pop react to that by having Manu start? This could be like a couple of hockey coaches mixing and matching lines. I just think Gino will have to take the initiative to attack Harden, Westbrook and especially Fisher whenever they're matched up on him. I still expect that the end result of those attacks will mostly be passes, as Ibaka is wary of leaving the paint and the Thunder like to leave shooters open.

All I know is that in both rounds one and two, the bench was outright poor or just not very good until the final game. We can't have that here. These guys have to be ready to compete from the beginning, even if the reality is that Westbrook and Durant will likely be playing against them in the second halves. Because they're aliens that don't get tired and must be destroyed before they enslave us all.

Tiago Splitter: C-

7.3 ppg, 3.5 rebs, 0.3 ast, 0.5 blk, 0.5 stl, 1.0 TOs, 76.5 FG%, 27.3 FT%, 17.3 mpg, -20, -.290/min, 14.61-15.0 PER*

Splitter was terrible, to put it kindly, when the series began. He wasn't that good in game three either, but had a decent enough game two and finished up strongly in game four. It's fair to say that he has solidly supplanted Matt Bonner and is now legitimately the team's third big man, in what may well be a three-deep rotation going forward.

I'll start with the negative, as is my wont. I wasn't happy with Splitter's defense on Griffin, especially early in the series. I thought his rebounding was quite poor and obviously his free throw shooting was abominable. About the only time he was effective defensively was when he was playing alongside Duncan. His post-up moves looked slow and awkward and were completely ineffective. His passing wasn't as sharp as it had been. Far too often, he looked like an average backup center.

On the bright side, he had better movement and timing on his rolls to the basket than in the Utah series, and his best performance of the playoffs came in the most recent game, so there's at least some momentum. There were a couple of times where he was whistled for fouls against Griffin when clearly it was the victim of superduperstar hype. (I can't stand how Griffin uses his off arm to push off on just about all of his post moves and then whines for fouls afterward.) It's impressive that he and Duncan have as much chemistry as they do, particularly on the defensive end, considering that they hardly played together at all during the regular season.

I doubt that's going to be a concern against the Thunder, and it will be interesting to see how much of a role Splitter has in that series. Bonner seems to be a better fit against them, but he's been so underwhelming in the playoffs thus far that I don't know if Pop will have much patience with him. If the Thunder go small with Tim on the bench, wouldn't Pop be obligated to post Splitter against Ibaka every time to take advantage of that mismatch? Splitter didn't factor much in either of the Spurs wins against OKC, so I have no idea what to expect. I just hope he gets more of a fair whistle than he got against the Clips, but I have my doubts on that front.

Stephen Jackson: D

1.3 ppg, 0.3 rebs, 2.5 asts, 0.0 blk, 0.3 stl, 1.3 TOs, 33.3 FG%, 33.3 3-PT%, 14.5 mpg, -13, -.220 mpg, 2.68-6.4 PER*

Weirdest. Stat line. Ever.

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think Jackson would average more assists than points in a series and dude nearly doubled it. He was so reluctant to shoot against the Clips, for whatever reason, that he fired up a grand total of six shots in the entire series, in 59 minutes of play. And half of those came in a comfy game 1 win.

For whatever reason Jackson never seemed to be into it mentally when he was on the floor. I've already written at length about his dreadful game 3, but even in the other three games he was mostly content to meld into the scenery. There was no one for him to guard on defense (I thought he'd get some small ball looks against Griffin but that never materialized) and he hardly ever tried posting up the smaller Clips swingmen.

What was odd about his timid play was that Jackson should've come into the series on a high. He played really well against the Jazz and shot 53.3% from downtown against them. Whatever happened during that long break completely changed his mentality. Maybe he had personal issues, who knows? Or maybe Pop just told him to take a load off mentally and save your energy for Durant in round 3 and perhaps LeBron in the finals.

Jackson's playmaking was in fine form, aside from a few awful passes in that penultimate game, and like the rest of his bench mates he saved his best game for last. I really doubt the Spurs can overcome the Thunder unless he raises his game up a couple of notches though. It's asking too much of the three swingmen to play exclusively and I'd prefer not to use Neal as a two guard defensively. Jackson has to play, he has to stick his nose in there against Durant, has to take the open three and has to rebound. Seriously Jack, one rebound in 59 minutes? No free throw attempts? What the hell is that? We could get He Who Shall Not Be Named to do that.

Matt Bonner: D-

2.5 pts, 1.8 rebs, 0.8 asts, 0.3 blk, 0.3 stl, 0.0 TOs, 36.4 FG%, 33.3 3-PT%, 11.8 mpg, -19, -.404/min, 6.74-7.5 PER*

The case for Matt Bonner vs. People Who Think He's A Playoff Choker is not going well for the Red Rocket. On offense he passes up shots and doesn't make the ones he takes with the same regularity. His rebounding rate somehow plummets, when it was anything but impressive to begin with. And then there's the defense... great googly moogly, the defense. Bonner got roasted to the tune of 118.4 points per 100 possessions against the Clips. Gary Neal was the next worst, at 113.3.

That's a massive gap. Huuuuuuge.

To give you some perspective, Bonner allowed 103.0 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, when the Spurs as a whole were playing far worse defensively than they are in the playoffs. Everyone around him has turned it up several notches, while he's noticeably declined, and during the games it was definitely noticeable. It'd be one thing if it was just getting rag-dolled on the boards. At least we're used to that. But it's everything, from missed rotations, to post guys scoring on him, to not getting much aid from teammates. Maybe he's not playing that much worse than Splitter, Jackson and Neal, but all of those guys get to play more minutes with Duncan, so they'll look comparatively better.

I just know the "fresh meat" factor with him (where opponents go at him with the confidence of a Westbrook against Steve Blake) ratchets up by a factor of ten in the playoffs. It's clearly a part of every team's game plan, to the point where I fully expect the Thunder to be actively looking for Ibaka and Nick Collison against Ginger. It doesn't help matters any that he gets no respect at all from the refs. It's all very depressing.

I wish I could say his season stats vs. OKC are encouraging, but it's just the opposite. Bonner totaled 14 points on 13 shots in the three games, and grabbed a whopping seven boards in 57 minutes. Somehow his playing time increased from 12 to 19 to 26 minutes in those three games, though in that last one there was no Splitter (and obviously no Diaw) so there you go. You'd think he'd prosper given how small the Thunder play and how poorly they guard the three, but Bonner just didn't do a whole lot against them.

Like everyone else on the bench, Bonner saved his best (least worst?) game for last, but Pop showed last series he wasn't afraid to yank him out of the rotation and I suspect that his patience will be even less this round. Bonner better shoot it if he has even a moment of daylight, because against the Thunder's quick athletes that's all he'll get, a moment. And God help him if somebody like Sefolosha gets an offensive board over him.

Gary Neal: C

8.3 ppg, 2.3 rebs, 1.8 asts, 0.0 blk, 0.0 stl, 1.5 TOs, 54.5 FG%, 45.5 3-PT%, 80 FT%, 15.0 mpg, -17, -.283/min, 17.1-17.6 PER*

Neal is very lucky he can shoot it, because he is terrible at everything else. Well, I suppose he rebounds better than Bonner, but that probably says more about Bonner than Neal.

The Clips were all over his dribble, and by now I think it's well established that he doesn't have a good handle. It's something I expect the Thunder to exploit relentlessly with their quick hands and long limbs. I'm covering my mind's eye just thinking about it, if that makes sense.

Also, he's terrible on defense. If every guy Bonner faces imagines that they're Charles Barkley, then every guy Neal goes against imagines they're Dwyane Wade. In fact, Neal singlehandedly saved Mo Williams from being a total embarrassment in that Clippers series, and he probably made Eric Bledsoe some money for the offseason. I swear to god, if Derek Fisher starts lighting him up, I'm gonna lose my mind. Just don't leave your man, dammit.

When we're on offense though, and have advanced the ball beyond half court without incident, then Neal actually becomes quite good. His playmaking has improved by leaps and bounds since he's joined the Spurs and I feel he's really underrated in that regard. Neal can now run a competent pick-and-roll with Splitter and he's getting better about finding other guys as well. Also, his confidence in freezing out Ginobili from the offense is nearing Parker levels, so he's learning well.

It sounds obvious to say that Neal's main contribution to the team is his scoring, but what I've come to appreciate about him is that he's not just a shooter like a Steve Kerr. Neal is a scorer, in the mold of Vinnie Johnson. There's a difference. He can be a catch-and-shoot guy, but he can also create his own shot, whether it's a drive, a floater, a pump fake and a long two, whatever. Mostly what I like about him, and what I've liked from day one, is that unlike so many guys in this league, Neal is not afraid. Confidence is the most important asset you must have to be a successful player and while Neal is surely one of the worst athletes in the league, he's beyond a doubt one of the most confident, especially when it comes to his strengths. If our season comes down to one jump shot, who would you rather have taking it than him?*

There's value in that.

(Yes, even over Manu.)*

(I'd have Ginobili making the pass though.)*

Anyway, Spurs in six. I've got the home teams winning the first five games, and us finally breaking through on the road on the third try when Durant and Westbrook finally start running out of gas and too many of their jumpers fall flat. It'll be the lowest scoring game of the series and the Spurs will win something like 93-84. Onward.

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