May 7, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz point guard Devin Harris (5) splits the defense of San Antonio Spurs power forward Matt Bonner (15) and center Tim Duncan (21) during the second half of game four in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena. The Spurs defeated the Jazz 87-81 to sweep Utah and win the series. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE
So rather than trying to explain why DeJuan Blair is listed as Center and Tim Duncan is at Power Forward or that Matt Bonner is neither, I thought we'd just grade the all the big guys in one post. In Pop's system they are fairly interchangeable anyway, and it makes my life easier, which is really the important part.
So let's get to the nitty gritty on the big fellas for both last season and the post-season.
Big50: Duncan continued his renaissance this season with some very solid play. Timmeh has shown over the last two years that he truly is one of the all time greats. He has changed his style of play and, despite his age, is still an effective big man both offensively and defensively. I stated several times this season that Duncan is still an elite big man and that I think it is still reasonable to claim that he is in the Top 5 of the best overall bigs going right now. He may not be the best offensive big or the best defensive big, but he was darn good at both ends this year, and the Spurs rode him to the best record in the NBA. His only downside, getting so many DNP's for being too old (even though I think there was only the one).
Season Grade: A
In the playoffs, Duncan was just as good. As the Spurs cruised in the first two rounds, Duncan abused the up and coming front courts of the Jazz and Clippers, prompting Blake Griffin to wish he was like the GOATPUFF. Duncan, like all of the Spurs, then struggled to be consistent against OKC. However, when the Spurs had their backs against the wall, Duncan came out and really played well. In the last 3 games, Duncan averaged over 21 points and 11 boards a game. Tim Duncan is older and not the dominant player he once was, but he's still a stud and really helped the Spurs be in a position to win.
Playoff Grade A-
SfS: By any metric, Duncan was one of the five best bigs in the league. He's still the most complete big man in the game. We all expected him to struggle this year, and there were a few games he looked old. Mostly, though, those came at the beginning of the season - a time when Duncan has almost always struggled. Once he got in rhythm, he was excellent.
Season Grade: A+ (97)
Playoff Duncan was even better. One of the arguments regarding how great Duncan has been is his efficiency even in limited minutes. His per game averages have declined in recent years, but per 36 minutes he's almost exactly the same player he was five years ago. In the playoffs, he showed that his per 36 minutes stats are not a lie. He was our most consistently good player.
Playoff Grade: A+ (100)
Big50: I think it's clear at this point that Splitter is not the savior some of us thought he might be. Tiago looked better last year than he did in his rookie campaign, but I think it's clear that Splits is going to be a solid defensive big and probably not much more than that. Once I lowered my expectations, I was more or less happy with what the Spurs got from Splitter this year. He proved that he can be a defensive presence when teamed up with Duncan. He also improved in almost every way over his play last year and that is really what was most encouraging. I'm hoping to see yet some more improvement out of Tiago next season, including a jumper and some better FTs.
Season Grade: B-
The playoffs were not kind to the Brazilian. He regressed in pretty much every single statistical category possible. I don't remember him being that bad, but then I look at the minutes he played and I remember why I don't remember. He averaged 12 minutes or so a game and most of that came against the Jazz and Clippers. Only once before the OKC series did Splitter play less than 13 minutes. The last game of the year he was on the floor for 39 seconds. 39 SECONDS. Clearly, Pop wasn't happy with what Tiago was doing in the OKC series. For whatever reason, Splitter's rebounding seemed to drop off drastically in the playoffs, not what you want from a defensive big man. Hopefully, we'll see Splitter continue to grow as a player, and he'll be able to contribute more next post-season.
Playoff Grade: D
SfS: This season, Splitter impressed. His FT% went up, he set "the best screens in the NBA" (according to Skip Bayless) and established himself as arguably the best backup big in the league. He showed us post moves, played solid defensively, and provided the perfect pick and roll partner for our second unit guards. I can't help but compare him to past Euro-bigs. In today's NBA, everything about his game is above average (especially compared to the rest of the bench posts), but 10 years ago, I don't know if he'd have the skill set to be a major rotation player. His post game looks great today (at least against smaller defenders), but there's also a huge lack of quality 7-footers in the league. He's not half the player that Arvydis Sabonis or Vlade Divac were on either side of the ball. I don't say that really as a critique on him, but more so as a critique of the NBA today and what we should expect from Splitter going forward.
Regular Season: A- (92)
In the playoffs, he was abysmal. He had one good stretch against the Clippers. Aside from that, he was horrible and we were better playing small ball. His performance against the Thunder was nothing short of wretched. There's no excuse for not catching passes that hit you in the hands. You're seven feet tall, Tiago, and the passes were good passes. You should be strong enough to keep defenders from swatting it away, especially guards. "If you can touch it, you can catch it" was what I was always told. Defensively, you were out of position. I don't know what happened, but you sucked.
Playoff Grade: F (50)
Big50: Blair saw his rebounding numbers go down, but his scoring go up. Most of his offensive numbers were about on his career averages, but almost all of his defensive numbers ticked downward. Blair started most of the games this season, until the revenge game against the Lakers that saw Splitter take his starting role. Once Boris Diaw was brought in, Blair's playing time dropped like a rock. I think that was due in large part to how well Diaw played and the coaching staff wanting to get Diaw integrated into the system as quickly as possible. Blair's biggest weakness this year was his awful defensive rebounding, the worst of his career. He'll have to improve that aspect of his game going forward. Overall, DeJuan didn't have a bad year, but he is still being utilized in a role that does not fit his strengths.
Season Grade: C
The playoffs were not a good time for Blair either, seeing a trend here? Not that he played all that badly, he just didn't really play much when it mattered. He averaged 7.6 minutes per game and his numbers reflect that. Until Blair earns the trust of Pop, I doubt we'll see that trend reversed.
Playoff Grade: Incomplete
SfS: Aside from the same critiques you could make of every other big in the league (boxing out), I think Blair improved qualitatively over the previous season, even if his numbers did go down. I've always been a Blair fan, but there were fewer times this season he had me screaming at my television than the last year. He was better at rotating and taking charges. His defense against the perimeter oriented bigs improved. He's still not the best on the team, but he's far from the worst either. I'd like to see his rebounding numbers go back up, but he was sharing time with Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tim Duncan, all of them above average rebounders in their own regard. Offensively, he needs to keep working on his floater, although it seemed more consistent this year. He still shows good footwork on his up and under, although sometimes he shuffles and gets called for traveling. A little more consistency, and he'll be a solid rotation player. Replacing him with Boris was a no-brainer. Diaw is a unique talent that brings a lot of skills to the table. Versatility is one of the most important aspects for NBA players (especially those who play for Pop). Frankly, that's not something Blair brings to the table.
Playoffs: He didn't play. Incomplete.
Big50: Bon-Bon had himself a nice season. Bonner's forte of long range shooting was very good. He finished the year shooting 42% from downtown. Looking over his stats, I'm not sure what else Bonner does well. Based only on his stats, you'd think all he did was stand at the three point line and shoot treys. Oh...right. Well, to his credit he does that well and based on the eyeball test, he did play fairly solid team defense. He'll never win any sort of defensive award, but his rotations are usually right.
Season Grade: B-
Alas, Winter Shoes struck again. It's not a good sign when three of your regular big man rotation fall apart come playoff time. I'm not sure what happens to Bonner, but he sure doesn't play well in the post-season. All of his numbers took a nose dive, but things didn't get really bad until the OKC series. For a guy who's main job is to shoot 3-pointers, Bonner only TOOK 7 against the Thunder in 6 games. Granted, he saw the floor for only about 3 minutes the last two games of that series. It was brutal.
Playoff Grade: D
SfS: Regular season Bonner gave me no complaints. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and statistically he became one of our better defenders.
Regular Season: B+ (87)
I've always defended Matt Bonner from critics who claimed he disappeared in the playoffs. I've argued that he's the salt of the team - he merely enhances whatever the rest of the team's flavor happens to be. When the team plays well, Matt Bonner makes them play really well. When the team plays poorly, most of the time, so does Matt. I can still confidently say that was the case in a few previous years. Against the Suns and Grizzlies, most everyone on the Spurs sucked, and Matt was just an easy scapegoat. This year, that was not the case. There were enough positive contributions coming from the rest of the Spurs that Matt should have continued producing. Any criticism of his playoff performance this year is absolutely warranted.
Playoff: F (50)
Big50: I was happy when the Spurs signed him, but I was shocked when he played as well as he did. In the 20 games Boris took part in during the regular season, he was tied for 4th in defensive rating and 5th in offensive rating. He lead all bigs in assist percentage and generally just looked really really good. The offense clicked better when he was on the floor and his defense was eye-opening. Like most people, especially those in Charlotte, I was wondering what had happened to the real Boris Diaw. As it turns out, playing for a contender helps you focus a bit more. The sample size was probably too small, but Diaw had the best shooting percentage and 3-point percentage of his career in those 20 game. Once Diaw played as well as he did, the expectations for the playoffs were off the charts in San Antonio.
Season Grade: A+
Then the playoffs came and Diaw didn't appear to miss a beat, of course none of the Spurs really did at first. The way things appear can often be deceiving, as Boris was really inconsistent throughout the playoffs, having some great games and some games where you forgot he was playing. Diaw really seemed to disappear a bit against the Thunder. I don't remember him making a lot of plays, but he was certainly on the floor. Diaw only had two games with more than 5 boards against OKC and only one double digit scoring game. He wasn't asked to do a lot of scoring, more rebounding, especially on the defensive end. The Frenchman also seemed to be forcing things more in the WCF. He had 7 turnovers in two series against the Jazz and Clippers, against OKC he had 8. Diaw also seems to foul a lot; hopefully, an old defensive habit that Pop can break him of. If Diaw can improve on his performance, he can definitely be a great asset to the Spurs.
Playoff Grade: C
SfS: I was against acquiring Diaw. I was wrong. The only critique I can make of his play is that his aggressiveness is too inconsistent. For all the skills he brings, if he's not attacking, he's wasting them. Fortunately, he was aggressive enough during the portion of the regular season he was in San Antonio. I'd like to see more, but it was enough.
Regular season: A (94)
In the playoffs, his aggressiveness waxed and waned. More inconsistency. If there's one thing veteran role players should bring, it's that. That said, he was still solid. He needs to attack more. I don't know how many different ways I can say that.
Playoff Grade: B- (80)