Morning Rehash: Invisible Blair, Manu Down, and Duncan Can Swat Things

Blair is struggling to get minutes while Manu is struggling to stay healthy. - Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs rebounded from a heart breaking overtime loss in Memphis by thumping the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-88 at the AT&T Center. Despite the still-lingering turnover issues, the Spurs pushed their home record to an impressive 16-2 behind the defensive efforts of Old Man Duncan, Tony Parker's 20 points, and the all-around effort from the bench.

Opening Hash

Last night, DeJuan Blair recorded 9 points and 4 rebounds in just under 9 and a half minutes of play, his first mention on a stat sheet in 8 days. Prior to Sunday, Blair's last run on the court was in garbage time during a 109-86 victory against Philadelphia. This season, Blair's per game minutes dropped from a cold 12.1 per game in December to a freezing 5.5 in January. In the 23 games played since December 1st, DeJuan has tallied 9 DNP-CD (Did not play - Coach's decision) and 10 games under 15 minutes (with 5 of those under 10 minutes). In the 2010-11' season, DeJuan averaged 21.4 minutes and started 65 of the 81 games he played in. In the shortened 11-12' season, DeJuan's minutes dropped to 18.2, eventually losing his starting role to the late addition of Boris Diaw. Stuck in Pop's doghouse, Blair only averaged 7.6 minutes in the postseason. Barring injury or Pop resting players, the zeroes in the stat sheets will continue to accumulate for DeJuan this year.

The argument over Blair's value and impact has been going on since his rookie year. When Blair was drafted, the Spurs philosophy was still entrenched in defense and the slow half-court offense. DeJuan was draft gift that brought energy and hustle under the rim, something that had been absent for quite some time. But DeJuan was and still is a below-adequate NBA defender in the paint and his 6'7" (a generous listing) undercuts his rebounding talent against the taller, skilled NBA big men. In the old Spurs system, Blair's energy came of great use at times on old roster but his lack of weapons on offense has shown him to be of little use in the fast-pace offense. Blair's offensive talents have proven to be sub-par compared to the other big men on the squad. He is skilled in the pick and roll but not nearly as much as Tiago Splitter. Splitter also has a better skill-set in the block and the height and reach to get off contested shots. Boris Diaw offers more range (Pop's favorite), moves better in the offense, and is a skilled passer.

Yet I believe it is DeJuan's character and not the above-mentioned shortcomings that has placed him in Popovich's doghouse. DeJuan managed to pack on the pounds with a horrible diet in the 2010-11 season, killing his effectiveness and thus handing over his starting job to former Spur Anotnio McDyess. An amazing achievement considering how much exercise these guys get over an 82-game season and also a clear sign of Blair's poor sense of responsibility and professionalism. During the last offseason, Blair's agent relayed that DeJuan was ready to move on due to the lack of playing time. This sentiment became crystal clear when Blair tweeted out his frustrations after the season opener against New Orleans:

This is wat I expected! Lol I'm just not wat dude wants out there it just hit me!! And that's respect! Just KNO I'm doing my part! #SALUTE

Young, immature, and frustrated. I'd say "it's amazing that Blair has been able to stick around this long" but the team has been shopping the Pitt Panther since the previous spring. Regardless of how this all plays out (if he stays, if he goes), Blair needs to do to focus on retooling himself in order to prolong the short NBA career everyone has been predicting. If he needs one, DeJuan had the perfect player in his first two seasons to model himself after - Antonio McDyess. McDyess found himself struggling to compete after two serious knee injuries. Instead of burning out in an attempt to return to his old form, McDyess restructured himself, becoming a vital role player through a new mid-range game and determination to do the dirty work on defense. From highlight reel starter to utility-knife 6th man; not an easy transition but McDyess put the dedication in to see it done.

Blair obviously has a different background story but Blair should take the same steps that McDyess did in 2004. DeJuan needs to fully dedicate himself to the game, pull back his emotions and make every minute of every practice, offseason, and game count. We've seen this effort before with the weight loss and the workouts with assistant coach Chip Engelland. However, as of right now, DeJuan is still his own biggest obstacle. And Pop doesn't have faith in a man who promotes his frustrations and haphazardly tosses up floaters with a 20 ft apex while "working" with one of the best coaching staffs in the entire world.


Shoot Around Notes

  • I sat courtside to watch the Timberwolves run through their workouts. Ricky Rubio is a very impressive watch.
  • Jose Barea looks like Little Mac from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
  • Until Sean Marks came sat down to talk to him, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford seemed particularly interested in Lou Amundson's workout.
  • Greg Stiemsma is all business in his workout. Very smooth movement with a purpose.
  • Assistant coach for Minnesota was giving Dante Cunnningham a high-contact workout.
  • Derrick Williams was having issues shooting the corner three. His base mechanics involve his left foot stepping back a good foot which sometimes resulting in being out-of-bounds. An assistant coach came by to make Williams stay on his toes and get a quick release. He also gave a joking remark, "You do know you have to stay inside the lines, right?"
  • Boris Diaw's workout in the paint is just as goofy an unbalanced as it is in game time.
  • It's fun for me to watch two players with drastically different shooting mechanics workout out on the floor together. Tiago Splitter quickly pushes his jumper through almost like a shot-put while Stephen Jackson has a long catapult motion.
  • I wonder how much soccer Tiago Splitter plays in his off time. Splitter beautifully relayed a rebound with his head to another player and he did it with little effort.


Standard Pop Pre-Game Quote

Sure. That's a good idea.

-Pop on if the team focus was on tightening up the offense and cutting down on the turnovers.

Quick Game Hash

The following is not a recap. Be sure to see Matthew Tynan's recap of last night's game if you haven't done so already.

With 12 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block within only 12 minutes of play, Manu Ginobili was well on his way to having one of his best games of the season. In the final minute of the first half, Manu hit the ground holding the back of his left leg and was barely able to move around the court after getting up. The Spurs won't have an idea on the extent of the injury or how long the 35 year-old guard will be out until Manu is re-evaluated later today. Early diagnosis is a strained hamstring which means "El Contusion" will be out at least a week. Knowing the Spurs, Manu will likely sit out until the fabled Rodeo Road Trip in February. Manu has already missed two games due to back spasms, three if you include the early exit from the Boston game with a thigh bruise.

Though he has struggled through a large portion of the 2012-13 season due to the series of injuries, Ginobili was beginning to show a consistent return to form. Over the last five games, including last night, Manu averaged 17 points, 51.3 FG%, 37.0 3P%, 4.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in just 25.4 minutes of game time. According to SBNation's Jason Pratt, "Ginobili is sporting a PER of 20.64 and is in the top-10 in true shooting percentage for shooting guards." Fortunately, the Spurs have a deep rotation at guard and a weak slate of opponents leading up to the biggest road trip of the season (9 games left till RRT). After Wednesday's rematch with the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs face only two teams with winning records, Golden State and Atlanta on a home/road back-to-back. The other six teams are a combined 70-152, featuring four of the five worst records in the NBA (Phoenix, New Orleans, Charlotte, Washington). There is never a good time for a key player to get hurt but last night was probably about as good timing as we were going to get for a sure-fire Manu injury (you knew another one was coming).

My Game Boss

Duncan

TIM DUNCAN

PTS

FGM

FGA

REB

BLK

AST

STL

MIN

12

4 8 9 7 5 3 29:27


It wasn't a particularly pretty game for the Big Fundamental but it sure was an effective one. Tim fell two blocks short of his career high of nine and only two steals short of a rare 5x5 stat line. Duncan's offensive game has been a bit flat of late but a night like this could be a good spark to get things rolling again. "I'm just trying to bring some energy back and get our rhythm back," said Duncan after the game. "I've been in a slump lately and I'm trying to fight my way out of it."


My Game Runt

Rubio_pro

RICKY RUBIO

PTS

FGM

FGA

AST

STL

REB

TO

MIN

4

0 6 2 3 0 2 22:04

Zero baskets and only two assists in 22 minutes as a guard. That almost takes a purposeful effort in trying not to make the stat sheet. To be fair though, Rubio is coming back from injury and suffers from a ridiculous hair cut.


This Thing Was Over When...

...Gary Neal stepped up in the beginning of the 4th quarter. Within the first three minutes of the final quarter, Neal went 3-3, including two 3PT shots, for 8 of his 15 points. The third shot gave the Spurs a 13 point lead and prompted a Minnesota timeout.


By the Numbers

  • 92.3% - Tiago Splitter's free throw percentage in January (24-26). Tiago is shooting 75.2% for the year.
  • 54.3% - Splitter's free throw percentage in his first NBA season.Thank you, Chip.
  • 55 - San Antonio bench points against Minnesota.
  • 32 - Fast break points for the Spurs against Minnesota.
  • 25.3 - Assists per game for San Antonio (top in NBA).
  • 31 - Total assists for San Antonio against Minnesota.
  • 157 - Number of career blocks Tim Duncan needs to tie Shaquille O'Neal for 7th overall. A feat he should be able accomplish sometime next season.
  • 449 - Career wins among the trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. Only 91 behind all-time leaders of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.

Odds & Ends

  • Nikola Pekovic probably leaves most opponents with sore knees and hips - very aggressive with his lower body and like to step deep.
  • Pekovic also looks like he cracks open human bones and sucks the marrow.
  • Alexey Shved's idea of an open look is if he has an idea what direction the basket is in.
  • Ricky Rubio flip-flops between terrible and awesome decisions/plays.
  • Spurs are 23-3 when scoring more than 100 points and 6-8 when scoring between 80 and 99 points.
  • Despite a 2-8 performance last night, Patty Mills is doing a much better job getting his legs under him on his jumpers.
  • Derrick Williams is wasting away in Minnesota. It's just a bad match.

Bird is the Word

@mtynan_PtR: We have a sighting of the rarest of Spurs.... the endangered DeJuan Blair.

@KamBrothers: Lakers vs. Cavs. Just a couple of sub-.500 teams getting together on a Sunday at Staples. BK

@KDonhoops: Come on Tim Duncan tuck in your jersey #fundamentals #RespectTheGame


Going into the Next Game, the Spurs Need to...

...get their turnover problem under control. The Spurs turnovers woes have a two-pronged negative effect: easier looks at baskets for the opponent and disrupting the flow and confidence of the Spurs aggressive pace of play. The 18 Spurs turnovers in Memphis led to 26 easy points for the Grizzlies. Already the third worst team in the NBA in controlling the ball, the Spurs are averaging 15.9 turnovers in January. The Spurs are middle-of-the-pack in opponent field goal percentage and one of the best on opponent's percentage from deep. However, the Spurs allow the 4th most attempts per game (85.7) thanks to poor ball control and struggles on keeping opponents off the offensive glass (11.9 per game). Control the ball - control the game - control the outcome.

For more rambling and Spurs talk, follow Aaron Preine at @DukeOfBexar on Twitter.

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