A comparison between A Tribe Called Bench and the Mariana Bench
Our boys in Silver and Black have been consistent these past couple of weeks, winning their last 6 games of 2012, but have sputtered out a 2-2 start in 2013, first winning against the Bucks, getting destroyed at Madison Square Garden (on the 4th game in 5 nights, AND on a back to back), taking care of the 76ers before getting pushed around by the Hornets, soon to be Pelicans, on Monday. Nothing special to note, except for the sudden rejuvenation of the one and only Emanuel David Ginobili. See the proof below:
Not only is his vision and sweet passing back (and he’s cut down on his turnovers, which were haunting him early in the season), but he has shown he still has enough lift on those legs for a quick dunk or two. Seeing him explode to the basket and pass the ball through tight spots has given me reassurance that this team will go far into the playoffs. We need him to lead the second-unit, from being THE star in the lineup, to handling the ball and allowing either Patty Mills or Gary Neal to act as small shooting guards in the offensive attack, perfect for their skill set. He also helps Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair in the pick and roll game, as both Manu and the big men execute it almost perfectly, with the defense having to choose between either a wide open jumpshot for Manu or a clean layup/dunk for the guy barreling towards the rim. When the pick and roll is done well, it can be nearly unstoppable, but only with the right personnel and execution, as the Spurs have shown the past couple of seasons. The offense has been doing well, but the defense has allowed too many points this calendar year, even letting the offensively challenged Bucks to score 110. They are still only one of two teams to be in the top 5 of both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. The other? Surprise, it’s the Clippers, who are scary this year, possibly having a deeper bench than what I call the "Mariana Bench" Spurs, with very different players occupying the 5 positions on each team.
Point Guard - Eric Bledsoe vs Gary Neal/Patty Mills. Slight advantage to Bledsoe. Bledsoe is more of a traditional point guard, and follows in Chris Paul’s footsteps as a stocky and shockingly athletic player, who disrupts plays with his steals and dunks and uses his jumping ability to grab a good amount of rebounds for someone his size. But stats show another story. Sure, Bledsoe has a high PER of 19 while Patty and Gary are in the 12-14 range. But they both better offense, making more threes, shooting the ball better and Gary scoring more points. I still have to give the slight edge to Bledsoe, even though as he has cooled off as of late.
Shooting Guard - Jamal Crawford vs Manu Ginobili. Slight advantage to Manu. Jamal Crawford is having the better year as of yet, but Manu is clearly the better players. Crawford is a good player, but is like J.R. Smith, a streaky shooter who can make any shot on the planet, but only because they always shoot every ball on the planet. He has good handles, especially for his age, and is having a standout year, shooting above 50%, compared to 41% for his career. See this New York Times piece on his evolution this year. But the article also mentions Manu Ginobili as the only Sixth Man of the Year winner in the past 15 years to remain with the same team as where he won the award, showing his outstanding loyalty to the Spurs organization. Manu has been heating up (see highlights above), so he wins this one.
Small Forward - Matt Barnes vs Stephen Jackson. Advantage to Barnes. Usually I would give this to SJax, but Matt Barnes has been critical to many wins this season for the Clippers, going crazy during their 17 game winning streak, in which he poured down threes, disrupted plays and built large leads, helping the starters rest for the long road ahead. He also has the 10th highest PER among small forwards, above guys like Rudy Gay, Paul George and Luol Deng. SJax has been hurt most of the season, has looked rusty, and ranks nowhere near the top 30 small forwards in PER this season.
Power Forward - Lamar Odom vs DeJuan Blair/Matt Bonner. Slight advantage to Odom. They both have their moments, but more recently, Odom has provided necessary ballhandling for the bench and has used some of his old point-forwards skills again. He’s also rounding into shape (get it? Cause he was round at the beginning of the season) as we near the All-Star break. DeJuan and Matty haven’t been that reliable this season, after providing much needed rebounds, points and defense (yeah, I said defense) all of last season. Tiago has gotten a lot more minutes, and so has Kawhi, and even Nando to an extent (which causes Pop to switch to a smaller lineup, in which Kawhi is sometimes the 4), so these guys have been stuck at the end of the Spurs bench, only seeing playing action in garbage time.
Center - Ronny Turiaf vs Tiago Splitter. Advantage Splitter. The only matchup in which the Spurs clearly beat the Clippers is at the least likely, the 5 spot. Tiago might not be in this role for long, as he has been in the starting lineup for the past few weeks, but still anchors the middle for the bench when Timmy goes to rest. Ronny Turiaf, a fellow French teammate of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and De Colo, is an energy player, and gathers rebounds and makes some defensive plays every so often. His offensive game is nowhere near as polished as Tiago, who has perfected the pick and roll with Tony and Manu. Tiago has to finish stronger at the rim, instead of doing all of those reverse layups. While they do usually make it in, they don’t scare the other team and make him seem weak. Nonetheless, he has stepped up his rebounding, his defense and has obviously impressed Pop, giving him the win here.