One of the things hurting the Spurs last season was the fact that they depended a little too heavily on the Big Three to create offense. Every team relies mostly on a couple of players to consistently get buckets but when there are no additional shot creators or playmakers, that puts a strain in the team's potential and a lot of pressure on the stars. The Spurs have had Manu Ginobili carrying bench units for years and while it seems like he might still be able to do it, at this point he needs all the help he can get to stay fresh for the playoffs. That was the reasoning behind the Belinelli signing.
And that's why the Spurs need Nando De Colo to be their backup PG.
The Spurs have three options to choose from: De Colo, Patty Mills and Cory Joseph. I think Nando is probably the least favorite of the three among most fans right now and I can see why. He struggled with turnovers last season and his shooting and intensity came and went. That he was compared to Manu early on only to inevitably disappoint or that he complained about playing time surely didn't help endear him to fans. But De Colo still has the type of game the Spurs need out of their back up point guard.
We've seen how having a shooter that is not a creative playmaker flanking Manu Ginobili can work, as Gary Neal provided buckets while playing out of position at PG. But unless that player is talented enough to get a good shot up anytime he wants and against any opponent, it's easy for defenses to focus on the head of the snake - the creator - and let the gunner score at average efficiency. Even when the scorer is as good as, say, Kevin Martin or Lou Williams, teams will live with it because, even when they fall more than usual, off-the-dribble threes and long twos are preferable to a team getting quality looks consistently. That's what happened with Gary Neal and that's what I fear will happen with Patty Mills against the better teams.
When it comes to Joseph, the best parallel might be T.J. Ford. Ford played very little for the Spurs but he made a good impression on his 14 games with the team, using his experience as a floor general to allow Manu Ginobili to play off the ball when the two shared the court. But while Joseph seems to be as bad a spot-up shooter as Ford was, he doesn't have the playmaking chops T.J. used to offset his limitations. Joseph is young and dedicated enough that it's entirely possible he develops either a reliable three-point shot or good vision out of the pick and roll, but he hasn't showed either yet.
The best mixture of those skills - shooting and playmaking - is undoubtedly represented by De Colo on the Spurs roster.
Nando is not a prolific three-point shooter, but he connected on close to 38% of his shots. In spot-up situations, he shot 39.3%. He was not good from the corner. which is actually a good thing; that shot is often the easiest to master with practice while considerably less players can shoot well from the wing or the top of the arc. He can also connect on that two-dribble pull-up from mid-range after a high screen as well as the others and is unfortunately equally underwhelming at finishing at the rim.
As a playmaker, De Colo had the highest assist percentage of all the Spurs players outside of Ginobili and Parker and to anyone watching, it was obvious the guy had excellent court vision and passing instincts. That's what separates him from Joseph, who boasted a better assist-to-turnover ratio in his limited time with the team but never showed the creativity a lead guard often needs. What separates him from Mills is not only that innate talent but also a willingness to pass.
Turnovers were clearly a problem for Nando but it's not uncommon for rookie guards to struggle with them. Goran Dragic was almost as bad as Nando his rookie season before improving greatly his sophomore year. Most of Nando's turnovers came in pick-and-roll situations, which means more familiarity with his teammates as well as having more options should help him perform better there. And with Ginobili and Belinelli likely on the floor with him, he won't be used as the primary playmaker as much, which should help him greatly.
Which brings me to fit. Granted, it was preseason and it's hard to extrapolate anything from those games, but the De Colo-Belinelli-Ginobili lineup was a joy to watch against the Hawks. All three of those guys can create and all three are more than willing to make the extra pass. You add Diaw to the mix and you have an impossible-to-match combination of unselfishness and passing acumen, which is exactly what the bench needs without a go-to scorer. Ginobili will always be the primary scorer/creator but all three guards can switch duties, which would make the defense's life miserable and impossible for a coach to hide a bad defensive player the way they could on Joseph.
Defensively, no one really stands out but De Colo seems the weakest. Joseph is probably the best of the three but he is far from being a stopper at the PG position, if that even exists. Mills is usually very energetic trying to put pressure on ball-handlers, but can't really handle them physically once they start their move. De Colo, though not even close to plodding, is the slowest. But it's virtually impossible to stay with speedy point guards as they drive, so length and BBIQ are just as important. At 6-5 and with a good understanding of fundamentals, there is no reason why De Colo can't be at least a neutral defender with one season under his belt.
De Colo was at one point the Spurs back up point guard last season, on his rookie year, for a reason. We are talking about a player that in theory fits exactly what the Spurs want from their back up PG. He can spot up, move the ball and create if he needs to. Just like it happened to Manu, the players next to him were less than ideal for his style. But with the overhaul of the bench, that has changed. What hasn't is Nando's talent, even if it's not as readily apparent. He just needs one more chance.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Spurs waive Courtney Fells, Dan Nwaelele; Roster at 14
- 30 preseason predictions: Orlando Magic
- NBA Finals Game 7: An imagined oral history - Part 4
- Preseason Recap: Spurs blown out by Heat 121-96
- What Vegas thinks of the Spurs' chances this season