As Chris Itz wrote last week, Tim Duncan has set the standard for consistent excellence, and he's maintained it throughout his entire career. But right now, Duncan isn't playing offense the way we're used to. He just isn't. His field goal percentage is down. His efficiency is down. He's missing jumpers from the elbow and gimmes at the rim. It's decidedly un-Duncanlike.
Gregg Popovich has established a reputation for being able to cobble together wildly successful lineups while his stars are injured or resting. He's basketball's answer to Sandro Petti, but instead of inventing pasta puttanesca on the fly when forced to prepare a meal without enough ingredients, he cobbles together playing rotations for specific situations and makes it look easy.
Most Spurs fans would agree that they expect Duncan to return to form soon, or at least sometime during the regular season, but the question is what they should do in the meanwhile. Enter Pounding the Rock's own super-commenter alamo who dropped the following bit of wisdom in the comments of the recap of the Celtics game:
While Tim is shooting his jumper so poorly, well below past averages, his combination with Tiago becomes about as unworkable as [Houston's] attempt to pair Howard/Asik. ... continuing to take [jumpers won't] keep the defense from packing the paint until he starts hitting some consistently. I'd think the defense would leave him as open as possible so that he tries them while they wait for the rebound and keep anyone else from driving to the basket.
When either Tim or Tiago are paired with another big (with the exception of Baynes) the team does fine. When the two are together, the defense is tough but the offense is worse to the point that they are outscored by 10 points per every 100 possessions. Put Boris with Tim and the Spurs are around a +24 per 100 possessions, Boris and Tiago, +26. Put either Bonner or Ayres with either Tim or Tiago and again the Spurs are easily outscoring the opposition. The only pairing that is not working is Tim and Tiago together, as long as neither is a threat from more than a few feet from the basket. Tiago might need to develop a jump shot to play with Tim, or at least wind up spending even more of his time setting picks far from the basket.
If you look at the GIF of Manu's assist to Boris, it demonstrates the value of Bonner spreading the floor with Olynyk trying to stick near Bonner rather than helping out in the paint. Kawhi's third quarter burst [when he scored 12 of the Spurs' 16 points in a game-deciding run] began after Bonner went in for Tiago and within the next 3 minutes Kawhi scored 10 points, including 2 layups and a three pointer on an assist by Bonner.
Floor spacing is so important to San Antonio's system that any lineup that defenses don't have to respect is going to stand out like a sore thumb. And that's what's happening here with units featuring both Duncan and Splitter. Assuming that Timmeh doesn't wake up tomorrow with his shot intact, how long will it be before Pop decides to tweak the rotation to maximize the Spurs' big-man combinations that are working best?
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Morning Rehash: Spurs axe Celtics for 8th straight win
- Spurs beat Celtics for 8th straight win, 104-93
- GIF: Boris Diaw with an up-and-under pivot-hook-shot of glory
- GIF: Ginobili's other-worldly pass to Boris Diaw against the Celtics
- State of the Spurs: What do the SportVU numbers say about San Antonio?