Grades for the Spurs' first quarter: Part 2

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Stampler picks apart Ginobili, Parker, Leonard, Splitter, Green, Joseph and Mills in this, the second part of his grades for the first 20 games of the season.

Here's the second installment of the Quarter Season Grades. In part 1, I looked at Duncan, Diaw, De Colo and four other guys whose names don't start with the letter "D". Here are my grades for the rest of the roster.

Manu Ginobili:

23 games, 23.0 mpg, 10.8 ppg, 3.6 rebs, 4.7 ast, 1.0 stl, 0.2 blk, 1.8 TOs, .465/.374/.875, 19.5 PER, 113.8* ORtg, 96.9* DRtg, .194 WS48, +8.0 per game

In a span of a dozen games, going back to November 22nd at Memphis, Ginobili has gone from an overpaid guy playing out the string in his Hall-of-Fame career and getting paid more for past services rendered than current production, to one who looks like a bargain at $7 million a year and the league's top Sixth Man of the Year candidate through the quarter pole.

The acquisition of Marco Belinelli, along with Gregg Popovich's decision to go with Patty Mills over Cory Joseph as the backup point guard and Boris Diaw's new-found aggressiveness, has rejuvenated Ginobili's game. While I'm not a huge fan of that "Foreign Legion" nickname for the bench, there is no denying that Gino is quarterbacking the second unit like never before, Neo-Ball extraordinaire. In 104 minutes over 16 games, the quartet is scoring at a rate of 123.6 points over 100 possessions and allowing just 92.9, a difference of 30.7 points. Individually, Ginobili's at 117.1 points scored and 88.8 allowed (28.3 difference) in 214 minutes. Mills, 119.9 to 95.8 ( 24.1) in 268 minutes and Belinelli, 118.2 to 99.3 (18.9) in 311, join Boris Diaw to finish the incredible quartet. Overall, Manu is seventh in the league at +184, and all the guys ahead of him have played significantly more minutes, (though Belinelli and OKC's Reggie Jackson have enjoyed similar success in the top-12 among bench guys).

Ginobili isn't nearly as aggressive nor quick as in his salad days, but what he lacks in hops and moxie he's made up for in precision, and he's leading the entire league (among qualifiers) in field goal percentage on drives to the basket at 77.4 percent. More and more I'm thinking his severe drop in free throw attempts this season was more a conscious decision on his part (and Pop's) than an inability to get there, more a won't than a can't. He has averaged three attempts per game in December, which obviously still isn't great, but it's more than triple what he averaged in November, so take that for what it's worth. Historically Ginobili has been a slow starter except for a couple of exceptions, and he usually finds his rhythm in mid-December; so he's right on schedule. As long as he stays healthy -- a big if -- I'm past the point of worrying about his game.

My one quibble, and a minor one at that, is that I'd like to see a slight bump in his minutes, to the 25-26 range as the season ramps up to get him ready for the playoffs, but it doesn't look like that's gonna happen barring a long-range slump from Danny Green. Still, even at 23 minutes a night, it's once again tremendously enjoyable watching Manu Ginobili play basketball.

Grade: B+

Danny Green:

23 games, 22.3 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 3.1 rebs, 1.3 ast, 1.1 stl, 0.9 blk, 1.0 TOs, .432/.411/1.000, 13.5 PER, 102.7* ORtg, 92.7* DRtg, .131 WS48, +5.4 per game

Here's a stat that may surprise you: Green is ninth on the Spurs in scoring per game at the moment. Not ninth per 36 minutes or per 100 possessions or any of the relatively recent analytics (he fares even worse in those) but ninth in old-fashioned-good-enough-for-Mike-Wilbon points per game. Dead last among the team's basic rotation guys since that fourth big is always up in the air with Pop. Mills averages a tick less than 16 minutes a night and scores more than Green.

The Spurs' starting shooting guard had a stretch of six straight games from Nov. 25 at Cleveland to Dec. 7 vs. Indiana in single digits in scoring and then two more stinkers against Minnesota and at Utah. Overall, he's averaged just 5.3 points on .375 shooting in December and playing only 18.7 minutes a night, as Pop's leash on him grows ever tighter. Green is still shooting it acceptably well, though streaky as ever, but he's just not getting as many opportunities, whether it's opponents restricting his space or Pop losing patience. Really, more than anything it's the fact that Ginobili has stayed healthy and Belinelli has shot it too well not to play.

To his credit, Green hasn't let his offensive struggles impact his game too much on the other end. His defense hasn't been perfect by any means, but it wasn't last year either. He's still a plus defender and his defensive rating with any of the corresponding starters is between 89.2 and 90.2. One thing worth noting is that Pop rarely plays Green and Ginobili together, only 93 minutes over 17 games, as one usually subs for the other, but when he does they average 111.6 points per 100 possessions and allow just 81, a difference of 30.6 points. Ginobili and Leonard (nor Green and Leonard) haven't had nearly that same level of success together. Just something to keep in mind.

What's inexcusable for Green is that he has just six free throw attempts to his name through 23 games. That's ridiculous. Obviously he's not a very good dribbler or a finisher, but he has to be more aggressive to stay on the floor with people jumping out on him so hard. (Ironically, his field goal percentage on drives is 80 percent, even higher than Ginobili's, but he doesn't have nearly enough attempts to qualify.)

I think Green needs to get more involved for the Spurs to be at their peak level, but it seems that the better teams in the league are the ones that pay the most attention to him and thus the ones that Green does the least against. He's going to have to figure out how to be a factor even against the clubs that know what they're doing but with so few balls to go around between Parker, Duncan and Leonard as it is, the onus will be on him to make the most of limited touches.

Grade: C-

Cory Joseph:

16 games, 7.5 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 0.9 rebs, 1.0 ast, 0.2 stl, 0.0 blk, 0.4 TOs, .465/.333/.792, 17.9 PER, 110.1* ORtg, 104.6* DRtg, .193 WS48, -0.8 per game

Here's my favorite, meaningless Spurs' stat of the first quarter: Joseph is second on the team in scoring-per-36 minutes at 18.0. I swear you could've given me ten guesses and I wouldn't have gotten that right. Joseph has gotten almost all of his minutes in garbage time thanks to Mills usurping his backup job, and he's taken out his frustrations on bored third units throughout the league, gunning it unrepentantly, Gary Neal style. I don't know what to make of it, but it's not the kind of thing that's going to impress Pop. Dig in, play defense and help get some stops instead of finishing -8 in the last two minutes of every game and maybe then the coach will give it a stray thought.

I will say that Joseph was quite good in his one start in Parker's stead at Orlando, and there was that brief stretch in late November where Mills played poorly in losses at Oklahoma City and versus Houston where I thought maybe Joseph could get his foot in the door, but it hasn't happened yet. As long as Mills keeps getting those steals off careless inbounds passes the job is his, but there are still so many tough games on the schedule and if Mills continues to fare poorly against them, the opportunity may come Joseph's way still. He just has to stick with it and to continue practicing that jumper off the catch.

Grade: Inc.

Kawhi Leonard:

23 games, 28.1 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 5.9 rebs, 1.7 ast, 1.9 stl, 0.4 blk, 1.1 TOs, .513/.288/.793, 18.5 PER, 106.2* ORtg, 94.5* DRtg, .190 WS48, +3.0 per game

I'm going to skip this one if you don't mind since I've already analyzed Leonard to death recently, but I will say that I've been very impressed by Leonard's passing in the half court of late. The game looks like it's starting to slow down for him and that he's figuring out where guys are around him and who to look for off the drive. He flashes superstar talent a couple moments every game, just to tease you. Like that drive and up-and-under in the third quarter against Minnesota that faked Corey Brewer out of his jock (at the 7:58 mark, check it out). Hopefully he's piecing together the different parts of his game, and he'll have the whole puzzle locked in by the time the playoffs roll around. That would just devastate the league.

Quietly, Leonard has shot 41 percent from three in December and been the Spurs' third-best player, behind Duncan and Ginobili, but let's keep that between us.

Grade: B+

Patty Mills:

23 games, 15.9 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 1.4 rebs, 1.4 ast, 1.1 stl, 0.0 blk, 0.7 TOs, .481/.448/.800, 19.3 PER, 113.4* ORtg, 96.2* DRtg, .213 WS48, +4.3 per game

I think if you could create the perfect backup point guard in a lab to play with Ginobili, it'd be this year's version of Mills: a deadly spot-up shooter and tenacious full-court defender who's perfectly content to not be the lead guard in the half court but willing to chuck one up every now and then after a few Manu-centric possessions just to give him a breather. Mills has been fantastic in almost every respect, with numbers to match it, and frankly he probably deserves a bit more playing time than he's gotten, as giving Parker a couple more minutes on the pine a night to save his legs for May and June wouldn't be the worst idea ever.

It's true that Mills' size limitations and occasional wandering have hurt the team in the halfcourt defense, particularly against Houston and OKC, but it's even more true that he's been far more an asset than a liability in the grand scheme, which leads me to the overwhelming conclusion that most backup point guards in the league (and really their corresponding teams when you get down to it) are utter crap. I'm not sure if it's correlative, but it sure feels correlative, especially with C.J. Watson doing a credible job for the Pacers.

As mentioned above in the Joseph section, it remains to be seen if Mills will be able to hold the backup job all year and I'm not 100 percent convinced that he will just yet. Let him string together some solid performances against good teams first.

Grade: A-

Tony Parker:

22 games, 30.4 mpg, 18.0 ppg, 2.6 rebs, 6.1 ast, 0.4 stl, 0.0 blk, 2.5 TOs, .517/.385/.726, 20.2 PER, 107.5* ORtg, 99.7* DRtg, .162 WS48, +6.1 per game

Wouldn't you say I'm overdue when it comes to slagging Parker? When's the last time I really went on a rant on him? Like three years? Okay, I won't go quite so far this time, but it's worth pointing out that his scoring is down a couple points a game from last season, his assists are down 1.5 and his steals have been chopped in half. Duncan, Leonard and Ginobili have all taken some heat for averaging far fewer free throws so far this season, but Parker hasn't escaped that problem either, as he's averaging 3.3 attempts a game down from five last year. It's true that he's playing two fewer minutes than he did last season, but that shouldn't produce drop-offs these dramatic.

Obviously it speaks to Parker's greatness that "slumping" for him is still shooting above 50 percent, still with a PER over 20 and an assist-to-turnover ratio above three and still big-time clutch fourth quarter performances when called upon. Rarely has he failed to come through when it matters. Also, it has to be mentioned that Parker has the most difficult job on the team as each game he has to spend the first half figuring out who's got it going with the starting unit. Is Duncan's jumper flat tonight or does he have juice in his legs? Is Leonard into the game? How closely are they guarding Green? How are they playing the pick-and-roll with Splitter? Ironically, the bench guys have been far more consistent game-to-game.

I predict, with games against Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, that Parker will ramp it up this week. He gets up for the All-Stars who get more national love than him. His jumper has been wonky of late but it should come around. C'mon Parker, step it up.

Grade: B

Tiago Splitter:

19 games, 20.8 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 6.6 rebs, 1.1 ast, 0.4 stl, 0.5 blk, 1.2 TOs, .587/NA/.727, 18.9 PER, 110.1*** ORtg, 93.6* DRtg, .215, +5.2 per game

The triple asterisk is because even though NBA.com and Basketball-reference.com vary wildly on their ratings stats (and a few others) the numbers they have for Splitter really take the cake. It's like they're watching two completely different players. Splitter's offensive rating for basketball-reference.com is 119, which would make him a stud, but it's a rather ordinary 101.2 by NBA.com's database. I don't understand it. Can anybody explain it to me slowly and in a way that won't stress my SDSU education?

By almost any measure, Splitter has been awesome for the Spurs. His rebounding rate is way up, especially on the offensive end, and it's been almost impossible for people to score on him at the rim. I'm not sure if there's a quick and dirty way to quantify it, or maybe I'm just too lazy to, but he passes the eye test when it comes toughness with his post play. He's scoring with more regularity backing down people and shooting that dinky hook over them. The only sticking point with his game is he still brings the ball down too low for smaller fellas to strip him. Sometimes they rake his arms and foul him and Splitter doesn't get the call but a lot of other times dudes are getting all ball and simply stripping him. I'm not sure if it's something that's correctable this far along into his career, but I'm sure it drives all the coaches crazy.

The bigger issue, of course, is whether Splitter can play alongside Duncan effectively against smaller lineups of the top teams like Miami and OKC. He has generally fared well as the lone big in small lineups (well, except in the Finals) but that still limits him in terms of his role because there's only so few minutes available as a backup center in the playoffs. Worse yet, it limits the Spurs' defense when they can't pair their best two rim protectors to seal off the paint. It's definitely a problem in my mind, but I'm not at all sure if it is in Pop's. I'm not sure if he has any real interest in solving it or if he's already accepted the Diaw and/or Leonard future come postseason.

Grade: B+

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