Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
What will happen to the Spurs during Tony's absence? Was Manu's demise exaggerated? Will Pop decide on a set rotation anytime soon? Should you be upset that the Spurs didn't trade for J.J. Redick? And should the Spurs worry about meeting a streaking Lakers squad in the first round of the playoffs? Stampler answers all these questions and more in this, his second article in as many weeks.
[Editor's Note: This post was completed before Friday nights' game against the Portland TrailBlazers. -jrw]
I know what you're thinking... "Two Stampler posts, within a couple weeks of each other? What in the what? He's gonna ask us for money again, isn't he? Yeah, he's gonna ask us for money."
Well good news, ladies and germs. I'm just bored and thought I'd share some leftover thoughts from the last post. And no, I'm not gonna ask for money. (Though I'd be happy to send along an address to anyone who's feeling charitable *cough*)
So here are some dinky predictions for the next month, the regular season, and possibly even the playoffs. Take them all with a grain of salt while at the same time making sure to never forget that I am an effing wizard.
My life is filled with annoyances. My job is annoying. My financial situation is annoying. My food addiction is annoying. That the girl I'm head over heels for happens to be gay is beyond annoying. And yes, being a Spurs fan is super duper annoying in the extreme.
I hate rooting for this injury-prone bunch of geezers. It's like rooting for an NFL team, where you're always one hit to the star QB from the season being rendered meaningless, but we have three star QBs to worry about.
Actually, it's like every Spurs game is played on a court littered with landmines. We can't seem to go two consecutive games with everyone on the roster staying in one functional piece.
The Thunder and the Heat meanwhile, continue to be led by aliens who never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get hurt. Apparently LeBron and Wade and Durant and Westbrook do not possess ankles or knees or backs or elbows or shoulders. They don't have bones or muscles or ligaments. They're all extra-terrestrial gumby-men, whose skins just seem to resemble human muscle by coincidence. Their alien powers also enable them to hypnotize the referees into giving them every goddamn call in the fourth quarters of close games.
Not that I'm bitter or insane or anything.
Anywho, I realize that it sounds counter-intuitive to think that the Spurs won't drop a beat without their MVP, but I have several, mostly logical, reasons for feeling the way I do.
First off, a healthy Duncan has been every bit as integral to this team's success as Parker was this year (perhaps even more so?) and the Spurs still kept winning when he was out.
Secondly, Parker's youth and energy relative to the other two stars on the team were important for keeping them competitive -- and then some -- on those SEGABABAs and the tightly-packed schedule these past few months, but now all that is behind us and March offers almost nothing but home games and plenty of rest in between them. Fatigue should not be an issue here.
Finally, Manu freakin' Ginobili has a well-established track record of stepping up his game when Parker is out injured. He'd probably refer to it as feeling "more responsible" for the team's success, but for whatever reason the urgency brings out the best in his game in the short term, even if it's well established by now that he can't sustain it for more than a month or two.
Yes, it's true that Manu's never been asked to do this at 35 before, and he's more fragile than ever, but he's smarter than ever too and he knows what he can do with all the toys around him. When he's on his game, as he was against the Pistons the other night, he makes it look pitifully easy and he can simply destroy a team in five minutes. That Detroit game was as long a sustained stretch of "Neo-ball" that the boys have shown in quite some time.
Anyway, I'm not really worried about the Spurs at all on offense. They still have guys who can shoot. They still have, in Tim and Manu, two elite-level offensive players who are finding their rhythm after long layoffs. They have an established system that gets guys good looks, regardless of who's out there, as evidenced by that awesome win at Chicago a month ago and the close loss at Miami early in the year.
You want irony? How about this, from a guy who's spent a decade lambasting Parker's defense: The Spurs will miss Tony a heckuva lot more on defense than offense.
As you can see, Parker's been one of the team's most reliable defenders all season (even though he played a chunk of games without Duncan), while his backups have been the worst. They're all limited to some degree. Neal is too slow, not athletic enough, and has the worst instincts of the bunch. He's also hampered by injury. Mills pressures the ball well, but he's too slight to really bother anyone in the half court and he makes lots of mental errors in his own end as well. De Colo has good size and is more athletic than he looks (because we're all virulent racists, you see), but he doesn't have the experience of facing all these guys and as a rookie he gets no respect from the refs. Joseph has the best defensive chops of the bunch and is pretty quick, but his aggressiveness costs him fouls and like De Colo the refs won't give him any breaks.
Parker doesn't bring the defensive intensity night in and night out, but when he's engaged against a fellow star point guard like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, etc. he gets his antennae up and does his best work to make life hard for those guys. Really, I don't know who plays Russell Westbrook better than Tony, to be honest.
I'm not worried at all about the Spurs being able to score against OKC on Monday, but I do fear that we're in store from a big night from Westbrook.
(I also realize this whole section would've looked a lot more prescient if I published it when I first wrote it, before the Detroit game, than after two straight beatdowns of the Pistons and "Los Bulls."
2. The demise of Manu Ginobili has been greatly exaggerated.
He's behind only fellow South American Tiago Splitter in net rating, well ahead of Duncan and Parker, and for whatever reason he's gone from being one of the team's worst defenders, in terms of points-per-100 possessions last season to third-best after Kawhi and Tiago. (Though to be fair, the offensive rating has dipped quite a bit from an NBA-best 120.7 last season to a middling-on-the-Spurs 110.0 this year.
Look, here's something you have to understand, and I say this as the biggest Manu homer on the planet: Last season was a bit of a fluke. There's no way he was going to shoot 61% from twos again, regardless of whether he's 35 or 25. The 41% from downtown was also too ambitious.
When Ginobili came out of the gates slowly in November, his numbers looked particularly awful because of the direct contrast to his ridiculous 11-12 campaign. Nobody seemed to give him the benefit of the doubt that A) he's traditionally been a slow starter and B) he was dealing with a back injury, something that never plagued him before, which seems rather remarkable considering his rather lengthy list of ailments over the years.
Once the calender turned to December, Manu was back to his usual efficient NBA stat nerd superstar self, at least for two months, before a hamstring injury felled him right at the peak of his powers, when he was driving to the hoop at will against the T-Pups.
Recovering from that one hampered his February, but now he's back to the status quo and the responsibility of having to replace a chunk of Parker's production has kicked him up another notch. Overall, our guy is still 18th in PER, he leads all two-guards in assist rate, he's behind only Wilson Chandler and Tony Allen in rebound rate and his scoring-per-40 minutes is still at his '04-05 level, when he first broke out.
Per 40 minutes, Manu is still a 21-7-8 guy, on 45% shooting. Not many guys in the league can say that. The problem, of course, is that he's not a 40 minute guy but rather a 24 minute guy. In fact, the stats show that if he ever plays more than 30 minutes in a game, his shooting percentages dive off a cliff.
Can he build up his stamina to reverse that trend? Is it even possible at his age? Pop has been treating him like a Faberge Egg (with good reason) but it's hard for me to imagine this team winning a title if Manu is only capable of giving them 24 solid minutes a night in the playoffs. He has to ratchet it up to 28-30, somehow, someway. I suggest PEDs and lots of them.
3. No, Pop will not have the rotation nailed down by the end of this six game homestand, and he wouldn't have even if Tony hadn't gotten hurt.
You have to be a dope to not understand the gap between Neal and De Colo
You gullible, pitiful fool, thinking that Get Off My Lawn will ever acquiesce to your reasonable wishes. Pop doesn't do things that other coaches do. He doesn't believe in your "logic" and "conventional wisdom" and "established rotations" and "player roles."
You want him to make up his mind one way or the other on the backup point guard? You want him to choose between DeJuan Blair (meh), Matt Bonner (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO), or Aron Baynes (ha) as the fourth big?
Well mis amigos, you shall remain wanting.
Here, roughly, is how I believe Pop ranks the players in order of trust:
1. Tim Duncan
2. Tony Parker
3. Manu Ginobili
Now picture a cliff between 4 and 5...
5. Boris Diaw
6. Tiago Splitter
7. Danny Green
Now picture the Grand Canyon between 8 and 9...
9. Gary Neal
Now picture the distance from you to the moon between 9 and 10...
10. Matt Bonner
11. DeJuan Blair
12. Patty Mills
13. Cory Joseph
14. Nando De Colo
15. Aron Baynes
Now 1-4 he's gonna roll with regardless. All those bros are gonna get major minutes in the playoffs barring the "I" word. 5-8 he's gonna play too, even though he'll flip out on any of these gentlemen for offenses ranging from softness to missed defensive rotations to passivity to the accumulation of technical fouls (hey, what can I say, Splitter is an OG with a temper). Pop knows he has to rely on 5-8, so he's gonna grit his teeth and make the best of it with them.
Neal is the wild card. Pop knows you need at least a nine man rotation in the playoffs, if only to give the ninth guy spot minutes, and Neal is the first among equals here for his experience in the system, his shot-making and his fearlessness. Unfortunately, he is also a defensive albatross, so if he's not making up for that with offense, he'll be benched eventually. Right? RIGHT?
10-15 you can throw into a hat. They'll never play as much as they (or you) would like and they will never be dismissed completely because Pop doesn't work like that. It will depend on foul trouble, who's hot, who's cold, etc., but none of these guys will ever be trusted for more than a half, a quarter, maybe even a minute or two. Their leashes are all shorter than Pop's with a male sideline reporter.
In fact, the next time Bonner has a stint where he bricks a couple of wide open threes and then gives up like eight offensive rebounds to the point guard on the other end, ESPN should just hand him a microphone at the end of the quarter to ask Pop, "So, coach, what didn't you like about that quarter?"
Go ahead and tell me you wouldn't pay to see that.
4. No, you shouldn't be upset that the Spurs didn't trade for J.J. Redick.
It was a popular rumor, especially at the trade deadline, after it came out that Redick and his wife bought a home in Austin, that Redick would come over, but I for one am happy it didn't work out.
I know it's a tiny sample size, and I sound like some idiotic dinosaur writing this in 2013, but his playoff numbers are positively Bonner-esque. 1-of-15 from downtown two years ago and 4-of-19 last year. Bleh, no thanks. Believe it or not, I'd rather have Neal. As awful he is, he is kinda clutch and he's just not afraid, which counts for something.
I'm sure there were ways the Spurs could've improved themselves incrementally, but Redick wasn't it. I really think, objectively speaking, that they have enough on hand to win it all if they stay healthy and get every conceivable break. Very unlikely of course, but possible on paper.
5. The Spurs will avoid a b.s. first round matchup with the Lakers because The Flying Spaghetti Monster isn't THAT evil.
Admit it, you've thought about it. It's crept its way into your subconsciousness. The Lakers, with a fresh, healthy Pau Gasol, getting hot in April and sneaking into the playoffs, against a Spurs team that took it easy in April, with their collective feet off the pedal to rest everyone.
All the ESPN idiots picking the "red hot" Lakers against the "slumping" Spurs, theorizing that LA's size will be too much for SA's Tiiiiiiiiiaaaaaago Splitter and that nobody on the Spurs can defend Kobe. You're rightly petrified that the Lakers will get every single call because of course they will.
If you say you haven't thought about this scenario, you're a filthy liar.
Well, my prediction is it's not gonna happen. It's just too cruel and too perfect. Besides, the Spurs never draw a "sexy" match-up that pulls in the eyeballs in round 1. It doesn't happen. They'll just get Utah again (hello NBA TV) or Houston for a bunch of 120-112 wins.
If the Spurs hold on to that one seed (I admit to being incredibly skeptical of this after OKC edged the Knicks and the Spurs blew that Suns game) then the Lakers will finish seventh. If the Spurs finish second, then the Lakers will finish eighth. That's what my crystal ball sees. There's no science to it, just a gut feeling.
And I don't think the Lakers will tank a la the Grizzlies two years ago to get the Spurs rather than the Thunder because the race will be too tight for them to do it. Hell, they play the Rockets on the final game of the season in what might be a "loser goes home" scenario.
If the Spurs do wind up playing the Lakers in round 1, then I'll give you your money back for this column, and write another one that will never see the light of day because JRW won't publish it on account of the 4,852 swears.