The Little 3
I know who you are, why you are reading this. You are the fan who doesn't pay attention to the NBA until the end of the season. I suppose I should update you on the success of the Spurs. Surprise surprise, we made the playoffs again! The success or failure of the Big 3 has had a huge impact on how far we have made it into the big dance. As Spurs fans when we hear the Big 3, the first thing that comes to our minds is the sweet off the glass shot of Duncan's, a slashing Tony Parker with one of the most purest floaters you have ever seen, and the flashy, sometimes erratic, passionate, yet awe-dropping Manu. Since you are the casual NBA fan, let me update you on the likely impact the Little 3 will have. The Little 3 that I will mention consists of the lanky Kawhi Leonard, cast away Danny Green, and big man Tiago Splitter. New or current Spurs fans must be aware of the Little 3 and the impact they possess, especially against the Lakers.
I remember watching the 2011 NBA draft , eagerly anticipating who the Spurs would select as I do every year. Would it be another international player? The Spurs by far have the best track record for finding international talent. Do the likes of Luis Scola, Goran Dragic,Ian Mahimi, Beno Udrih, Leandro Barbosa ring a bell? After the lack-luster performance by Richard Jefferson and getting run out the gym by the Grizzlies in the first round, I thought we should invest in homegrown athletic talent. Being from San Diego, I was also an avid supporter of San Diego State University. Many friends of mine in the San Diego area kept telling me about this kid Kawhi Leonard. He had long arms, huge hands, was a gritty defender, tough rebounder, and athletic as they come. I thought to myself, it would be nice to have someone of that magnitude on our team. Of course I knew that the likeliness of us moving up the draft to get a talent like that were very slim. So it was fair to say, I was content with the possibility of selecting Jordan Hamilton from down the street at the University of Texas. He had a silky smooth jump shot and could easily be well adjusted into Pop's system and learn to become a team defender. Could you believe my initial shock when the Spurs traded for Leonard? I was happier than a kid on a snow day in Texas. Right then and there I was putting the pieces in my head to the NBA championship puzzle. Timmy,Manu, Parker, Leonard, and Hill. Unstoppable. Then I read the details of the trade, George Hill had been traded. Fair to say I did not know what emotion to feel. George Hill had left the building, gone to another small market team in his home state. No doubt that Hill was a fan favorite, and seemed to make leaps and bounds every time he was playing. Not to mention his well-documented battles with the Black Mamba himself. I decided to give Kawhi a chance, because when have the Spurs really made too many bad personal decisions? Fast forward to this present moment, fans may have not forgotten George Hill, but I am positive Kawhi will make them forget here shortly. He is the epitome of what it means to be a San Antonio Spur. Selfless, dedicated, a part of the team concept rather than an individual. His athleticism, long lanky arms were just what the doctor ordered. That corner 3 of his is Oh so sweet and very Bruce Bowen of him. Pop himself says Kawhi is a superstar in the making, and he isn't far off at all in saying that. Look for more great things in the future for this young man as we move forward into the playoffs and when the BIG 3 decides to call it a career.
The next player Spurs fans need to get more familiar with is Tiago Splitter the 6'11 Brazilian. Drafted in 2007 in the 1st round with the 28th pick, yet another unknown international player. Tiago Splitter has become somewhat of a household name with the likes of Charles Barkley and Stephen A Smith dissecting his game. Tiago unfortunately did not officially suit up with the Spurs until the 2010 season. When he finally came to San Antonio, we welcomed him with open arms. Another big man is a dime a dozen in the NBA, but Spurs management know how to pick them. Learning from Tim Duncan and finally improving his horrendous free throw shooting has done wonders for Tiago. Steadily improving every year, adjusting his game to the pace of the NBA, finally seeming at home in Pop's system. The battles with the frontline of the Grizzlies in that 2011 massacre may have been just what he needed to move forward, and use that motivation to further improve his game. With that being said then the 2012 Western Conference finals happened, and the frontline of the Thunder outplayed Tiago in every way imaginable. He has taken it personally this year, and with more starts under his belt and career highs in Points, Rebounds and free throw percentage, the ceiling is high for Tiago. He has the potential to be a double-double machine much like Tim Duncan, and only has been averaging 25 mpg this year. In those 25 minutes he 10ppg, 6rpg and his free throw percentage is up to 73 percent. Lately he has taken his defense assignments with more physicality and aggression. The refusal to not be bullied around anymore by the likes of the big men of the West bodes well for the Spurs. Tiago's rebounding, defense and inside scoring are crucial to the success of the team. Feed the big man!
Finally Spurs fans need to pay attention to Danny Green. Although he was one of the most prolific players to ever suit up for the UNC Tar Heels was not expected to make a splash in the NBA. The knocks on Danny coming out of college were the mechanics of his jump shot and questions of his athleticism against elite NBA players. Fair to say those naysayers have been hushed up the past few seasons. Selected by Cleveland in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, Green did not receive any playing time and was eventually cut by the Cavs. Danny eventually found a home in San Antonio after being previously cut by the Spurs. He fit right into Pop's system seamlessly much like a Bruce Bowen, or a Sean Elliot. The basketball IQ Green possesses is tremendous; he always seems to know where he belongs on the court. With all that being said after last year's West Conference Finals collapse, many Spurs fans were left scratching their heads after praising Danny all year. Danny Green continued to hush critics with a game winning 3 point shot over Kobe Bryant in November of this past year. He is shooting the 3 ball at torrid pace of 44% and his confidence seems to increase with each game. When Green is hitting the 3 consistently, it opens the lanes for Parker and Manu. We absolutely need Danny Green to be at his peak as we make a run for another ring.
As we prepare ourselves for another matchup with the Lakers in the playoffs, keep your eye on some key matchups with the Little 3. They will be the X factors for us to move on to the next round. Kawhi Leonard versus Steve Blake will be one of the matchups to look forward to. Steve Blake now has the green light to score, and has been on a tear the past few games. I would also like to see Kawhi operate in the post when he has a smaller defender on him. Tiago Splitter versus Pau Gasol on the block is another huge matchup to keep your eye on. Finally Danny Green v Jodie Meeks/Steve Blake on the perimeter is another key element. The Lakers are playing inside, out very similar to the Dwight Howard Orlando Magic, the Little 3 need to step up in their matchups and take us home. Playoff fans get your popcorn ready!