The Spurs' mid-season report card: Part 1

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Which Spurs have been good and which have been bad? And who keeps putting Gatorade cups on the principal's chair? Halfway through the season, it's time to hand out grades once again.

No preamble – let's get right to it.

Jeff Ayres

38 games, 13.5 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.2 stl, 0.3 blk, 0.8 TOs, .531/NA/.750, 107.8 ORtg, 98.9 DRtg, 10.2 PER, .108 WS/48, +121 (3.2 per game)

We have to keep it in perspective, because he’s the tenth man on the roster, a spot player and no more, but Ayres has improved as much as any Spur between the quarter-pole and the halfway point of the season. He’s almost doubled his PER, he’s upped his shooting percentages both from the field and the line, and he started gobbling up the boards to where he’s averaging more than 10 per 36 minutes (10.2), better than what DeJuan Blair managed last season.

The most glaring improvement, though, has been Ayres’ comfort level with the guys on offense. He just doesn’t look as nervous out there now as he did in the beginning of the season. He’s not blowing dunks as often or having simple passes go through his hands. He’s expecting those passes now, and even calling for the ball at times, even though his post game is U-G-L-Y.

Maybe the biggest difference is that, with Tiago Splitter out Ayres has just been playing with better players, whether it’s the starting lineup or the Manu Ginobili-led second unit, so it’s only natural that his offensive rating has shot up now that he doesn’t have to share the court with the other scrubs at the tail end of blowouts.

Either way, Ayres has proven me wrong. I thought he would be exposed somewhat with Splitter out and that the Spurs would have to play a ton of small ball as a consequence. That hasn’t really been the case and Ayres has "won" the fourth big-man job, for what it’s worth. I’m not sure if that means he’ll get to play a few spot minutes in the playoffs or not, but at the least he’s shown he’s a serviceable player. My only criticism of him is that for a guy with some decent athleticism, Ayres hasn’t shown any shot-blocking/rim-protecting skills, but that can be said of a number of other Spurs, as we’ll see.

Grade: C+

Aron Baynes:

25 games, 8.2 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 stl, 0.2 blk, 0.7 TOs, .459/NA/.875, 100.0 ORtg, 104.1 DRtg, 10.3 PER, .046 WS/48, -10 (-0.4 per game)

Quarter Pole: 12 games, 9.0 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.0 stl, 0.1 blk, 0.7 TOs, .389/NA/.750, 5.9 PER, 96.8* ORtg, 104.4* DRtg, .010 WS48, -0.7 per game

Baynes hasn’t disappointed, per se, but it’s been hard for him to move the needle at all because Ayres got the first chance to impress after Splitter suffered his sprained shoulder and ran with the opportunity. Baynes’ role remains the same as it’s been – a big lug Pop uses off the bench to bang bodies against bigger teams or when the guys atop the depth chart are in foul trouble. He hasn’t gotten much of a shot to show what he can do with the big boys.

Every player in the NBA who has logged at least than 134 minutes this season has managed at least one steal -- except Baynes.

It’s hard to argue with 13.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes – which qualifies for the Spurs second highest total after Duncan’s 12.0 – but what’s hurt Baynes’ case in my eyes has been his complete lack of defensive playmaking. He’s blocked one shot in 206 minutes and come up with precisely zero steals. Every other player in the NBA who has logged more than 134 minutes this season has managed at least one steal. Baynes’ foul rate of 5.1 per 36 minutes is the second-worst on the team to Ayres’ 5.5, and while Ayres hasn’t been the most active defender himself, his rating is much better and he looks like he has a better idea of what he’s supposed to be doing back there.

It’s a stretch to label Baynes as an "offensive specialist" with his limited skill-set, but you can kind of see why he isn’t getting more run when he’s a complete non-factor in his own end. Would that change with consistent playing time with good players around him? Maybe. But I can see why Pop isn't giving him more burn than he is.

Grade: C-

Marco Belinelli:

41 games, 23.6 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.6 stl, 0.1 blk, 1.3 TOs, .512/.500/.739, 111.6 ORtg, 102.3 DRtg, 16.0 PER, .145 WS/48, +172 (4.2 per game)

Quarter Pole: 22 games, 21.8 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 stl, 0.1 blk, 1.0 TOs, .535/.542/.765, 17.2 PER, 115* ORtg, 98.4* DRtg, .182 WS48, +6.8 per game

Belinelli had to come down to Earth from the stratospheric heights he inhabited in the first quarter, but impressively he’s still head-and-shoulders ahead of everyone in the league in three-point shooting. For comparison’s sake, Charlotte stretch-four Anthony Tolliver has made 46.7 percent in 107 attempts, Atlanta’s prolific Kyle Korver has converted 45.8 percent in 214 attempts and Portland’s Damian Lillard has connected on 43.0 percent on 305 attempts. It would seem like a relative swoon, but if Belinelli can finish the season at anything above Lillard’s percentage, I’ll be ecstatic.

More interesting to me is that after an initial seven or eight game stretch where Belinelli’s numbers as a starter were horrific -- we’re talking drastic differences between his splits to the point that I was this close to writing a column about it -- he has gotten comfortable with the starting unit and he’s been even better as a starter in some aspects. Basically, ever since the Knicks game on Jan. 2, he’s been fine in the games he’s started.

Surprisingly, the biggest drop-off in Belinelli’s numbers between starting and coming off the bench have been on the defensive end, where he has a ghastly 107.6 defensive rating if you average out the figures between NBA.com’s and basketball-reference.com’s databases. You’d think he’d do better playing with Duncan, Leonard et al.

Two things though: First, playing with better players means you’re playing against better players, too. Led by Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw, the Spurs have one of the best, if not the best, second-teams in the league. But their edge is far less pronounced with their starting unit, to the point where against the elite teams it’s certainly arguable that they’re at a disadvantage -- as the plus/minus numbers and offensive/defensive ratings for the starting units show. Secondly, as we’ve seen in the first Rockets game and the last loss against Portland, having Belinelli play with the starters down the stretch often comes at Leonard’s expense. I don’t think I’m going on a limb to suggest that chaining Leonard to the bench is no way to improve your defensive rating.

What I would like to see the Spurs try, if they’re so insistent on playing Belinelli down the stretch of games, is to put him in there instead of Diaw, Splitter or Green in that fifth slot alongside the "Big Four," of Duncan/Parker/Ginobili/Leonard. Maybe Pop is saving that group for the playoffs, but that lineup has logged all of 21 minutes together so far this season (over 11 games, mind you, so picture how small those per-game sample sizes have been) but for what it’s worth they’ve put up a 125.4 offensive rating and a blah 106.9 defensive rating, for a difference of 18.6 points over 100 possessions. Yeah, they’ll probably struggle to stop people, but at least you’d be more confident in their scoring than you would be with Green, Diaw or Splitter as the fifth guy.

For the record, here are the fifth wheel numbers for all the candidates, with tiny sample sizes in some cases:

Belinelli: 125.4 ORtg, 106.9 DRtg, +18.6, 21 minutes

Diaw: 115.6 ORtg, 109.6 DRtg, +5.9, 127 minutes (second-most common Spurs lineup)

Green: 99.4 ORtg, 109.1 DRtg, -9.7 (yikes), 14 minutes

Splitter: 90.3 ORtg, 102.8 DRtg, -12.5 (gah!), 50 minutes

Also, can someone explain to me why the better Marco shoots from the field, the worse he shoots at the charity stripe? I need to understand.

Grade: B+

Matt Bonner:

32 games,  11.2 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.2 stl, 0.1 blk, 0.3 TOs, .476/.474/NA, 113.9 ORtg, 101.3 DRtg, 11.3 PER, .132 WS/48, +82 (2.6 per game)

Quarter Pole: 15 games, 12.5 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.1 stl, 0.1 blk, 0.3 TOs, .476/.448/NA, 10.5 PER, 114.8* ORtg, 101.3* DRtg, .138 WS48, +3.5 per game

I’m gonna make this quick.

Matt Bonner has not shot a free throw in 358 minutes this season. Every player in the NBA who has played more minutes than him has attempted at least four free throws (Pablo Prigioni with the Knicks and some whodat named Diante Garrett have each gone 4-of-4 in 460-plus minutes). In fact, everyone who has played at least 116 paltry minutes has at least a couple of free throws. You have to get all the way to Indiana’s Rasual Butler and his 115 minutes to find another biped so allergic to being fouled. Nando De Colo has attempted three free throws this season. Even Malcolm Thomas has attempted two. I think Thomas has gotten more rebounds than Bonner too, and he's only played one game.

Okay, that’s a stretch, but let’s check that out for laughs.

Of the 72 gentlemen who have qualified and are listed as "power-forwards," Bonner ranks 69th in rebound rate, according to Hollinger’s stats on ESPN.com.

Diaw ranks 70th.

Good lord. And people wonder why I rage at Pop for the ending of Game 6.

Kudos to Matty for getting his three-point percentage up to .474. I feel bad that he busted his nose. I enjoyed the Andy Kaufman impersonation. I just very much want him traded for anyone remotely useful.

Grade: C-

Nando De Colo:

14 games, 8.1 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.6 stl, 0.1 blk, 0.9 TOs, .441/.438/.667, 97.8 ORtg, 101.7 DRtg, 13.7 PER, .086 WS/48, -15 (-1.1 per game)

By now it’s become apparent that barring some kind of injury catastrophe, De Colo will not play any kind of meaningful role for the Spurs in 2013-14 -- and likely ever. Even with Green out and De Colo by far the tallest "point guard" on the roster, all those spare non-Ginobili, non-Belinelli minutes went to either Cory Joseph or Patty Mills.

De Colo continues to tear it up in the D-League and his garbage-time showing against the Bucks was by far his best game as a Spur this season, but it just doesn’t matter. He’s persona non grata.

I wonder if he has any trade value at all, but I suspect not. Teams around the league have to know by now how PATFO feels about him.

Grade: Inc.

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