The Spurs' mid-season report card: Part 3

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Otherwise known as "The short and the gimpy."

In case you missed them, here are Part One and Part Two of the halfway point grades.

If Bud really wanted to show Pop his appreciation for seventeen years of mentoring, he'd lend him Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver for a couple of weeks while the Spurs wait for Tiago Splitter and Danny Green to come back. Or at least DeMarre Carroll. Come on. It's DeMarre Carroll. Who would even notice? You could trade him back and forth between the two teams like 15 times between now and April before anyone suspected a thing.

Anyway, here's the finale of the halfway grades. Apologies in advance for no mentions of Malcolm Thomas or Othyus Jeffers. I know how much you were looking forward to an in-depth review of their games.

Cory Joseph

Halfway Point: 29 games, 9.3 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.2 stl, 0.1 blk, 0.6 TOs, .476/.429/.763, 108.5 ORtg, 103.8 DRtg, 14.8 PER, .135 WS/48, +6 (0.2 per game)

Quarter Pole: 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

Is it me, or is Joseph narrowing the gap on Patty Mills?

Okay, it's probably me.

Still, I've definitely noticed that Joseph has improved his jumper, both from mid-range and from downtown, and while the sample size there is small, I think he deserves some credit for working on his weaknesses as much as one can.

Obviously, Joseph's efforts can't approach the dizzying heights that Mills can give, but I maintain that he'd be a more consistent performer from night to night and someone who'd give the Spurs more positives than negatives, especially in light of their injury problems. I think that Joseph takes fewer of those crazy in-memoriam-Gary-Neal shots, is more capable of coming up with a tough rebound on either end of the floor, and is less prone to bonehead plays.

More to the point, with all the guys they are missing, getting stops is all the more of a premium, and I trust Joseph more on that score than Mills, as long as he's not guarding a 6'10" alien with a 7'6" wingspan and 35-foot range. I guess it's moot, since Pop will play both, possibly even together, which I'm sure will anger me to no end.

It will be intriguing to see if Joseph can outperform Mills in the next couple of weeks, though; and I hope he sees this as an opportunity for a greater role going forward.

Grade: C+

Kawhi Leonard

Halfway Point: 40 games, 28.9 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 stl, 0.5 blk, 1.2 TOs, .517/.323/.738, 109.0 ORtg, 98.3 DRtg, 17.7 PER, .171 WS/48, +126 (3.2 per game)

Quarter Pole: 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

So, this was fairly tragic and, sadly, all too predictable.

When your fingers are twice as long as the average person's, I guess that means there's twice as much of them to break. Also, fellas who dig in defensively, get into scrums, dive on the floor, and mix it up in the paint and on the boards with the trees are going to be more vulnerable to injury than carefree "I get 25, you get 25, and then we'll chill in the club" types. I just can't imagine Leonard having too many seasons where he plays 75-plus games, because I think he'll always suffer (hopefully) minor nicks and dings along the way. However, I don't necessarily think that it's a bad thing, because it will mean he's playing hard and competing, and it's just something that comes with the territory.

I don't necessarily believe that his broken finger is the worst thing in the world for the Spurs either. Obviously, it sucks in the short term: they're so shorthanded as it is with Splitter and Green out, and there is the danger of an added burden on The Big Three (especially Ginobili in the swingman role). There is also a very real or even likely chance that they won't be able to capture home court advantage over anyone meaningful now, so in that sense, it's a glaring bummer.

For Leonard, though, the broken finger gives him a chance to take a breather, relax a bit, and get a second wind. This will be important for him, because I see Kawhi's minutes going up  - way up - once the postseason starts. With Ginobili, Belinelli, and Green all in the mix too, that, obviously, means that there will be some small ball involved. Despite Jeff Ayres' relatively encouraging play as of late, I think that Pop will be going to that well quite a bit, if for no other reason than simply having more of his better players together on the floor. It's really tough to argue that Ayres is anything more than the team's tenth-best guy, and I figure Pop will play mainly the top nine, perhaps even eight, when things get tight.

What's tricky for Leonard is that the injury is to his shooting hand, so perhaps it will be more complicated than Green's injury (Leonard uses the dribble more as it is). Yet, a silver lining might be found there as well in that maybe he'll practice dribbling with his off-hand or develop his footwork or whatnot. By all accounts, Kawhi is such a diligent worker and a gym rat that he'll be antsy as hell and driving everyone crazy because he can't play, so he'll use the time to improve some aspect of his game that will surprise us all when he comes back. Maybe he'll work on hypnosis to make Kevin Durant think that he's a chicken, or telekinesis to make him unable to cross half-court.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Grade: B

Patty Mills

Halfway Point: 41 games, 16.8 mpg, 8.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.9 stl, 0.1 blk, 0.7 TOs, .466/.417/.842, 111.3 ORtg, 99.7 DRtg, 17.4 PER, .169 WS/48, +161 (3.9 per game)

Quarter Pole: 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

The shooting numbers have dropped slightly for Patty Thrills the last few games, partly out of necessity due to his increased role and partly because his career norms dictated they eventually would. The numbers are still quite respectable, and I'd be perfectly happy if they stayed consistent the rest of the way, but I have my doubts that they will.

Mills will be the de-facto "two" quite a bit over the next two weeks, I imagine, because Ginobili and Belinelli will have to split the small forward spot (which, unfortunately, will mean less of them playing together). Since the defensive pairing of Mills and Parker (or Mills and Joseph) will be rather skimpy, it will be left to Mills to make up for those shortcomings on the other end of the floor. If there's ever a time for the Australian to get hot, it's gotta be now, because the Spurs might need to crack 115 points on a nightly basis to win games.

I'm curious to see what his lines will be like these next few days when his minutes are in the 20's as opposed to the teens. Can Mills thrive as a strict gunner? We're gonna have to get used to these anti-Spurs for a bit.

Grade: B+

Tony Parker

Halfway Point: 37 games, 31.4 mpg, 17.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 6.3 apg, 0.5 stl, 0.1 blk, 2.5 TOs, .511/.432/.796, 110.5 ORtg, 103.1 DRtg, 20.0 PER, .163 WS/48, +187 (5.1 per game)

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

I know I'm a paranoid idiot when it comes to this stuff, but I happened to catch the SportsCenter's highlight package of Wednesday's Spurs-Thunder game, the West Coast edition. The highlights were, in order: Reggie Jackson scoring, Kevin Durant scoring, Leonard getting injured, Jackson scoring, Durant not getting called for a charge on Ginobili while Pop groused, Durant getting fouled, Durant hitting a three, Durant hitting a three, fin.

At no time was there any mention at all, verbally or visually, of Parker, who, as it happens, was the game's leading scorer, with a season high of 37 points, one more than Durant managed. (There was also no mention of Durant's ELEVEN turnovers, surprise surprise.)

The game was relatively close the whole way through and ended 111-105, but on the highlight package it might as well have been Durant against the Washington Generals, winning by 50. I can't be the only person annoyed by this stuff, right?

It always amuses me when I hear national people rail on Bill Land/Sean Elliott's homerism during the League Pass broadcasts, as though it's something unique only to Spurs telecasts. Every crew in the league is shameless homers. It's their job. Land and Elliott certainly have their tics that annoy me, but the only reason they sound particularly homerish compared to their peers is that it's so jarring to hear anyone sound genuinely excited when the Spurs do something impressive rather than, "Oh, the Spurs again. That's just what they do," followed by the usual, obligatory backhanded plaudits about machine-like precision, team play, selflessness, consistency, buying in to Pop's program and, my personal favorite: fundamentals (pretty much the only way you'll ever hear the word "fun" associated with the Spurs is if it's followed by "damentals.")

I rant about this stuff all the time, but if Duncan was on the Lakers, there'd be no debate on whether he's an All-Star or not. He'd be grandfathered in every year out of respect like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was (plus he can still play). If Ginobili was a Knick and born in Gary, Indiana, instead of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, he'd be a national phenomenon for his otherworldly passing ability and his competitive instincts. If Parker was a Celtic, he'd be hailed as the second coming of Isiah Thomas.

Maybe the Spurs themselves don't mind this stuff. They may in fact prefer it. But it's enough to drive the fans crazy.

All the clichés about execution, team play, and chemistry are nice, but you also have to be pretty damn talented to score 37 points in a game, especially when you're 6-2 and not the best shooter.

I'm really hoping Parker goes off these next few weeks. Lord knows, the Spurs need it.

Grade: B

Tiago Splitter

Halfway Point: 30 games, 21.2 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.5 stl, 0.4 blk, 1.3 TOs, .551/.677/NA, 107.9 ORtg, 97.2 DRtg, 17.6 PER, .177 WS/48, +79 (2.6 per game)

Quarter Pole: 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

So, apparently, I was wrong about the severity of Splitter's shoulder injury. It turns out the Spurs weren't underselling it at all. It certainly didn't look that bad to me when it happened, and I figured that Splitter would return in three weeks, in time for the Thunder game, or very soon after. Instead, it appears that it's gonna take the full five weeks, the upper range of his estimate, if not longer. Fantastic.

It's a shame, because unlike some of his teammates, Splitter has never been the most coordinated or athletic guy. There are a lot of moving parts to him, and even when he returns it's going to take a considerable time, I think, for him to re-acclimate to his surroundings, whether it's his conditioning, the speed of the game, or figuring out exactly where the rim is on those hook shots of his. It's true enough that Splitter's defense wasn't quite as sharp, or at least as effectual, in early December as it had been the first month of the season, but that was counterbalanced at least by his offense coming around with the rediscovery of his footwork, patience, and touch around the basket. It's not like Splitter had unearthed some newfound athleticism and started throwing down dunks or anything, but those up-and-under's were starting to work quite nicely just before he went down. Splitter had scored in double figures in four of five games and had a season-high 22 going against the Clippers before hurting his shoulder.

Now, he'll have to start from scratch in mid-February.

I expect Splitter's game to come around defensively before his muscle memory kicks in on the other end of the court, but even then there will probably be some issues with physicality and a few gangly fouls that the Spurs will have to endure for a week or two.

Right now, it's a problem, I'm sure, Pop would love to have.

Grade: B+

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