FINALLY. The end of the regular season is upon us. No longer will the announcers say "The Spurs got Van Exel and Finley for the playoffs. They've been there. They've taken the big shots. They're hungry for a title." It is playoff time, baby. Now, every time Stumpy or Finley do anything remotely resembling quality basketball, the announcers will say "This is what the Spurs got Van Exel and Finley for! Did you see the way Nick got the ball across half court in only four seconds! It takes a veteran to pull that off! They've been here! They've taken these shots! Did you see Finley's form on that 23' fade away jumper! He's taken that shot 700 times in the playoffs and made at least 500 of them! Maybe 600! You can tell they're hungry for a title!"
I am definitely keeping a running tally of "this is why they brought them here" type comments. The spiel will have to include a reference to Fin or Stumpy, a reference to the playoffs or an action performed in the playoffs and some form of a verb that is roughly equivalent in meaning to "acquire." For example:
This would work: "That 3 point dagger from Michael Finley is a prime example of why the Spurs went after him!"
This wouldn't work: "Tonight Nick Van Exel will miss his third straight game with rectal discomfort."
However, this would qualify: "Tonight Nick Van Exel will miss his third straight game with rectal discomfort. I don't think the Spurs brought him in expecting him to have a raging case of hemorrhoids."
See, it's a fine line between what works and what doesn't.
So, the Kings. They have Ron Artest you know. And he so craaaaaaaaaaaazy. Since acquiring him the Kings have gone 26-14, which amounts to 53 wins over a complete season. Make no mistake; this is no 8th seed we're talking about here. Let's take a look at the matchups.
Sacramento Offense vs. San Antonio Defense
The Kings will mostly run the following set plays. These are just rough descriptions. I don't know which creepily non-descript facial expression Rick Adelman uses for each. Seriously, does the guy ever talk or gesture during a game? It's like someone is always shining a spotlight in his face.
1. Wing pick and roll with Bibbalicious and either Miller or Abdur-Rahim. Mike Bibby has always loved to shoot the 3 ball, but he's taken it to another level this year, attempting 6.1 a game and a hitting a very respectable 38.6%. This particular set may cause problems for the Spurs. Though Nazr has improved, he still has defensive lapses, and last year in the playoffs he was absolutely BRUTAL against the pick and roll. Tim Duncan's defense against the P&R has been occasionally dreadful this year as well. I have very often seen him defend the wing P&R by playing well back towards the lane. If you've watched even a couple of Spurs games you know this is not typical Spurs defense. The screener's man almost always hedges and either turns the ball handler back towards his original defender or makes him go the long way around. Maybe Duncan was being cautious due to his foot. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he was lazy. Maybe the patches on his chest told him to stay put. I don't know, but I have little doubt Timmeh will play the P&R much better during the playoffs. `Cause if he don't I will let him have it. And nobody wants that.
What makes the SAC P&R so effective is the shooting ability of their big men. Brad Miller has an eFG% on jump shots of 47.5%. He can also can the 3, shooting the same percentage as Bibby. Seriously. Abdur-Rahim is decent from the perimeter, with an eFG% of 42.6%.
2. Bonzi Wells posting up against Manu. Teams love to try and post up Manu. The Kings use Bonzi. The Lakers try it with Odom and the Pistons send The TayTay down to the block. Bonzi is the most dangerous of the three; he actually has a post game he uses against most defenders. This isn't merely a case of "Hey, their 2 guard is playing our 3 and he's like shorter and weighs less! Let's post up our 3 even though he has no idea what to do with the ball on the block!"
Bonzi can definitely do some damage but I am not overly worried about this scenario. If it becomes problematic the Spurs can double-team him on the block. The closest defender will be at most across the lane. Plus, he's only 6'-5" and isn't a great passer.
The real question here is how many times will The Sickness try the old "pull the chair" move. Both he and Bruce became a little too infatuated with it as the season progressed.
3. Ron Artest isolated against Bowen. No one doubts the positive effect Artest has had on the SAC defense. But, in my eyes, he's been a disappointment offensively. For some reason he's developed an addiction to shooting the 3. Maybe he's trying to gain membership to Team Dime. I don't know. But before this year he had never attempted more than 3.4 a game, and he's at 5.0 with the Kings. He's only hitting 30.2% of his attempts, which means I hope he jacks up 10 a game. His TS% with the Kings stands at 47.4%, which is actually pretty freaking bad. How bad? That ranks 171st out of 182 NBA players. I say goddam! (In 03-04, his last full season with the Pacers, his TS% was 51.2%.)
What's so great about this is Adelman has absolutely no control over his players. He had this same situation with Webber. Guy took way too many shots; took shots instead of passing the ball to more efficient scores (SAC actually has 3 guys in the top 30 in TS% (Martin, SAR and Miller)). Ron Artest has been running his mouth to media, claiming SAC was "the team to beat." Hopefully he'll feel the need to back this up and shoot the ball 25 times a night.
4. Shareef Abdur-Rahim isolated against Timmeh! SAR is a superb offense player. He can shoot the 15-footer and he can penetrate against most 4s. He shoots 78% from the line and 53% from the field. He's potent, but this is the playoffs. Similar to P&R defense, I expect Tim to rise to the occasion. Or they could always put Bowen on him. That worked against Zach Randolph, who like SAR is, uhh, tall.
In summary, the Kings offense could definitely cause the Spurs defense some problems. SA (especially) excels at limiting the 3 and clamping down on one-on-one perimeter players. Neither of those things are SAC's game.
Sacramento Defense vs. San Antonio Offense
1. Tony Parker vs. Rick Adelman. This really boils down to one simple question: Is Rick Adelman a raging moron? You'll get the answer in the first 6 minutes of Saturday's game. It's startling how simple this is. Tony Parker has an eFG% of 41.5% on jumpers. Tony Parker has an eFG% of 69.9% on close shots. I'm no math major, but a difference of 18.4% seems like a lot to me.
Let's simplify this a little bit and assume a team could decide what types of shots Tony takes. They could pretend he's Ray Allen and play up in his grill all game, leading him to repeatedly drive to the rack. Or they could pretend he's a drunk Chris Dudley and not pay attention to him until he's closer than 15' from the basket. This would lead to a bunch of wide open jumpers. The first scenario would theoretically result in an eFG% of somewhere in the upper 60s, which would lead the league by a wide margin. The second scenario would theoretically result in an eFG% of the low to mid 40s, which is in the bottom 15% of the league.
Is that oversimplification? Yes, of course it is. The above analysis leads to the conclusion that the SAC defender opposing Parker should basically just stand in the lane, between Parker in the basket. And that's preposterous! No, it's not. It's the obvious way to handle the situation. Especially when you consider:
Mike Bibby has no chance of staying in front of Tony Parker. Even if he cared. Which he doesn't. The only other player in the NBA that approaches the level of defensive apathy demonstrated by Bibby on a nightly basis is Damon Jones. And everybody knows that Damon Jones is basically a caricature at this point. I mean who the hells kicks their leg up while dribbling the ball? What the hell is that? What is he trying to accomplish other than looking like a dumbass? And what's with this hand gesturing every time you make a 3? Manute Bol once made like eleventy 3s in a game; is making one something to crow about, especially considering you play with Lebron and nobody on the other team is even paying attention to you? I hope some Crips mistake your fumbling as a gang sign for the Bloods and gives you a, uh, stern talking to. And why the hell do I know what gang sign for the Bloods looks like? And what self-respecting man endorses basketball shoes made by a Chinese company? That's like Pavarotti doing Taco Bell commercials or Bonds pimping Dexatrim. Even Yao Ming is with Reebok! Jesus H!
Anyways. Bibby can't legitimately guard Parker. SAC does have some guys that might sort of have a prayer, like Martin or Garcia (I think Artest is a little too big). But Rick Adelman would play 4 guys 60 minutes a night if the league would let him; those guys probably won't get 20 minutes a night combined.
Oh wait, there's more. The Kings don't have an inside presence on the defensive end. Their leading shot blocker rejects 0.78 shots a game and the team is 26th in the NBA.
So, in conclusion, there is a glaring, gigantic, obvious difference between the perimeter Tony Parker and the in-the-paint Tony Parker. SAC has no regular player that can stay in front of him and they have no one that can stop him at the basket. So why on earth would they even consider guarding him? It just makes no sense. They should make it OBVIOUS that they want him to shoot the ball. Have Bibby stand at the free throw line as Tony brings the ball up the court. Go under every screen and roll. Have the Maloof brothers scream "shoot it Frenchie!" every time he touches the ball. Be conspicuous to a point of embarrassment. Make it clear to the announcers and everyone in the building that you don't think Tony has it in him. What's the worst that could happen? He makes 50% of his perimeter jumpers and has a TS% of 50%? That's below league average you know. He wouldn't be getting to the basket, he wouldn't be drawing fouls and he wouldn't be kicking the ball out to Bowen in the corner.
So, yeah, it'll be interesting to see just how stupid Rick Adelman is.
2. Timmeh! vs. whoever. Kenny Thomas, Brad Miller, SAR, whoever. It shouldn't matter, Timmeh should torch him. If he cannot dominate or at least draw double teams that lead to wide open 3s then the Spurs will be in big trouble down the road.
3. The Sickness vs. Ron Artest. I'm terrified. Somebody hold me. First off, it's no secret that Artest is a great perimeter defender. His strength could give Manu some problems, and nobody knows how Ginobili is really feeling health-wise.
But what I am most worried about is Ron working a screw loose. The Sickness has a way of pissing defenders off; probably has something to do with the elbows he tosses when driving to the basket or the large number of ticky-tack fouls he draws. And Artest has been a little too calm since joining the Kings. What's going to happen in the playoffs? What if it's an elimination game for SAC and Ron gets desperate? I mean shit, it was pretty clear that both DEN and SEA were trying to hurt Ginobili during last year's playoffs.
Probably nothing will happen. For the sake of everyone involved (I sort of feel a little sorry for Artest) I hope nothing happens. But I think the Spurs should take some precautionary measures and I have a few suggestions:
A) Under no circumstances is Ginobili to make eye contact with Ron Artest. He might interpret that as a sign of aggression and the Tru Warier inside him may be unleashed.
B) The Spurs need a contingency plan in case Artest pulls an Artest. Here's what I'm thinking. Beno Udrih probably ain't gonna play much anyway, so give him the extra special assignment of being a decoy. Tell him it's top secret and called "Operation Cannon Fodder." Being Slovenian he probably won't know what that means. Shave his entire body except his scalp. Give him some quality hair extensions; go for the Farah Fawcett look. Dress him in a yellow sundress and douse him with makeup. Have Eva help. Make sure he leaves the high-heels at home; he's going to need to be able to run. Station him in the tunnel leading to the court and put him on standby. At the slightest sign of Artestation have Bu-den-HOL-zer give Beno the signal, which of course will be the sound an owl makes. Immediately after receiving the signal Beno is to prance out onto the court while screaming like a pre-pubescent girl. Have him work on his prance in advance. It needs to be dainty but not whorish. Don't let Eva help with that. If all goes well Artest will be attracted to the sounds of distress. His Tru Warier will emerge and animal instincts will take over. He will ascertain that Beno is the weak one in the pack and go in for the kill. This should give Manu ample time to escape.
C) If Operation Cannon Fodder is a failure and Manu finds himself cornered by Artest he should wave his arms, scream and try to "make himself big." This apparently works against bears but has yet to be tested on Tru Wariers in the wild. Lab testing has been inconclusive.
In summary, I think the key to the effectiveness of SAC's defense is how they play Parker and, of course, how he responds. However, even an intelligent approach to defending Parker is not enough. Duncan creates huge problems for SAC's big men and Artest's ability to guard Manu is largely speculation at this point (though speculation rooted more in fact than folly).
The Spurs have the more efficient offense and defense. They have more playoff experience. They have a handsome Slovenian man dressed in drag. They have home court advantage and the better coach. And most importantly they have the better players. Spurs in 6.
DET over WHOEVER in 4
MIA over CHI in 6
NJ over IND in 5
CLE over WAS in 7
PHX over KOB in 6
LAC over DEN in 7
DAL over MEM in 5
Entirely True but Remarkably Meaningless Tidbit Number Seven.
I bought shams today.