Last Thursday the Spurs added Ime Udoka, a 6'-5" SG / SF who started 75 games last year for Portland. Though relatively new to the league, he's already 30 years old, fitting nicely into the Spurs quest at being the first team to feature a player missing a game for "severe Depends undergarment rash."
Do I like this signing? Of course. How could you not approve of paying a little over $2 million for two years of service for a guy that can hit the corner three (40.6% last year from three) and, if you believe the general consensus, defend.
But is that consensus correct? I did a small spade's worth of digging. According to the essential 82games.com, the Blazers allowed 1.7 less points per 100 possessions when Ime was on the court. That value, of course, is affected by the skills of Ime's backup. Some fellow named Jon Nichols, who I find credible mainly because his work is featured on 82games.com, did some number crunching that showed Ime to be a below average defensive player. Before you blow that off, you should know that his same methodology showed that first, third and fifth best defensive players in the league were Timmeh, Bowen, and Ginobili, respectively.
Assuming he does turn out to be as good as advertised, this gives Pop a second perimeter go-to-guy on the defensive end (Manu's offensive responsibilities prevents him from filling this role). This should allow Pop to limit Bowen's minutes (the man is 36 people), and I would not be surprised to see the tandem together on the court against the likes of Dallas (Dirk and Howard) and Boston (Pierce and Nancy).
While the signing of Udoka makes the Spurs better than they were a week ago, it falls short of satisfying what should be every team's goal every off season: improve from June to June. Looking at the Spurs roster and players' performances in the playoffs, who could we reasonably expect to play better? Duncan and Manu played very well, and they'll both another year on the wrong side of thirty. Finley, Bowen, Horry and Barry are downright elderly by NBA standards. I don't think Oberto has the physical abilities to play any better than he did. Elson may learn the system a bit better and Bonner might actually get to play, but they're small potatoes. Figuratively speaking, of course. I dare say if one was to turn Matt Bonner into a potato you'd pretty much have to have the world's largest vegetable.
In terms of typical player progression, Tony Parker is the only guy "scheduled" for an upgrade. But will that be enough to make the Spurs better as a whole? Is getting better even necessary?
I would love to believe the Spurs don't have to get better to repeat. But it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to note the Spurs good fortune last year. They were fortunate to avoid injuries to The Big Three. They were fortunate that Golden State took care of Dallas, and they were fortunate that Amare
fell for David Stern's meticulously crafted (and Robert Horry's deftly implemented) plan to thwart the success of all overly-tattooed players is dumb. Would the Spurs have prevailed without their good fortune? I don't know. None of us do.