Well, one-quarter of the season is in the books, after the Spurs played their 20th game against the Bobcats last night. It's time to get some sense of how the players are doing. We'll break down offense and defense for the team as a whole, and for each player.
Surprisingly optimistic grades, after the jump.
To get an idea of how good this team is, it's important to look beyond the win-loss record. The fact that the Spurs' win-loss record is extremely mediocre makes it even more important to get a better perspective on things. For the last couple of years, basketball-reference.com has been putting together some great stat lists and charts. One of my favorite things to look at is on their league summary page. It's called the Simple Rating System, and it takes point differential and strength of schedule into account to come up with a clearer picture of which teams are playing best, even when it doesn't show up in their record. Not surprisingly, the Spurs are right where most of us thought they would be before the season even started when the standings are sorted by SRS - second in the West.
Further down that page, you can find efficiency rankings for offense and defense, which is simply points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions. Anyway, the Spurs rank 8th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency. It's such a simple formula, it makes John Hollinger's head hurt for lack of complexity (actually he ranks the Spurs 7th on offense and 12th on defense, so his ratings aren't so much different). Quite a reversal from previous season, and the defensive ranking is rather disturbing, but overall the Spurs don't look too bad. Given the injury problems, adjustment to new players and seeming lack of chemistry, these rankings are actually pretty good. The Spurs' slow start is not as bad as you think.
Now on to the individual player evaluations, which are completely subjective. I'm going to list them in order of minutes per game, and go from there. I'm also copying the official NBA.com Spurs stat chart here for easy reference.
Roger Mason Jr.
That's right, the guy we got through the big trade is getting more minutes than anyone else on the team. Why? Two reasons: First, he's the only legitimate SF on the roster(seriously, he is - expect the team to address the issue of who becomes his backup during the offseason). And second, because he's the most durable of the Spurs' new "Big 4" core of players. Pop and RC said as much after the trade, when they declared him the workhorse of the team.
Up until a couple of games ago, many around here were(rightly) calling out RJ for delivering results that were very underwhelming. And while those early returns were very mediocre, the last 2 games have brought RJ close to the numbers that we should realistically expect out of him as a Spur. There is the possibility of him putting up better shooting percentages, but that's going to have more to do with the guys orchestrating the offense than it does with Richard himself. RJ is an incredible finisher in transition, and a better athlete than any of out other "skill" guys, but his job on offense is made much more difficult when he has to create opportunities for himself. That's not to say that he can't create for himself, he's just a lot more efficient. Rage is only slightly below his career numbers in FG percentage, rebounds, assists, and 3-point percentage - differences that could easily be explained by being in a new system with new teammates, and by the early season injuries to some of those teammates. He does seem to have inherited the Spurs free throw curse, however - a 78% career shooter from the line, he's averaging 68% this seeason. It's so odd how that happens to players when they come to the Spurs. His turnovers are down slightly from his career average, but he's also taking a lot fewer shot attempts, which tells us he's not handling the ball nearly as much as in years past.
On defense, there are no good statistical representations of his performance, so I'll have to go strictly by my own observations. His man-to-man defense is solid, but not spectacular. RJ does a good job fighting through screens, and not giving his man a chance to get to the rim... most nights. In other games, he seems completely confused - I'm not sure whether this a problem with learning a new system, or if he just doesn't know enough about the tendencies of the player he is guarding, an attribute a lot of us took for granted in Bruce Bowen. What I'm really having a problem with is the fact that the players he guards usually have no problem getting open for 3 - RJ sags off of his man a little too far for my taste, and then can't recover and close out fast enough. He needs to learn to trust his teammates to cut off penetration, so he can play his man a bit closer on the perimeter. He won't ever be Bruce Bowen, but he could do much better just by making smarter decisions on defense. He hasn't had to do that for several years, but he should get better as the season goes along.
What can anyone say about Timmy's performance this year that hasn't already been said?
Almost all the experts, and even most Spurs fans, expected TD's production to decrease as a result of the revamped roster and improved depth, as well as his knee problems. But instead of fading away in favor of his teammates, Timmy is above his career averages in points, rebounds, assists, and well above his career mark for shooting percentage. He's at a career high in PER, and is generally kicking more ass than we could have imagined at 33 years old. It could be due to all that weight he lost in the offseason, but Timmy refuses to simply live up to expectations: he has to defy them.
On defense, Timmy is still the glue that holds it all together. He finally has some decent help this year, in the form of McDyess and Ratliff, and his defensive numbers(block%, rebound%, steal%) have all risen as a result. The lost weight and new friends seem to have allowed one the greatest big men of all time to be more active on the defensive end than in years past, and it shows in his numbers. This is one guy who refuses to listen to anything the "experts" say about him. As long as he's on our side, anything is possible.
The French get an undeserved bad rap sometimes. Tony is not an exception to this rule, as he has always been prone to more criticism than other members of the Spurs. In a way, it's not fair - when you're the starting point guard, you'll always bear a lot of blame for poor offensive performances. He can play the same way, and get the same statistics every single night, and still get blames for losses without the credit for most of the wins.
However, this team looks radically different on offense than it has been in years past, which is something that Tony has been slow to learn. Considering the number of weapons at his disposal, the Frenchie would be well-served to become more of a distributor than in years past. Tony usually looks to run the offense through the left side of the floor, which is probably a result of playing with Timmy and Manu for all these years - but he needs to start watching the right side a bit more, since RJ is most effective going right. That doesn't mean he shouldn't look for his own offense - he just needs to be more aware of where his teammates are, and what they can do most effectively. Not an easy task, but if he can do it, this team is going to be unstoppable on offense. He's been a bit more turnover prone this year, as he adjusts to all the new faces on the roster, and they adjust to him, but Tony's a smart player, and will figure out the right balance sooner or later.
His defense has shown flashes of brilliance, but most nights we see only a token effort, as we've become accustomed to seeing the last two seasons. As long as he's giving a better effort on that end come playoff time, I can forgive his lack of D during the regular season. He's an above average defender when he wants to be, and that's an encouraging thought.
Surprised to see George here? You wouldn't be the only one. His offseason improvement led Pop to label George his favorite player, and the newly un-bearded one has backed it up by giving Cubits the most playing time of any Spurs guard not named Tony Parker. Yes, that includes Manu Ginobili... for now. I would expect George's minutes to drop below Manu's at some point, as Manu continues his comeback from injury.
George's offensive game, while greatly improved since last season, is not the reason he's getting so much burn. He doesn't shoot a great percentage, although he seems to be fairly accurate when it comes to one mainstay of the Spurs offense: the corner 3-ball. He's also been observed to make plays with his length by getting up some good shots in end-of-quarter situations despite good defensive coverage. Like most of the Spurs' scorers, he's best when he gets to the rim and gets open look from beyond the arc. Chip Engelland could probably help Cubits immensely by getting him to perfect his midrange jumper, like what was done with Tony a few years ago. Well, that and becoming a passer, but don't get your hopes up too much for that to happen.
What gets George so much playing time, however, is his defense. He's a very tough man-to-man defender, and can be credited with slowing some of the league most dynamic young guards this season(Brandon Jennings and Houston's Brooks/Lowry combo come to mind). He does a very good job at stopping opponents in transition, and at making clean, crisp rotations. However, there are also some weaknesses that have been exposed - most glaringly, his pick-and-roll defense is pretty terrible. Utah has beaten the shit out of us 3 times, with George being completely ineffective against the Williams/Boozer PnR attack. George also commits silly fouls sometimes, but overall his defense justifies his position as one of the top 3 guards on this team. And being the third-best guard on the team isn't a slight when your teammates are Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
What a frustrating couple of years for this guy, huh? Manu can't seem to catch a break. Every time it seems that the old Manu is back, he misses time with some sort of injury. It's been a different injury every time, so it's not like it's one recurring issue. But when Manu is on his game, it is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and the Spurs become nearly unstoppable. Stay well, you magnificent bastard, you.
Manu got off to a slow start offensively this year, which is to be expected, but he's followed the pattern we've come to know all too well. His game gradually gets better with every game back from injury, even going supernova in a game or two(see the game against Toronto for this year's version) before looking human and coming up with some kind of injury. Thankfully, it's only been minor injuries for Manu this year. When he came back from his groin/hamstring problems, Manu looked decidedly mediocre for a few games, but has scored 20, with good shooting to boot, for the last 2 games in a row. When Manu gets his offense going, this team is ridiculously good.
Defense is actually an area of concern for me when it comes to Manu. He makes plays as much as he always has, but he's also blown assignments and looked confused more than a few times on defense. Thinking back, most of those plays were in the few games immediately following his return from injury, so you might be able to chalk those up to rust. But we can't have those kinds of mistakes on defense if we want to win a championship. As long an Manu's healthy, though, I have confidence that his defense will come around.
Don't worry, I'm not about to break out Fred's Arbitrary Rating System(FARS) and bash the Red Rocket. Now that he's coming off the bench, I'm pretty happy with Matt's contributions to the team. This is also the first profile for a guy that will not be on the team next season(see what I did there?), so let's get into it.
Offensively, Bonner is having a career year. It really helps to play with 4 guys who have the talent and creativity to get him open shots on a consistent basis. Actually, he deserves some credit, because the threat posed by his shooting usually gives the big 4 the ever-important floor spacing that they need to do their jobs most effectively - it's a symbiotic relationship, really. Even though his minutes are down from last season, Bonner is taking more shots, scoring more points, and his FG% is currently tied for his career-high mark(last year he shot the same percentage). He also seems to have improved his ability to get into the paint and score, but he still makes most fans cringe anytime he puts the ball on the floor - that's just not his game. His release is very quick, if ugly, and he always gets a pretty high arc on his shot, keeping it away from the close-out defender. He's at his best when he's simply taking open jumpers, and his career-high mark for 3-point shooting(46.9% so far) is the perfect complement to the penetration and off-the ball movement of our guards and wings.
On defense, Matt has improved slightly, if only by being more tenacious. He's averaging a career high 5.1 rebounds(again, this is despite reduced minutes) and is moving his feet more on defense. He's still a bad defender, but he's not as horrible as he used to be. Some teams still make Matt's defensive assignments the focal point of their offense, but it doesn't hurt as bad when he's going up against bench players. He's found his niche - now let's just hope he doesn't try to work outside of that Niche, and that Pop doesn't make him.
This will probably get me some nasty feedback, but here goes: McDyess is the biggest disappointment for me so far this season. That's not to say that he wasn't worth signing - he was absolutely worth it. And no one has been so disappointing that they obviously didn't belong, so take it with a grain of salt. Thing is, Dice doesn't do anything basketball-related during the offseason, so it takes him a while to get into form. Being 36 probably doesn't help in that regard, either.
On offense, Dice is struggling. His shooting percentage is off from his career average, despite getting plenty of open looks. Since becoming a starter, he seems to have established somewhat of a rhythm, and his midrange jump shot is a thing of beauty - it's just not going in as much as it should. He also doesn't seem to have developed much chemistry with his teammates on the offensive end. It should be pointed out that he's averaging a career-low number of field goal attempts, even when adjusted for minutes played. I'd really like to see he and RJ develop some chemistry and run some kind of pick-and-roll game, because it seems like a deadly combination of explosiveness and jump shooting. If those two can get something going together, the results are going to be amazing. I can't say enough about the room this team has to improve offensively, despite already being a top 10 offensive team.
Defensively, Dice is a very good complement to Timmy. Better than expected, actually. Most of the evaluations I read at the time of his signing with the Spurs said that he was a very average defender. He looks anything but average to me - Dice seems to be the best tag-team partner Duncan's had on defense since the Admiral. There's only one area of concern for me: his rebounding is definitely off from previous seasons, even when adjusted for minutes played. Duncan's rebounding is up, and we also drafted the most prolific per-minute rebounder I've ever seen this year, so it doesn't bother me too much. If he can bring his averages up to 8 and 8 by the end of the season, while still playing the brand of defense I've seen so far, he could end up being one of the best moves the Spurs have made in years.
I disrespected Finley on a regular basis when he was starting. But much like Bonner, he's a great option of the bench for the Spurs. I'm sad that he's out for the next couple weeks with that ankle injury, because(also like Bonner) he was shooting a career-high percentage from beyond the arc before he went down.
Offensively, Fin still has game. In fact, he looked more spry that he has in years prior to his injury. Like Duncan, he lost some weight and went through some pretty crazy conditioning during the prolonged offseason. He was seen driving the lane, and even getting a couple of dunks - yes, dunks. The zombie is a little less undead than he should be at his age, and it will be good to have him back once he's ready. Don't rush it, Findog - we need your shooting for the playoffs.
Defensively, there's not much to say. Fin constantly gives his best effort, but he just doesn't have the foot speed to keep up with the younger players in this league. Like Bonner, he is less of a liability when going against our opponents' bench players. The only thing I miss about Fin's defense since the injury is his size - he's the only guy other than RJ who rightly should be playing SF for us. As long as our other wings are healthy, we're not going to miss Fin too much.
Out of all the changes made to the roster during the offseason, the Bogeyman has been the most pleasant surprise. My initial expectations were for him to get spot duty trying to slow down opposing guards(see Roy, Brandon) when they get hot. However, he has done a good enough job to earn his spot in the starting rotation, which he has maintained ever since the 6th game of the season.
On offense, anything we can get out of Keith is nice. He's defied the Bowen comparisons by getting some nice layups and scoop shots in the lane, but he's also defied the comparison by shooting a career-low percentage from beyond the arc. He's getting open shots, so if he returns to his career average of 35%, there's not really much else we can ask of him.
On defense, the comparisons to Bruce are unfair. Bruce was one of the top perimeter defenders this league has ever seen, so it isn't something we should expect the Bogeyman to live up too. He's limited by his 6'5" stature, so don't expect him to guard positions 1-4 like Bruce did - instead, he is only keying in on guards. He does a great job of it, too. He's as tenacious as George, but doesn't get lost on screens like George does. He more than makes up for his lack of offensive production by going to work on the opposing team's best guard. He makes elite players work very hard to get their offense, which is all you can rightfully ask of a "stopper".
Roger Mason Jr.
Roger has been in and out of the lineup recently, and it's got be driving him crazy. But there's just so many good wings on this team, a drop in minutes and production was probably inevitable. That's not a slight on Roger, it's just a positive reflection on the depth of this Spurs team.
Offensively, Mase is still himself. He relishes the role that Stephen Jackson once had for the Spurs - shameless shooter. Mase's shot is ridiculous. Even though he started out the season shooting horribly, he's really come alive in what little playing time he's been able to get lately. Before he was sidelined with a hamstring issue for a couple of games in November, he was starting to getback in rhythm and making the shots that make us go "WTF ROGER NO NO NOOOO... Wait, that went in? YES ROGER YESSSS!!!". That's who he is, and what he does. Like Duncan and Finley, Mase also lost some weight in the offseason, and put himself through some crazy conditioning to improve his quickness. It worked - his ability to get to the rim is greatly improved over last season, and he doesn't even look half bad as a backup PG when he does so.
Defensively, Roger is far from great, but his upgraded quickness has helped him here as well. Considering what we witnessed last season, I have no problem with Roger's defense off the bench. Keep up the good work, Rog.
Admit it - you scrolled down to get DeJuan's grade before you read any of the other evaluations, didn't you? Don't worry, the most dynamic Spurs rookie since Manu is getting high praise here.
DeJuan's work on the offensive end is so much fun to watch. He does a great job of anticipating what the defense is going to do, and what our perimeter players want him to do. My favorite part of his game is the fact that he just naturally knows what to do, which is extremely rare to see in a rookie. Blair might just have the best offensive instincts of anyone on a team full of seasoned veterans. His artistry on the offensive boards is truly something to behold, but there's so much more to him than that. He has post moves, he knows how to use the rim to his advantage when trying to get shots over taller players, and he even has a decent jump shot(although we haven't seen much of it). And his hands are incredibly sure.
Defensively, DeJuan just isn't there yet. But we've all seen steady improvement from him on that end, especially when he got 3 blocks in a game against Philly a couple weeks ago. He seems to be picking up the system fairly well, even if he gets lost on screens sometimes. Really, you can't ask for a rookie to pick up the Spurs' defensive schemes any faster than the Beast has so far. Despite being shorter than almost every player he goes against, he could make a very effective defensive player one day, and I'm optimistic that he will.
I could block shots blindfolded, fool.
And now we're getting into the realm of players who frequently get DNP-CD's.
Theo does not go in the same sentence with "offense". He does seem to have an ability to finish around the rim, as long as it's not in traffic, but beyond that it's hard to say anything about a part of his game that doesn't exist.
What Theo does well is block shots, and he does it very well. This will be valuable in the playoffs when the games slow down, but right now, there's really not that much to discuss. Theo is very effective in limited minutes, and he also seems to have taken on the role of enforcer once held by Kevin Willis. In fact, he seems to relish that role. But, we honestly haven't seen enough of him to know what he's still capable of at his advanced age.
Malik Hairston & Marcus Haislip
The MaHai's don't get enough playing time for an evaluation. They could both get more time next season, though... it's worth keeping an eye on.
Who? Yawn is a guy who is rumored to exist, but he hasn't been seen in a Spurs uniform lately. That says a lot about his future with the team.