Hello once again, ladies and germs. For various reasons I haven't been able to write in about a week or so, and in the interim the team has played two games, there have all kinds of trade rumors, there's the team's All-Star break grades to consider, and various other NBA topics to discuss, so let's get to it.
I must admit, I'm having a harder time getting a read on this team at this point of the season than I ever have. They just can't seem to string four or five even "C+" performances together. No one besides Duncan is performing at a consistent level (unless you count guys like Udoka or Finley, who have been consistently awful), the play from the role players range from spectacular to horrendous without rhyme or reason - the opponents have absolutely nothing to do with it - and no matter how long we wait for the team's defense to get itself together, it just doesn't look like it's gonna happen.
And when you look at the individual components involved, there's no reason to expect it to - a point that Pop for the most part chooses to be in denial about publically, but not, I don't think, privately.
Yet, despite our shortcomings and inconsistent play, where we can't string together a handful of wins come hell or high water, the outside perception of us, ironically enough, is at a season high. There are basically five reasons for this:
1) Of all the playoff teams from last year in the West, everyone besides us and the Lakers has gotten worse. Sure, technically Denver got better with the Billups-for-Iverson trade (which I still maintain could've worked out for the Pistons if they made Iverson the 6th man and used him in the Manu role from the beginning) but nobody thinks of them as a serious contender. Portland, a non-playoff team last season has obviously improved, but again, it'd be an upset for them to even win one playoff round.
2) We won at Boston. That's going to get ESPN's attention. Sure it was our biggest win of the season, but the importance people have attached to it is overblown I think. Mason hit a lucky shot and the game could've gone either way. Apparently the folks at Bristol, CT thought the old and creaky nonathletic Spurs were supposed to be blown out of the gym by the strutting, popular, muscular Celtics.
Here's something I've never understood though. How are we the most blah, unpopular, unsexy team in the NBA and the Celtics are loved, when the two teams are almost mirror images of each other? Both are anchored by the leadership of their iconic power forwards. Both rely on defense (theoretically, in our case). Both have three star players with two of the three past their primes and the third not likely to get much better (Pierce for them, Tony for us). Neither plays at a fast pace or has any young guys likely to be invited to a dunk contest anytime soon - their young guys Powe and Davis bang, but aren't overly springy - and our guys, Bonner and Mason, you know about.
What is the difference between the Celtics and the Spurs besides the hype and KG's incessant woofing? Is it all just Boston's geographic advantage and basketball tradition that gets them the love, or is the fact that our best players are all fobs (depending on how you look at Timmy, anyway) a factor? Good luck getting any NBA bigwig to talk about this.
3) Our big three are all playing well. Whenever this happens for any two or three week stretch, people are bound to notice. You can't have a team with three of the best 20-25 players in the world all playing simultaneously well and not have it make an impact on the NBA landscape.
4) The additions of Mason and (sort of) Bonner. It looks from the outside the Spurs have made two big additions - even though Rocket was already here - and not lost anyone noteworthy. You look at the numbers though, and technically we've gotten worse. Last year we averaged 95.4 per game on offense and gave up 90.6. This year we average 97.8 and give up 94.5. Giving Mason Bowen's minutes and Bonner Oberto's minutes has improved our offense 2.4 points per and hurt our defense 3.9 points per.
Me? I don't think we can know definitively yet whether we're better or worse. The extended absences of Tony and Manu have likely skewed the numbers somewhat to this team's detriment. Also, come playoff time, when every team slows their pace and plays more competitively on defense naturally, I'd like to have a team with more offensive options than defensive ones. Who was last year's 4th offensive option in the playoffs? Barry? We have more of a puncher's chance this year.
5) Finally, and probably the biggest reason of all, the league needs somebody to talk about in the West besides the Lakers. You can't just say LA is gonna pull a Moses Malone and go "fo' fo' fo'" in the Western Conference playoffs. That'd be boring and non-dramatic. The Lakers need a compelling foil. They'd love to pump up the Suns, but nobody can deny that they're a joke anymore and Phoenix is openly shopping Amare. The Hornets have Paul, but obviously something is different about that team this year (witness the cheap shot that David West took on Mike Miller), their chemistry is off and none of the so-called experts can figure out.
It's really subtle and delicate, so let me attempt to explain it to all the experts who are stumped out there: YOUR BEST PLAYER IS AN ASSHOLE ON THE COURT. HE HAS HORRIBLE BODY LANGUAGE. HE ALWAYS LOOKS ANGRY. HE'S ALWAYS TRYING TO BAIT THE REFS AND HIS FLOPS HAVE REACHED THE POINT OF INSULTING THEIR INTEGRITY. HE DOESN'T EVEN PRETEND TO LIKE HIS COACH ANYMORE. HE KEEPS TRYING TO GET INTO FIGHTS WITH PLAYERS MUCH WORSE THAN HIM AND GETS STUPID TECHNICALS. ALL HIS TEAMMATES ARE TRYING TO CONFORM TO HIS PERSONALITY AND IT'S TAKING AWAY THEIR GAMES. HE IS LEADING THEM STRAIGHT TO HELL.
There, did that clear everything up? I really don't know how the Hornets can be fixed quite frankly. It appears as though Paul is channeling the spirit of Isiah Thomas, only Isiah couldn't dominate his teammates with his personality. Bill Laimbeer and Joe Dumars were their own men. Plus, everyone, including Thomas, liked and respected Chuck Daly. That's obviously not the case in New Orleans and they need to bring in a coach who's secure enough with himself to tell Paul to shut the hell up, knock off the nonsense and just go play. Since Phil Jax and Pop already have jobs, I don't know if such a person exists. And frankly, I'm glad. Screw the NOOCH. I hope they give us Chandler for Findog and the rights to Tiago Splitter.
Where was I? Oh right, the analysts are actually giving us some props despite our uneven play. It's the first time I can ever recall people on the outside liking our team more than we do. We're used to the Spurs being good, so we look at them with a more critical eye and really we compare them to past Spurs teams instead of comparing them to, say, the Rockets or somebody.We're spoiled that way.
Anyway, the Nets game (Spurs 108, Nets 93) was in many ways similar to their first hookup on January 23rd. In both meetings Timmeh stole the show and dominated poor Brook Lopez with his seemingly limitless array of moves down low. The first time out he had 30-15-5-4. In the rematch in the swamp, he had 27-9-8-4. In both games he shot over 60% from the field and the notion that Duncan is a poor free throw shooter must seem pretty absurd to the Nets, as he shot 9-for-10 against them in the two games from the stripe.
Aside from Tim, kudos go to Rocket, who had a 12 point explosion in the first 5:17 of the third quarter (including a steal that led to a clear path foul, giving him two freebies and the ball and then the ensuing three to give the Spurs a five point possession), and to Bowen who treated Vinsanity to a cold shower in the second half. After Carter went off for 15 points in the 2nd quarter to keep the Nets in the game at half, Bruce limited him to 8 harmless points on 4-10 shooting in the second half, with a bagel in the fourth quarter. Thanks to Bonner and Bowen, the Spurs had their first relative laugher since January 20th against the Pacers.
Tony had a decent enough night (20 and 4) to cancel out Devin Harris' contributions, and it appears to me that Harris, now a full year removed from Avery Johnson's banshee-like harping, has devolved into strictly a one-way player, and that's sad. I can't stand the L'il General, but give him credit - under Johnson's tutelage Harris was a defensive terror and he made life miserable for opposing point guards, especially Tony, who was an ineffective turnover machine most games against the Mavs. These days the Nets give up 112.5 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the court and only 108.6 without him, meaning they're actually less pathetic in their own end when he's sitting. In '06-07, Harris' last full season with Dallas, the Mavs allowed only 100 points per 100 possessions, and his +15.1 scoring differential was one of the very best in the whole league. Harris finish sixth in the NBA that year in +/- at +567 and second in +/- per minute at +.272 (Tim was first at .28, Manu was third at .262). Getting the full time starting job at New Jersey has made Harris a star and one of the Eastern Conference's most effective players, but until he gets his defensive edge back, the Nets won't scare anyone.
Manu meanwhile had a fairly quiet night, with 9-6-6 and taking only six shots, and he was the unfortunate victim of most of Carter's highlights in the second stanza. It was so easy for the starters to fill it up that not much was needed from him, so he had the kind of second gear vs. a crappy team when Tim and Tony have it going kinda nights that has kept him from achieving full blown mainstream star status in the league. Games like that keep him below the radar, and more importantly, save his legs for when he's needed. Pop likes it that way, so why make a fuss over it?
For the Nets the guy that again impressed me was Lopez. While he had no answers for Timmy on defense (who does?) he proved to be more than a handful himself with the ball and showed both a good shooting touch and a quick first step on the dribble. As a rookie he's shooting over 50% from the floor and 80% from the line while averaging over eight boards and nearly two blocks. In the center-challenged East, he could very well back up Dwight Howard on their All-Star roster for years to come.
The guy who didn't impress me, and who almost never does, is Carter. Yes, he's having somewhat of a renaissance season, and I would argue that he got screwed out of a trip to Phoenix, but still, while he's always been more of a well-rounded player in terms of rebounding and passing than he's been given credit for, he remains an indefferent at best and atrocious at worst defender. The Spurs have enough guys who can't guard people and enough scorers as well, so I fail to see how the addition of Carter, which has been speculated in trade rumors, would help the team. Is he supposed to play small forward with the big three on the floor? He's a bit undersized for that. Plus he wouldn't get enough shots here and he'd whine about it. He's not really any more efficient of a scorer than Mason and to acquire him we'd have to weaken ourselves even further in other areas. Carter doesn't seem at all like Pop's type of player and I'm a bit baffled by this rumor, to be honest. Hopefully there's nothing to this. I'm not remotely ready to mentally process the ramifications of an all offense/no defense Spurs team.
The segababa (Raptors 91, Spurs 89) looked, on paper, to be a formality. We were playing a wildly underachieving Toronto team that was without their two best players, Bosh and Calderon. Furthermore, neither Jermario Moon nor Jermaine O"neal (now both teammates of D-Herp at Miami) did much, combining for just 15 points. How the hell did the Spurs lose this one?
Well, for starters, everyone besides the Big Three was complete and total ass, much like the Warriors game two weeks ago. How does 7-of-25 (28%) for 15 points sound sparky? Duncan, our third leading scorer on the night with 20, outscored everybody else on the team by five. If I had to pick out someone who wasn't an absolute turd, I'd go with Kurt Thomas (four offensive boards, some good interior D) but that's about it. Offensively we were garbage, shooting 41% against an awful defensive team and even Timmy and Tony weren't terribly efficient in their scoring, combining for 38 shots to score 42 points. I mean, I don't want to say it was all about Manu, but especially, in the second half, it was all about Manu. And our awful defense late wasted his effort.
As you may remember, between '05 and '07 I was quite fond of the infrequent stretches where Pop would play Gino, Brent Barry and Beno Udrih together. They were our three most inventive passers, they were all unselfish, and it was generally fun watching them play together, even if it was a trainwreck defensively. I dubbed them "The Pale Triangle." (The trio peaked on a magical evening in Phoenix January 21st, 2005.) Who would guess that the Spurs would suffer at the hands of Toronto's own makeshift pale triangle, complete with their own backup Eastern Euro rookie point guard? Andrea Bargnani and Jason Kapono have had their moments before, but who the heck is Ruko Ukic? The Croatian came into the game averaging about four points, and then hit us up for a career-high 22, including a bomb from the corner that got them within one with under a minute to go and then the go ahead spinning runner that proved to be the winner.
Parker's defense on Ukic was generally lacking and disrespectful, as has been the norm for him all year, but we also did an awful job on closing out on their jumpshooters as a team. The Spurs sleepwalked through the first half, turned it up in the third and expected to coast home for the win and it just didn't happen. They just couldn't assert their will on either end and games like this will make Pop wonder if his roster has the testicular fortitude to play good defense when it matters.
I'm here to say it's not about fortitude, testicular or otherwise. It's about ability, and putting lineups on the floor filled with the Masons, Finleys, Bonners, and, unfortunately these days, Parkers of the world, is not a recipe for good defense. These guys get burnt, and they get burnt often. There are only three reasons we keep opposing teams from scoring at will against us: Our awesome defensive rebounding, our glacial pace, and the studliness of Duncan. Sometimes Bowen will step up and shut somebody down or Manu will make a play here or there, but neither of those things happen consistently enough for my liking.
How do we "fix" the Spurs? Step one would be to bench Findog permanently. He does absolutely nothing well enough to merit playing the minutes he gets. Slice those minutes three ways between Manu, Bruce and Hill and we'll be better instantaneously. Step two would be to find a way to acquire a player who would provide the offense of Bonner and the defense of Thomas in one neat tidy package. Of course I mean 'Sheed. But getting him seems more like a wet dream than a real possibility, so in all likelihood we will have to make do with what we have. For the love of god though, no more smallball. If Bonner isn't scoring, play Thomas. If they both suck, play Oberto. Just give Timmeh some help down low. Step three would be to punish Tony for being absolutely abysmal on defense. Have Pop tell him that if the problem is that he has to save too much energy for offense that he'll be more than happy to call more plays for Manu. If Tony doth protest about this, then tell him to prove it by, oh, occassionally pressuring the ball or staying with his man once in a while. I know Parker is better than this. Much better. He's simply not even pretending to try back there. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.
The Spurs at the Break:
Matt Bonner: A
8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, .528 FG, .490 3PT FG, 17.01 PER
I can't possibly add any commentary that would make this more awesome.
Matt Bonner talks about buying a car (via whenharry)
It's hard to figure what to make of Matt. On one hand all the popular geek sites (82games.com, 48MoH) have data stating that he's been an absolute godsend this year. Contrary to our lyin' eyes, we've been far better defensively with Bonner out there than without (another way of saying he's preferable to smallball), and every one of his teammates has a better +/- per 48 minutes with Matt than they average without him. No other Spur can claim that. Regardless of what happens on the trade front, Bonner has deserved a spot on our rotation (provided he's not dealt, of course) and the only thing stopping him from an "A+" grade is his inconsistency. In his past five games he's scored 0, 11, 23, 22, and 0.
On the other hand, it's just hard to shake the feeling that the Spurs winning a ring with Bonner playing major minutes for them is batshit crazy. I love him as a seventh or eighth man, not so much as a frontline starter. The numbers say I'm biased and insane, but it's hard to envision him holding up in the pressure of playoff basketball. Plus, you know the refs will target him for fouls.
Bruce Bowen: C-
19.7 minutes, 2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, .447 FG, .435 3PT FG, 5.46 PER
This was so cheezy, it had to have been made by a Suns fan.
Bruce Bowen=Dirty Player (via TheHungerForMore)
Bruce's role has been dramatically reduced this season, either to save his legs for the playoffs or because Pop figured out that we're a dramatically easier team to defense when he's on the floor - take your pick.
At 37, it appears as though Father Time has finally caught up to Bruce. He can no longer be expected to shut down scorers on a nightly basis and the reality of the situation is that he comes up big in that regard about once every three or four games. However, as he's no longer a starter, it's not very fair to expect consistency from him, since he's often thrown into the fray against guys who are already hot and Pop doesn't have him on any kind of regular role as far as when in any given game he'll check in or how long he'll play. Pop trots him out there and unless Bowen makes an instant defensive impact, he usually sits him back down pretty quickly.
For whatever reason the reduced role has made Bowen even more tentative offensively than he's been in the past. While his minutes have gone down by about a third, his shot attempts have dropped by more than half, to only 2.4 chucks in about 20 minutes. While Bruce is shooting his highest percentage from both two and three in six years, he's gotten so few chances that his accuracy has been moot. Also, bizarrely, his turnover rate has shot way up, indicating that he's gotten almost nervous, for lack of a better word, when the ball has come his way. Being placed on the bench has either made him a far more tentative player, on both ends, and this is not good for Bruce or the Spurs.
Fin has not done a thing to "win" the starting job and it seems to be that it'd be the lesser of two evils to place Bruce back into his old role. Bump his minutes back into the 24-25 range, let him know he's starting every night and so-and-so will be his matchup, and let the man have some kind of normalcy in his life. Otherwise, just deal him and get it over with.
Tim Duncan: A-
20.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 blocks, .522 FG, .696 FT, 25.38 PER
"Ugh! Way to go Matt, nice job out there. Let me try this again. Oh, GROSS. What's in here? Is it supposed to be blue? Hey man get this out of my face before I chuck it at Crawford. Yeah, you, take it. Rocket, dude, seriously, way to go. Wait a sec... I bet Manu spiked this stuff. Yeah, look at him. The big-nosed freak won't even look at me, that bastard."
Tim Duncan Drinks Bad Gatorade (via IBREEL)
Timmeh's been a monster, an absolute beast like Devastator, only if the Constructicon gestalt got his shit thrown a couple times a night due to his poor jumping ability. Duncan is a top-five NBA candidate and has even earned praise from Simmons, who said in a podcast recently he's still the guy most likely to carry a team to the Finals. Timmy singlehandedly carried the team in November when Tony and Manu were out and has been by far their most consistent player throughout the season. It really hasn't been close. His scoring average is the most it's been in five seasons and he's averaging over a full assist more than last year. Even more amazingly, while his field goal percentage and assist rates have skyrocketed, his turnover rate had dropped. Duncan's just been an extraordinarly efficient hell-demon this year, by any measure. Sure, his rebounding and free throw percentage has dropped a bit, but not to a worrisome level in either case.
The odd thing though is that Timmy's personal dominance hasn't translated to success on the floor with his teammates. He's only in the middle of the pack on the team, both offensively and defensively, when it comes to scoring averages with him on the floor, with the guys scoring 98 per 48 mins and giving up 94. Some of this can be explained with having to play bareass nekkid (sans the other big two) far more this season than in years past, but that can't be the sole reason. Duncan remains the only Spur who would be a "two-way player" if the NBA was like the NFL and you had different offensive and defensive lineups. On offense the Spurs would go with him, Bonner, Manu, Tony, and Mason. On defense it'd be him, Thomas, Bowen, Udoka, and Hill. Consequently, with Tim at the hub of so many of Pop's odd lineups, some more offensive slanted, some more defensive, he has to suffer the weaknesses of both. The really inexplicable thing is that almost as many teammates seem to do better without him on the +/- front than with him.
Whatever. I'm clearly over-analyzing Timmy. He gets an "A-" because of the dips in rebounding and FT%. Also, his individual and help defense has been inconsistent, but I'm sure it'll sharpen up as we near April.
Michael Finley: C-
9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, .431 FG, .384 3PT FG, 11.02 PER
I'm about to dis Fin so badly in the next two paragraphs that he's bound to do this about a dozen times in the next two months.
Spurs-Suns Playoff: Finley's 3 point send game to 1st OT (via p0lar)
I'm about to dis Fin so badly in the next three paragraphs that he's bound to do this about a dozen times in the next two months.
Like Bruce, Findog is scoring less than the season before despite increases in his percentages from two, three and even the stripe. Even though he's getting about a minute more than last season, he's averaging a shot attempt less. Consequently his usage rate has dropped from 16.8 to this year's 14.6. He's basically taken over the Bowen role in the office with Mason and Bonner out there and has been the fifth option for the starters. He's trying to be more useful on the floor. His rebounding and assist rates are up (as are his turnovers, while 7.2% is very low, it's a career worst for the usually sure-handed Finley), but the guy really has only had one strength in his career, similar to Bruce, and if he isn't being used in that role, it's kind of pointless having him out there. As a fifth option his defense on the floor will hurt more than his offense will help.
Of our general rotation players only Thomas and Hill average less points on the floor tper 40 minutes than Fin's 97 and only Tony and Manu do worse defensively than Fin's 95. Going back to the NFL metaphor about ideal offensive and defensive lineups, Fin and Fab are the only two that wouldn't be in either. Furthermore, in the +/- department the only guy on the whole team that benefits with floor time from Findog is Fatality, of all people. Everyone else does worse.
Even more damning, while Fin put together a fine December, he's been absolutely putrid in 2009, with February looking even worse than January was. Hopefully Pop will use the All-Star break to see the light and sharply reduce Fin's role on the team and split his minutes between Bruce, Manu, and maybe even Hairston. He might be a useful guy to have for segababas or as an injury fill in, but right now the only valuable thing about Michael is his salary which can be used (hopefully) in a trade. The only reason his grade isn't worse is because we can't blame Fin much for sucking. We already knew he sucked. We can only blame the front office for re-signing him.
Manu Ginobili: B+
16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, .460 FG, .335 3PT FG, .880 FT, 23.31 PER
I think this will make all the ladies of PtR pass out. And most of the guys too.
"Atletas-Ginóbili" - Gatorade (via luisguerri)
After a shaky, inconsistent first two months, The Sickness seems to have found himself and is back to devouring the souls of any who dare stand before him. The leaping isn't all the way back, and who knows if it ever will be, but the quickness has returned, the ability to penetrate is still there (TWSS), as is the FT shooting, the rebounds, the passing, the steals, blocks, etc. We've got about 90% of last year's hell demon.
What's missing is the three point stroke, where he's been poor (and downright abysmal from the right wing and the left baseline, according to his Hot Spots chart), and his man-to-man defense.
Manu's outside shooting in general has been very streaky so far and he was absolutely frigid in January, hitting only about 27% of his bombs. February has seen him return to form and he's already posted three 30 point games in his last six outings. While he's probably not going to ever explode for a two month stretch and carry the team like last season, as long as Tim and Tony are healthy, he won't have to. Of late, Manu has decided to take it to the basket more, and while this gives him more easy points and free throws, it also increases the wear and tear on his body which is bad news in the long run. He's hitting a career high percentage of his inside attempts (.653) which is pretty impressive for a guy who seldom dunks, but it'd probably be better for all concerned if he started hitting his threes with more regularity.
More troubling has been his defensive regression. While Manu is creating his usual havoc with steals and blocks and drawn charges, he is getting toasted more regularly than ever before. A big part of this is due to him having to guard some guys he usually hasn't in the past few years, thanks to Bruce no longer playing major minutes. I love Manu more than anyone, but if he's our best perimeter defender, we're not going to be a great defensive team. All he can do is reach in, hope for steals, and funnel guys over to the bigs, a very dodgy strategy.
Manu compensates for his physical limitations with his defensive playmaking, but there is only so much he can do out there. He's not quick nor strong enough to stay in front of elite scorers. He has taken the initiative to attack the glass more than ever, but Manu would greatly benefit, as would most Spurs, from playing with another defender, either on the wing or a shot-challenging big.
The good news for Spurs fans is that after a wobbly first two months where it appeared that he was on the decline and perhaps permenently into third banana status, Manu has once again re-established himself as the team's second best player and a top 15-20 NBA stud overall.
Malik Hairston: C+
6 games, 6.5 minutes, 2.7 points, 1.5 rebounds (1.2 offensive), .533 FG, 0-3 FTs, 16.46 PER
Just ignore Stu Scott and concentrate on the beefy guy throwing it down. We haven't had someone like him in a while.
Malik Monster Dunk Vs Cal (via ChileDuck)
Obviously none of Hairston's stats mean anything, the same size is ridiculously insufficient, but in his few minutes of floor time he has shown a hunger to go to the rim for putbacks and he could be a nice niche Malik Rose-type guy for us down the road if he fills out his body. At the very least he could be an emergency, "what the hell" desperation energy guy for Pop like Devin Brown was in his hayday, somebody to turn to when the team is flat.
Unfortunately, what will in all likelihood doom Hairston from seeing meaningful minutes as we get into the stretch run (and lord knows with Findog, Bowen and Udoka on the roster, it shouldn't take much to crack the swingman rotation) is that it's already become quite apparent that Hairston has no idea what to do on the defensive end. I mean, he's clueless. It doesn't necessarily mean he's always going to be a terrible defender. Maybe he just doesn't understand Pop's complex defensive schemes yet. But so far he's been a nightmare in his own end and Pop only tolerates shitty defensive play from veterans, not youngsters, which seems ass backward, but whatever.
George Hill: B-
17.9 minutes, 6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .399 FG, .353 3PT FG, 12.28 PER
And I thought Manu was the only guy who got the "Oh momma!" treatment.
George Hill reverse layup and dunk vs the Clippers 01.08.2009 (via ChampionSpellor2)
By all accounts Hill has been a pleasant surprise as a rookie backup point guard. But what if I told you that once upon a time the Spurs had another rookie point, we'll call him Player X, who averaged 5.9 points and 1.9 assists in 14.2 minutes, shot 44% from the field and 41% from three, and had a 14.31 PER? Of course, Player X is Beno Udrih, so the lesson there is that we should hold off on expectations for Hill until we see what happens in year two or three. I love his length (TWSS), his athleticism, and his willingness to go to the rim, but the kid has been wildly inconsistent, which I guess isn't surprising for a rook.
For one, his shot needs work. There's no rhyme or reason to why he makes or misses them, as he equally likely of hitting or missing a contested J as an open one. As a consequence, he hasn't figured out how to effectively play with Manu because Gino needs shooters around him. He's decent enough from three, but crappy on long twos. Terrible. Also, Hill has been an abject disaster when paired with Tony. I mean, awful. But that's par for the course as Pop has never had any semblence of success pairing Tony with any of our points, whether it was Beno, the JV, Nick Van Excrement, whomever.
Secondly, he does some dumb stuff defensively. He either fouls too much (nearly five per 40 mins, which is crazy for a guard) or leaves guys way too open for shots. Hill is a good team defender and moves his feet well, but individually he's got a lot of room for improvement. It'll probably get better as he learns guys' tendencies. I like his rebounding and even his point guard skills are better than I expected, but unless he starts canning jumpers I don't know how much Pop will rely on him in May.
Roger Mason Jr.: B-
11.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, .427 FG, .449 3PT FG, 11.85 PER
I love tormenting the Suns. We pretty much singlehandedly destroyed their franchise.
suns vs spurs christmas day 2008. roger mason game winning 3 pt shot. (via lalousse24)
Mace helped himself with the fans in two ways. First he started the year really well in Tony and Manu's absence. Secondly, he's hit four game-winners. Because of those two things, many of his sins and shortcomings have been largely overlooked. I'm here to say there are two other things we need to know about Mason: One, he hasn't been all that dramatically better than Finley. Two, he was a lot better last year for a crummy Wizards team.
That's not to say I'm displeased with him or that I wish he wasn't a Spur. Not at all. But the guy is what he is - a specialist - and we might be mis-using him, trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, by playing him the major minutes we do and trusting him with any responsibilities outside of sticking open threes. We never gave Brent Barry 30 minutes a night because we knew his limitations, so why are we giving them to Mason?
What bothers me is that the guy I advocated getting in the off-season, Kelenna Azuibuike of the Warriors, a guy who is three years younger and is making 600K less mind you, is averaging more points and rebounds, and is shooting a better percentage from two and three. His PER is 14.79, meaning he's actually a prodcutive starting-level player, and at his salary he's a bargain. Also, he's got the physical tools to be a far better defensive player than Mason, and I'm convinced that under Pop he would've been. Again, I'm not bitter that Mason is a Spur, but just think, for about a million bucks more we could've had him and Azuibuike and discarded Fin. ::shakes head sadly ::
How nobody in our front office had this guy on their radar mystifies me to this day.
Oh well, what's done is done. Mason certainly has his weaknesses; no Spur besides the JV shoots worse close to the basket. He sometimes gets confused on defense and gets sucked in against shooters or lost on picks. But I'm confident the more he plays the more he'll understand the system because he doesn't seem like a dumb guy. Oddly, the only Spurs that haven't benefited playing with him so far are Tim and Manu and for Mace's sake that's gotta change, because those guys aren't coming off the floor very much in May and hopefully June.
Fabricio Oberto: D
12.7 minutes, 2.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, .559 FG, 10.57 PER
Fab had mad skillz as a youngster.
Fabricio Oberto (via ilaykto)
Fab has been lost in the shuffle this season, the fourth big for a coach often reluctant to play even three. Injuries have waylaid his season. First his heart acted up on him again, and then he had a foot problem. While he was out Pop re-discovered Bonner, he figured out that Fab, even with his superior passing skills couldn't produce offensively like Rocket can, and just like that, Oberto was a scrub again. Injuries aren't fair, but they're a part of sports, what can you do?
Oberto's bigger problem, besides being worse offensively than Bonner and worse defensively than Thomas, is that in the 456 minutes he has played, he's impressed absolutely no one. His scoring and (far more important) rebounding rates have plummetted, he's not playing well on either end, and like Finley, the only guy he's helping out on the floor is Udoka, of all people. Ironically, his worst partnership has been with his Argentine buddy Manu, where the two of them average a jaw-dropping -18 together over 48 minutes.
How can he ever crack the rotation again and redeem himself? For one, he has to start crashing the boards like a rabid wolverine whenever Pop puts him in, even if it's garbage time. Besides that he has to hope for a trade that changes the roster dramatically, although he has as good a chance to be as moved as anyone. The beard has to just be a good soldier in practice and see what happens. He's gotta be kicking himself for this wasted season, not having to even worry about beating out Mahinmi.
Tony Parker: B+
20.4 points, 6.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds, .494 FG, .361 3PT FG, .801 FT, 21.40 PER
Man, even in his rap videos Tony's whipped.
Tony Parker - Balance Toi [Clip] (via theireal)
Thanks to his improved jumper and some better kickout options in Bonner and Mason, Tony's taken his game to another level, averaging a career high in both points and assists. His floor percentage has dipped a smidge, but not for the reason we'd suspect. While long twos might be a poor percentage shot for most players, Frenchie McWonderbutt has made a nice living off of them this year, hitting them at a consistent rate from 18-20 feet. He's even extended his range beyond the line and is particularly deadly from the corners, a la Bowen. What's hurt him a bit is a drop in his percentage from close in, where he's converting only 57% of his attempts, down from nearly 60% last year, 63% the year before that and 66% the year before that. He seems to have lost his touch on the floater and he's been getting way too many shots blocked as well.
Where he's really improved dramatically is at the stripe, hitting them at a respectable 80% clip now, making him almost an attractive late game option as Ginobili, although he still doesn't get to the line enough. As an offensive player Parker is rapidly approaching the level of not having a certifiable weakness, and there is no one approach or tactic that can shut him down completely except for the odd game here or there. He makes adjustments and he constantly refines his game in the off-seasons, so it's a credit to him for having that internal drive.
All that being said, my god has he been an abomination on defense. He's on the AI-Mike Bibby level these days, and it's sad. He seems to have sacrificed all his energy and focus on that end to concentrate for offense and while the results look good on his basketball card, they're not helping the team any. Parker needs to pressure the opposing point and he certainly has the ability to. He's just not doing it. He's half-heartedly fighting through picks and not closing out on shooters. I don't know what Pop or the other coaches have said to him, if anything, but it's getting embarrassing to watch. Ginobili's been bad on D, but at least he has excuses. He's coming off surgery, he's guarding guys he hasn't had to in the past, and at least he creates the occasional turnover. Tony is facing the same people as always, he's just doing worse. He's hardly making any defensive plays, and he looks healthy to me. I just don't get it. If he doesn't improve back there, we have no realistic shot.
Kurt Thomas: C+
16.2 minutes, 3.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, .470 FG, .828 FT, 12.80 PER
I don't know what's crazier; that Kurt has his own Youtube mix or that half of his "highlights" are against Timmeh. If you like watching a tall guy hit 18-footers to an obscene rap song, this is clearly for you. Enjoy.
Kurt Thomas - Don't Forget Me MIX by MISIEK (via TheKingMisiek)
Like Fab, both of Kurt's scoring and rebounding rates have dropped this season. Unlike Fab, they have not dropped to unacceptable levels. Also unlike Fab, Kurt brings something to the table defensively, and the 89 points the Spurs allow per 48 minutes with him on the floor is a team low among rotation players. While he isn't much of a jumper or all that tall, the guy just knows how to position himself and seal off good angles and lanes to the basket. And another thing he can do that Fab can't is hit that 17-footer.
Because of his defensive prowess I'm inclined to think that as we get into the serious time of year, Thomas' role will gradually increase (as will Bowen's) and Bonner's will gradually decrease (as will Fin's). While he's proven to be a servicable player for us - more so than Elson anyway - the team shouldn't hesitate to flip Thomas if someone better is available. In an ideal world he'd be a fourth big, but on our roster he's either a second or third. He'd have to have the series of his life for the Spurs to overcome the Lakers with a healthy Bynum.
Ime Udoka: D
12.8 minutes, 3.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, .365 FG, .302 3PT FG, 8.29 PER
Suns fans make RoHo's hip check of Nash sound like one of these.
Top Ten Mortal Kombat Fatalities (via mkmd13)
If there's ever an argument to be made for the irrelevance of the +/- stat, Udoka's case would have to be considered if not Exhibit A, at least in the top three or four examples. The guy is an offensive albatross, he doesn't rebound or pass particularly well, he can't handle the ball, can't really shoot it from anywhere, not even in close, and even defensively, while he's above average, he's not as good as Bruce (or at least he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt from the refs that Bruce gets, nor does he have his veteran tricks).
Yet for a guy who looks to be a marginal player - at best - Udoka's teammates sure do seem to love having him on the floor. Only three guys; Tony, Bruce and Kurt, do worse with Ime on the floor than without, and Manu in particular has had extraordinary chemistry with him in their limited time together (83 minutes).
While Ime seems to have fallen entirely out of Pop's rotation, the sixth swingman when arguably only two of them are even quality players, it's almost impossible to feel anything about him one way or the other. If we sit him or trade him, he's out of mind. If he plays for whatever reason, the results for the team have generally been positive even if his personal stats have been woeful. Maybe everyone ups their intensity to cover for his inadequcies. Who knows?
Jacque Vaughn: D
10.8 minutes, 2.6 points, 2.3 assists, .333 FG, 8.23 PER
You just know Fab, Manu and Sideshow Bob were looking at this and thinking,"That was weak."
Jacque Vaughn flop (via Lansdowne06)
The Bruce Bowen of point guards, only he can't shoot three pointers or guard anyone when they actually bother to try. Jacque was useful for us in '07, but he doesn't really belong in the league anymore and I for one would be overjoyed if we could deal his contract away for someone who can contribute. Plus, it would give us a chance to re-sign Blake Ahearn, who's been tearing up the D-League. Vaughn's had a decent enough career, but at 34, it's time to look into coaching.
Okay, that's it. If you made it all the way through, congratulations. I'm gonna do a kind of chat like thing here to sort of reward anyone who read the whole thing. I'll answer any question (up to the first 100 let's say) that anyone asks me about anything - sports, movies, TV (I don't watch reality shows though), my personal life, whatever. I'll do this late Tuesday night, after the game.