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Early season observations: Blair and Neal are having great seasons


The Spurs have played eight games; that's only 10% of the season. So far, there has been a great deal of experimentation on Gregg Popovich's part. Manu Ginobili is clearly not 100% right now and Bonner, Blair, Jackson and Parker have missed games due to a stomach virus. The rotations are not set and the players are not in peak form, so everything we take away from these few games needs to be taken with a mountain of salt. That being said, while going through some stats, I noticed some trends that started to appear and I thought I'd share them with you along with some other observations from the Spurs' games. Things like...

Tiago Splitter is the new Blair.

The Spurs offensive rebounding is much better when Splitter is on the court, but the defensive rebounding suffers. That is exactly what used to happen with DeJuan. The way Splitter is crashing the offensive glass easily explains the uptick on offensive rebound percentage when he's on the floor, but the serious dip in defensive rebound percentage is inexplicable until you watch tape. Tiago doesn't box out properly from time to time, but unlike what used to happen with DeJuan, he's not even in the play when the opponent gets the offensive board for the most part.

Splitter is contesting jumpers this season, which is something I thought could be good for the team. Unfortunately, that often leaves the other front court player fighting for rebounds against a bigger opponent. Without a firm commitment from the wings to rebound the ball and from his front court partner to box out, Splitter will probably need to rethink his strategy and stay in the paint, even if it means conceding easy jumpers.

DeJuan Blair is playing well even if his individual numbers don't show it.

Blair is doing everything I always wanted him to do, except get to the line. He is grabbing defensive rebounds, using his fast hands to get steals, moving the ball on offense and not forcing things. He will never be a great finisher considering his physical limitations and his jumper is not ready yet, but DeJuan is doing the little things better than ever. Of course if you only look at his individual stats (6 points and 5.4 boards on 40% shooting), it seems like he is off to a bad start, but the team is better when he's on the court and the numbers confirm it. His defensive rebound numbers are especially impressive considering that never was his strength. It seems to come at the expense of his offensive rebounding numbers, but the team can live with that.

Stephen Jackson is shooting from where he should. But he's not connecting.

5.7 of Stephen Jackson's 6.4 field goal attempts per game are coming from shots at the rim or from behind the arc. Jack used to love the long jumper, but in his new role with the Spurs he has pretty much forsaken it. Before joining the Spurs, Jackson averaged almost 4 shots from 16-23 feet per game; last season he only shot 1.3 from that range, and so far this season he's only taking 0.2 shots per game from that distance. His improved shot selection, combined with a solid 3.1 trips to the line per game, could give Jack perhaps the first efficient scoring season of his career. All he needs to do is to start actually hitting the shots he takes. He's below average both at the rim and from the arc and is shooting a career low 68% from the line. If/when the shots start to fall, Jack will be a great weapon for the Spurs.

Kawhi Leonard's offense is still a work in progress.

Leonard is shooting 43% on corner three-balls, but hasn't been able to hit one from any other spot on the floor so far. His handle seems a little better, but he can only slash in a straight line, making him predictable and easy to draw a charge against. He can hit a mid-range jumper off the dribble, but I doubt that is the shot Pop wants him to take. He is not getting offensive rebounds and has only seen a small increase in assist percentage. It wouldn't surprise me to see Leonard get better in some of these aspects as the season goes by, but right now he's not contributing much on offense. The corner three is great, but these are not the old Spurs that could have Bowen parked in the corner while the Big Three scored. Despite his struggles, Kawhi always keeps his cool and is ready to make a play, so hopefully he will get more comfortable on that side of the ball and start making more of an impact. His defense, however, seems much better.

Gary Neal is quietly having a great season.

Neal as backup PG puts pressure on the other players on the floor because he lacks the skill to handle the ball and make plays for others consistently. That pressure can sometimes result in turnovers. But what Neal is supposed to do -- hit shots and not turn the ball over himself -- he is doing beautifully. Gary has seen his usage increased with Manu Ginobili either out or ineffective and has responded by putting up great shooting numbers and increasing his assist percentage to a respectable 21.5%. With the depth the Spurs have in their backcourt, Neal is getting fewer minutes, but making the most of the ones he gets. On defense he is still sub par, but for now, Gary is more than making up for it on the other end.

Danny Green is playing great, but he needs to start rebounding.

Green was re-signed after a solid season with the Spurs, and that looks like a great decision. He seems to be the perfect role player for the Spurs offense: he doesn't need the ball in his hands and is happy spotting up from beyond the arc, where he's hitting a ridiculous 47% of his shots. Even more impressive, Green is now hitting them from all over the floor, and not just the corner like last season. He has also shown improvement as a cutter and is finishing better at the rim. On the other side of the floor, Danny is getting steals while also providing some solid containment defense when needed. What he needs to start doing better is rebounding. Last season, Green pulled down 13% of available defensive rebounds and this year that number has dropped to 8.6%. He is not the only Spurs wing that needs to step up his rebounding, but if Green starts getting boards on defense and pulling down the occasional hustle offensive board, he will not only earn his contract but become a bargain.

So those are the things I've noticed on the Spurs' first eight games, Pounders. Feel free to share your own observations in the comments.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, Hoopdata and