Training camp has just started and the Spurs, unlike other teams, seem to be in a great place. There are no injuries to worry about and they didn't experience any big losses during the off-season--at least on the court. Team chemistry doesn't figure to be a problem and the good guys seems poised to contend once again. Yet there are still a couple of uncertainties that training camp and pre-season could help answer.
Will Boylen have input on strategy? And what can he bring to the table?
The Pacers, the team Boylen was working for before joining the Spurs, are not exactly renowned for their creative offense. Certainly part of that was simply a question of personnel; Indiana lacked a playmaking point guard and their bench was a wasteland. But there were no clever wrinkles to hide those limitations that I can think off. The strategy was to run sets that would give George and Hibbert good position to work one on one. Their pace was much, much slower than the Spurs' as well.
Defensively, the Pacers did have the personnel to be really good on that end without much difficulty. When you have big, ridiculously long defenders working passing lanes and contesting, you only need them to stay in front of their men. While there was great defensive synergy among the Pacers last season - and the coaching staff should get recognition for that - it doesn't look like Boylen is a Tom Thibodeau-with-the-Celtics defensive mastermind.
So what can Boylen bring to the table from an Xs and Os perspective? Will we see new creative offensive sets being deployed or will the Spurs just continue to do what has worked in the past? Maybe the one creating all those new adjustments year after year has been Pop and Pop alone, or maybe Boylen simply didn't have the freedom to contribute in that aspect in the past and he will with the Spurs. It will be interesting to see if the losses of Brown and Budenholzer actually weaken the Spurs' brain trust.
Too many wings, not enough minutes
Pop recently said that the team is interested in getting a legitimate backup small forward to avoid having to play Marco Belinelli or Manu Ginobili against bigger players. That's why the only two veteran players at camp are Cory Maggette and Sam Young. Most fans would agree that if the Spurs are thin in one spot it's at the wing. On paper that's true. In practice, there just aren't enough minutes to go around.
Assuming everyone is healthy and using last year's minute distribution, Leonard, Green and Ginobili will use 82 of the 96 minutes available at the wing. That leaves only 14 available minutes for Belinelli and De Colo. Pop has mentioned that Marco was going to be a part of the rotation early because he has a good foundation defensively after his time in Chicago and offensively he is a great fit. So even if Manu gets a couple of minutes less, we can pencil in Belinelli for those.
Obviously, there is the real possibility that Ginobili gets hurt or misses time. But the Spurs have groomed Nando De Colo to play that role by moving him to shooting guard in the off-season. In all likelihood, whoever is signed - if anyone - to fill the 15th spot will receive a ton of DNP-CDs. That explains why the Spurs didn't really bring a lot of guys that were hoping to get a rotation spot: they simply didn't have one to offer. Unless they make room.
If one of Maggette or Young actually gets a spot, it could signal that someone is being moved. Ginobili was just resigned and Belinelli was the Spurs' main off-season target. Danny Green has significant value but I doubt the Spurs want to make that big of a move and Leonard is untouchable. That leaves De Colo. Nando has complained about a lack of playing time before and won't take kindly to being shipped to Austin. If the Spurs don't think he can play point guard and prefer to have a bigger wing as injury insurance, Nando's minuscule contract could be moved easily. I hope they don't go that route because I think De Colo is a better player than Maggette or Young but it seems like a possibility.
Can this be Cory Joseph's year?
Joseph spent the first couple of years of his NBA career mostly in Austin, with the Spurs' D-League affiliate. The Spurs were surprisingly patient with his development and it paid off, as Joseph improved by strides and was able to give the team some quality minutes when Parker went down with injury last season. Now it's the time for Joseph to build on that and on his great performance with team Canada in FIBA Americas and make the leap most young players experience in their third year.
The Spurs seem committed to Joseph's development and I'm assuming at this moment he is penciled in to back up Parker. As mentioned, the Spurs pushed De Colo to shooting guard, a position he played for team France at Eurobasket as well. Mills is on the team because he opted in but I doubt the Spurs were particularly eager to bring him back. In the off chance that Kabongo makes the team, he will take Joseph's place in Austin. And I doubt Pop is thinking of playing Belinelli out of position at the one. So the backup point guard slot is Cory's to lose and, considering the Spurs will need to extend him or drop him next off-season, he needs to make the most of this opportunity.
Fortunately Joseph seems to be a great fit, at least on paper, with the other bench guards. His defense is solid and he doesn't need touches to be effective. He could work as a secondary ball handler and steadying force next to Belinelli or Ginobili while they work as primary playmakers, which can help hide Cory's lack of creativity as a passer. The only thing that can derail his chances is his lack of a consistent three-point shot. If defenses don't have to account for Joseph when he spots up, that could really hurt the offense and offset any good he can do on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see if Cory made any improvement on his shot, as it could be the difference between having an established backup point guard or seeing Pop experiment like he did last season.
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