Is public opinion changing about how Popovich rests the Spurs?
In this edition of In The Bonus, the PtR staff discusses how the media is coming around on the Spurs resting players, whether more minutes for the starters means Pop is worried or not, the early offensive struggles and the trade market.
1 - Pop decided to rest Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili against the Rockets. And while there were those who complained, most people seemed fine with it. Is public opinion changing on the subject or is everyone tired of talking about it?
Michael Erler: I think a little bit of both. First of all, the Spurs just won the last title and have been to two Finals in a row, so it seems silly for anyone to question Pop's methods. Secondly, it's tough to argue against it because it's plainly obvious when guys like Durant or James run out of steam late in some games and people sure have no problem criticizing Tom Thibodeau for running his guys into the ground. The only people who really rip the Spurs anymore for this are the national talking heads over 50 who can't be bothered to learn anything anymore. I will say though it mostly gets unnoticed because it's the Spurs and their guys aren't marquee attractions anyway. If LeBron or Durant were just given random rest days during a TNT game or an ESPN game, people would go nuts, especially if it was before April and more in the meat of the season.
Taylor Young: I think most people expect it by now and the blame should go to the league who continues to schedule the Spurs on national TV when there's a high likelihood that they rest players. The bigger issue should be how many prime-time games the Lakers were scheduled for this year.
Bruno Passos: I think at this point the ones that are still complaining will probably hold their ground and keep whinging every time it happens -- especially when it's on a nationally televised game (Feb 20th @GSW is the next national game scheduled on a SEGABABA (SEcond GAme of a BAck to BAck), if you want to circle your calendars). Everyone else, it seems, is coming around to seeing the utility in tactical DNP's.
Jesus Gomez: I think people by and large are just tired of talking about it. It's going to happen. It's been happening for years. Is it ideal? Of course not. And here's one good explanation as to why. But there's nothing anyone can do about it and the effects are not that far-reaching.
J.R. Wilco: The only negative thing I heard about the Houston game was that annoying take on it from the otherwise-excellent Bethelehem Shoals. I think that with the recent injuries to the league's top tier talent (Paul George, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and with the Spurs' championship still fresh in the mind, most felt it's just not the time to gripe about a coach continuing to do what he's been doing for years and will likely never stop doing. Namely, protecting his players in marquee games when the team has played the previous night, or is at the end of a rather brutal stretch. While I'd prefer to think that opinion has shifted, I'm okay with it even if it's just a temporary lull.
2 - After resting the older players in that game, Pop decided to play them in the SEGABABAs in the Bay Area and Sacramento. Is that a sign Pop is worried about the team's record?
Erler: Oh, I don't think he's concerned with the record one bit. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say it had more to do with the Rockets, specifically. The Spurs have a heck of a time matching up with them and Pop wasn't about to let them have the satisfaction of beating San Antonio again, at home, with Houston enjoying an extra day or rest while the Spurs ran without Splitter, Mills and Belinelli. He did a similar thing last year vs. OKC. I think the only West teams he really worries about are the Thunder, Rockets and maybe the Blazers, all three of which have two athletic killers that are hard to match up with. Coincidence or not, the Spurs seem to rest guys a lot when they play those teams on SEGABABAs.
Or maybe he just sat them against Houston to protest the fact that they only had two games in the first eight days and then the third and fourth were back-to-backs. Whoever knows with Pop?
Young: I think Pop always cares about the record, but he cares more about developing bench guys, making sure everyone is healthy, etc. However, I do not think he's worried about the team at all. I think he intentionally played them in the Warriors game in order to boost confidence and get the guys into a groove.
Passos: Each season is different, and Pop sees that this one isn't starting out comfortable enough to treat as business as usual. But just because bubble-wrapping the Big Three isn't the off-the-shelf approach all the time doesn't mean we won't see more of it as we draw closer to April.
Gomez: I think so. Minutes for the stars are up and they are playing on SEGABABAs. The West is extremely competitive this season and Pop, while not panicking, seems to understand that every W matters.
Wilco: I don't think anything Pop does so early in the season can be attributed to concern about playoff seeding. Right now, he's trying to get the team to play as well as they can with so many guys injured/recovering. Those extra minutes were likely due to the "you coach by how the game is going" mentality that he always talks about.
3 - The Spurs offense hasn't been good. What has been the biggest problem with it so far in your opinion?
Erler: Can it be as simple as they're just missing 3s? The whole team is mired in a three-point slump. Green and Ginobili are notoriously streaky and Leonard started slowly last season too. The ball movement has been spotty, occasionally it's great but never for any sustained stretch. They're getting plenty of good looks that just aren't going in.
Young: I think it's just rust. They are getting great looks, but the ball isn't finding the bottom of the net. That rust will chip away with the more games they play. I have seen enough moments of offensive brilliance this season to know that there's nothing wrong.
Passos: The shooting woes from outside aren't helping. The team's offensive rating is at a shocking 21st in the league (although that will get a bump after this writing, with the Sixers coming up) so far this year. Last year that figure was aligned pretty closely with outside shooting and assists per game, and with the three ball not falling the Spurs fighting machine loses its right hook.
Gomez: Screening. This should probably be explored in depth but by the eye test the Spurs are setting terrible screens. Baynes and Ayres often don't make contact or slip them and Diaw is not switching the angles as often.
Wilco: I expect the offensive woes to disappear once Splitter, Mills, and Belinelli are back. Until then, it'll likely get incrementally better as Joseph, Baynes and Ayers get more comfortable with their increased roles. But even with that, as soon those outside shots start falling in anything approaching regression-to-the-mean type frequency, this ceases to be a topic of conversation.
Erler: Only a minor one, similar to last year, when they accommodated an unhappy Nando De Colo. I'd expect Austin Daye and/or maybe another periphery guy like Jeff Ayres to be moved in exchange for some random, though I can see Cory Joseph being dealt in the right circumstance, if Patty Mills is back 100 percent and there's a pressing need elsewhere. Really though, what do the Spurs need, besides health? It's pretty much a set team.
Young: I think they need depth at the 3 and another big, but they have no assets to trade. I was disappointed that those issues were not dealt with in free agency. Though I love these players and the continuity, I think the need for a fourth solid big man could really hurt them.
Passos: The teams that come up as sellers around the trade deadline aren't usually interested in the assets the Spurs put on the block. Joseph will be the closest combination of expendability and value San Antonio will have, but I'm not sure he'd net a game-changer.
Gomez: Maybe? I don't expect a big move. But it's possible the Spurs trade Joseph and one of the back up bigs for a more reliable big man if Mills comes back strong. Like Bruno, I don't think they'll get a game-changer. But someone like Darrell Arthur or our old friend Ian Mahinmi could come in handy.
Wilco: I expect no significant moves. But then again, I didn't expect the Boris Diaw signing either.
5 - Speaking of trades, some teams that had playoff aspirations (Nuggets, Knicks, Wolves, among others) haven't gotten off to good starts. Who do you think should have a fire sale and start rebuilding?
Erler: The Wolves had playoff aspirations? Were they planning on eight teams being victimized by an Ebola outbreak? Actually, and this is one of the rare times I agree with Simmons, I find myself thinking that more teams are run competently these days than ever. More and more GMs come from analytic backgrounds or have strong analytic departments that they listen to, so fewer and fewer of them are making egregious mistakes. How many teams in the West can you really look at and shake your head outside of the Lakers? Everyone else seems to have a plan. What hurt the Nuggets is that their best player (Iguodala) wanted out and another good one (Gallinari) got hurt, missed two years and now looks like a shell of his former self. That's bad luck. The Wolves did the best they could under the circumstances with Love wanting out. Similarly in the East there's very few teams that should feel out of it. It's like a poor man's version of the West. The Cavs don't look dominating at all because they're so horrendous defensively and the Bulls will always be vulnerable because of Rose.
I'm sorry, what was the question?
Oh right, fire sales. Generally I feel that teams that feel they have no shot to make the playoffs are in that position because they have very few good players. So why would good teams want to trade for your bad ones? Doesn't seem to make much sense. Who are the bad teams besides the Lakers and Nugs who aren't rebuilding, anyway?
Young: The Wolves are in this awkward limbo between tanking and mediocrity. They should get draft picks or potential cap room out of Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Pekovic. It doesn't benefit the young guys like Anthony Bennett or Dieng to have middle of the road veterans steal their minutes and development time.
Passos: Sacramento's strong start combined with a still-new owner's penchant for making moves could mean a trade to try and really push for a playoff spot. They've got $19 million invested in the power forward position, including almost $7 million in Derrick Williams whose contract has just a QA next year. Maybe they can get a better contribution in that position in exchange for a longer contract that a team is trying to unload.
Gomez: It should be the Pistons. Everyone but Drummond should be on the table. See if anyone trades a first rounder for Monroe. Take any offer for Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. A playoff team in need of depth might send out a prospect for Jerebko, Meeks or Singler. That team is going nowhere anyway. But since the coach is also the GM, I don't expect them to be ready to lose talent for long term assets.
Wilco: Who should have a fire sale? Man, I dunno. I'm just glad the Spurs record finally qualifies them for the ever-present-but-never-important "If the regular season ended today" playoff conversation. That said, the Knicks aren't going anywhere, but what can they do with the hack they have calling the shots over there. Oh, that's right. It's Phil Jackson now. Never mind.