On Monday, I took a look at the Spurs and tried to figure out why they've been struggling to look like contenders, even with everyone back in the fold. Now, let's turn the dial on the microscope a couple of notches and focus on a few individuals.
You can find columns addressing his many issues here, here and here. The TL;DR version is that, excellent three-point shooting aside, Parker hasn't been himself this season. He has a negative net rating (-2.6, in fact), the worst defensive rating for any rotation player besides Marco Belinelli, a below-average PER of 14.9 (worse than Cory Joseph's). Most worrying, he's been worse than a replacement-level player, according to basketball-reference.com. When Parker's been off the floor, the Spurs have an Offensive Rating of 105.4 and a Defensive Rating of 96.3, numbers that would trail only the Warriors. With Parker on the floor however, the Spurs are essentially the Sacramento Kings.
As a playmaker, the "pass" button seems to be stuck on Parker's controller. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.94, which would be the second-lowest of his career and is absolutely miserable for a point guard. He has totaled 44 fewer assists than Manu Ginobili in 45 fewer minutes. As a scorer, Parker's getting to rim less than ever, just 24.4 percent of his shots coming at the rim and 44.4 overall in the paint. He's averaging just 2.4 free throw attempts per game. Parker has yet to regain his quickness since hurting his hamstring and it's a fair question whether he ever will. Remember, he's already 32 and more dependent on his athleticism than Ginobili or Tim Duncan ever were. It's quite possible he'll age in dog years compared to his "Big Three" brethren because he doesn't have that ethereal level of savviness as a "Plan B," that they've shown.
It's worth remembering that Parker wasn't very good last year either, certainly not over the second half of that season and then in the postseason. The Spurs won it all anyway, memorably with Parker sidelined in the second halves of clinchers versus Portland and at Oklahoma City. But he wasn't this bad, and it's doubtful in the extreme that the Spurs can mount any kind of meaningful title defense with him in his current state. It's gotten to the point where I feel a bit relieved when Joseph or Patty Mills subs in for him. That just can't happen for the Spurs to be a real contender.
One day they're teaming up to lead France to victory in Eurobasket 2013, and here we are now, with Rudy Gobert claiming the unofficial title of "Best French Baller." The conventional wisdom with Diaw is that the biggest chore with him is getting him to shoot the ball. That hasn't been an issue this season, as he's firing up the same 7.3 attempts per game that he did last year. The problem is, like Parker, is the distribution of where those shots are coming from. Only 30.5 percent of his attempts are coming at the rim compared to 32.4 percent last season, and 55.8 percent of his shots overall have been in the paint, compared to 59.1 percent last year. Instead, like Parker, he's taking more threes (2.2 of them per game as opposed to 1.4 last year) and they comprise a full 30 percent of his field goal attempts. Unlike Parker, Diaw isn't making them. He's hitting just 30 percent, as opposed to 40.2 percent last year. Diaw gets more open threes than anyone on the Spurs, so it's doubly painful when he clanks them. The more he misses, the more opposing teams will clamp down on the paint and kill the Spurs' spacing.
Diaw's aggressiveness and concentration defensively and on the boards has come and gone, but by and large neither have been a big issue. Despite that, it sure looks like Gregg Popovich has lost some faith in him late in games. Diaw's ability to play medium ball as Pop termed it, to be able to match up regardless of whether Oklahoma City or Miami played big or small, was integral to the team's title run. He gave them another playmaker on the floor, he posted up smaller people on mismatches, and killed teams not just with his floor spacing but his hi-lo passing. The closing lineup of Duncan-Diaw-Leonard-Ginobili-Parker was the second-most used by the Spurs last year, with a +6.8 net in 193 regular season minutes and a ridiculous +18.8 net in 135 playoff minutes. This season that five-man group has been an unfathomable -6.0 net in 110 minutes.
Not surprisingly, Pop has gone away from him late in games, electing to try another big or to go full small ball. Diaw's efficiency has dropped from a 14.1 PER last year to 12.2 now, which paints him clearly as a sub-par player. I raised the issue in the off-season that maybe the Spurs would've been better off not re-signing Diaw and seeking another younger, hungrier (no pun intended) option. I hope he validates the Spurs trust in him.
Splitter continues to frustrate Pop like no other. Popovich has long questioned the Brazilian's toughness, and that issue surfaced again this year when the team's trainers and medical people were mystified by the calf/back injury that sidelined Splitter for the first quarter of the season. Splitter is still working up to getting the minutes he got last year, and that goal has suffered a bit of a setback with Pop electing to start Diaw, Matt Bonner or even Aron Baynes in his stead -- even with Splitter healthy.
The regular starting lineup with Splitter was never a juggernaut offensively, but they still posted an impressive +14.6 last season because they were so good in their own end. That hasn't been the case this season. While 60 minutes over seven games is a tiny sample size, the Spurs are barely breaking even with those five. In all, Splitter's net is in the negatives with any Spurs starter except for Leonard, where the two of them have been terrific together. With all the usual suspects on the bench, Ginobili, Diaw, Patty Mills, Cory Joseph (essentially everybody but Belinelli), he's been really good. For whatever reason, Splitter has played 98 more minutes with Danny Green than the next-closest teammate and it may be time to break up that pairing. Leonard-Splitter-Ginobili and Any Reserve Big and Any Reserve Point Guard has been the best Spurs' lineup of late and I'd like to see them use it more.
But you never know how these things will go, especially with sample sizes smaller than 200 minutes. Last year, the regular starting lineup with Ginobili instead of Green was a disaster for the Spurs over 88 minutes last year, with a -9.8 net. But once the playoffs arrived, they were a monster 39.5 net in over 61 minutes. How can you explain or predict a near-fifty point swing like that? It could just be that Splitter is destined to be a reserve as long as Duncan and Ginobili are still Spurs. He finished the last two seasons in that role after all, but really it's just impossible to predict anything with Pop. All we know for sure is that Splitter continues to struggle alongside most of the nominal starters and his rebounding has taken a Bonner-ish turn this year.
He gets more of a pass than the others because he is a 37-year-old shooting guard, and he's already been on scholarship several times over with Spurs fans for everything he's accomplished (after his performance against the Thunder and Heat in last year's playoffs, his case for the Hall of Fame should be open-and-shut). That being said, we can't pretend that Ginobili isn't diminished by this point. His PER of 16.4 is the second-worst of his career, behind his rookie year, and he's struggling to stay above 40 percent from the floor. He's driving to the basket as much as he did last year but he hasn't been finishing, converting just 57.6 percent of his shots at the rim and 36.8 percent on those floaters he's so fond of. Ginobili is getting to the line 25 percent more than he did last year, but his free throws have been their own issue, so... let's just move on.
Knowing Ginobili's nature, it wasn't surprising at all that his best month so far this season came in December, when he had the most responsibility on his shoulders with Parker and Leonard both out. He responded with 15 points (.425 from the field and .417 from three), six assists and four boards per game for the month. That production didn't translate into many wins, but he did what he could. In January though, when the team got healthier, Ginobili's numbers backslid heavily, and he averaged just 10.3 points, 3.9 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and shot below 40 percent from the field and barely above 30 percent from downtown. Ginobili seems to be embracing more of a playmaking role than ever, I'm guessing due to a combination of flagging confidence in his ability to score and with Parker noticeably having issues in setting others up, but really he needs to pick it up for the Spurs to find their groove, especially on the road.
Ironically, Ginobili has been at his best on SEGABABAs this season, averaging 17.1 points on 54.3 percent from the field and 43.9 percent from deep in an eight game sample. He's been at his worst on one day rest, which is the norm for the schedule. You give Manu two days off, or three, or none -- and he's a stud. But this year, with just one day of rest, he's not producing. Go figure. I think what I'm saying is expect him to score 50 against the Clippers the first game back after the All-Star break and then another 35 or so against the Warriors the next night.
Green can't throw it into ocean in February. Duncan has pretty much given up on his jumper --and with reason if you look at his percentages-- and that's hurt the team's spacing and rhythm offensively. He's also quietly shooting a similar percentage to Ginobili at the free throw line. Even Leonard's shooting numbers have plummeted from what we've grown accustomed to. It's practically a team-wide shooting slump. We could find fault with everyone if space allowed.
Except for Cory Joseph. Cory Joseph is awesome and I think we should change the law so he can run for president when he retires. Canada is basically just North North Dakota anyway.