The Spurs completely overhauled their big man rotation in the offseason. It's obvious they have upgraded from a talent standpoint but whether the newcomers fit is another issue. After a somewhat controversial article by Jesus Gomez suggesting David West's skill set was not what the Spurs needed, we decided to ask our own Michael Erler for his opinion as well as bring in 48 Minutes of Hell's Matthew Tynan to offer his view on the subject.
This is the final part of the discussion. Part 1 is here.
The point you raise about the bench never having a hulking rebounding/shot-blocking presence is a valid one and something I can't refute. Splitter is one of the best rim-protectors/post defenders in the league of course, despite his meager shot-blocking numbers, but I suppose it is cheating to include him regardless of whether he plays with the second unit or not since technically he has been a starter the past three seasons. I will say that size matters (ahem) in and of itself, so even though Baynes wasn't a shutdown defender by any means or a shot-blocker, he was still a big body out there and thus more of an impediment to opposing players looking to score near the rim than someone like West would be. Also, I'd trust him to rebound slightly more. For the most part though you are correct and we're just picking nits here. The bench doesn't deserve to be scrutinized just because they're not five Sixth Men of the Year candidates out there.
To specifically answer your first question though, Matthew, I suppose the answer is 2011-12, when Splitter was the backup center. That bench even had Stephen Jackson on it for a while and it could do everything on both ends of the floor. As benches go, you're just not going to get any better than that. Ginobili only played 34 games, but he was a wizard when he was out there. The 2013-14 edition was also very, very good.
My biggest concern about West is simply how he'll adjust to being a reserve after starting all of his career. It is different, and not everyone has handled it as seamlessly as Ginobili. It's also going to be an adjustment for him seeing his playing time drop from the 30-plus minute range into the teens, or to not be on the floor in crunch time. All these things bruise the ego. West volunteered to join the Spurs so on some level he is probably ready for a diminished role, but until he's actually going through it, we don't know how it'll affect him on or off the floor.
There are various ways to cover up for any shortcomings of the bench. Staggering Aldridge's and Duncan's minutes is one and doing the same for Leonard and Green so you always have one solid perimeter defender out there is another. As I've written before, I'd feel a lot more comfortable about the notion of Anderson playing 12 minutes a night if those 12 minutes came with the starters than the reserves. I'd love to see Pop use Leonard the way Phil Jackson used Scottie Pippen for so many years, as the guy to lead the second unit, so it'd be like four backups and him on the floor. Pop did some of that last year.
Personally from what little I've seen of both guys, I think Simmons has a much better chance to thrive in the league than Anderson, but only if the coaching staff gives him a real opportunity. I mean, they're still talking about bringing in DeShaun Thomas and haven't released Reggie Williams yet. Those kind of things make you wonder.
I have to think Aldridge understood the deal before signing in San Antonio. Perhaps that's why he had some reservations about choosing the Spurs. He's not a dumb guy, he sees what the roster looks like. "Hey, wait a second, I'm the second-tallest dude here." I doubt very much that he thinks Duncan is going to play alongside him for 35 minutes a night and my guess is Aldridge isn't going to be issuing any "Either Boban plays with me or I sit" ultimatums. Maybe the Spurs will bring in some real centers down the line after Duncan retires, but for 2015-16 Aldridge will have to take his lumps down there and I think he realizes that.
It's either a red flag or a red herring, depending on your perspective. If everything Aldridge said was legit, from genuinely being torn about the Spurs/Suns choice to needing Ime Udoka's assurance that the Spurs won't mess with his scoring average, then yeah, it's quite concerning. He doesn't seem to have a Spurs-type mentality at all, not just because he's more interested in scoring than winning but also his passive-aggressive feuds with Damian Lillard and the Blazers management over the years.
"I wanna be the main guy, I want top billing."
"Um, okay, you wanna shoot this 'NBA Cares' promo?"
/Lillard kills the promo
"Why did you let Lillard do this over me?"
I think the bottom line is Pop and R.C. aren't dumb. They've understood forever that Duncan and Ginobili were the exceptions rather than the rule. Stars are gonna have egos and be divas and be motivated by different things. Talent trumps all, in any field, and you work around that as much as you can when you're managing that talent. Even Leonard, for all his aversion to media and the spotlight, has been vocal in the past about wanting a bigger role and been publicly skeptical of Pop's promises to give that to him, until it finally happened last season. If you remember the last media day, he threw as much shade at Pop as anyone I can remember. Also, Tony Parker was someone whose motivations weren't always about the team and winning. He didn't really come around until, what, 2010?
(Geez, I've gone on forever. Sorry about that.)
The length of this thread is enough to make Bill Simmons blush (I'm guilty, too), so I'll make this quick. Besides, I want to give Jesus a chance to jump back in the flow.
1) It's unfair of me to simply exclude Tiago from the backup-center conversation, as he's certainly played that role on numerous occasions.
2) I don't think the Spurs will miss Baynes. He was a big body, which was useful in certain matchups with traditional centers, but he had too many moments out of position, and did not have the shot-blocking ability to make up for the lapses.
3) West opted out of a $12 million salary to join the Spurs on a minimum deal. He knows what his role will be.
4) There will be a staggering of minutes, but it's almost impossible to keep either Duncan/Aldridge or Leonard/Green on the floor at all times. Diaw/West and Manu/(backup small forward) lineups will be inevitable, though not necessarily for long stretches of tight games.
5) There was a pretty big reaction to the Aldridge quotes, and I'm one of the few who did not mind them. The Spurs need him to score, and I don't make the leap of translating "I want to get buckets" into "I don't care about team first." He was just being honest. I'd be willing to bet, that even in this golden era of the Spurs Way and all the culture stuff, if you gave the majority of players who've rolled through that locker room truth serum, they'd say the same thing. Kawhi's already saying he wants to be MVP, and yet he's been widely praised as The Perfect Spur ever since his arrival. I dunno, I'm just not concerned at all. I think it's fine to question the defensive impact, but he's going to be deadly on the other side of the ball in the San Antonio system. And I've got zero problem with him wanting to drop 23 points every night.
Going back a little, I wouldn't say it's nitpicking to talk about the big man rotation. We are talking about that, not the bench. Obviously when the bench group Michael mentions is on the court the concerns about defense and rebounding are bigger but they don't disappear in say, a Parker-Ginobili-Green-Diaw-
I just keep coming back to the same issues. Baynes, for all his flaws, played like a center. He contested over 10 shots at the rim per 36 minutes. Splitter, who played a lot with the second unit as recently as the season before last, upped the amount of shot he contested when he wasn't next to Duncan (per Nylon Calculus). West, Aldridge and Diaw are not the same type of player. West contested 4.6 and Aldridge contested 6.2 shots at the rim per 36. Diaw contested a decent 7.3 shots last season but allowed a ridiculously high 57 percent.
As for West's rebounding, it did improve when he wasn't sharing the court with Hibbert but his rebounds were still largely of the uncontested variety, since he almost exclusively played next to Mahinmi when Hibbert rested. This might seem like splitting hairs or using a relatively obscure stat to make a point but it's in fact a great way to understand rebounding roles beyond rebound percentage. These two rebounds are different. The two new additions to the rotation, like most power forwards, grab more uncontested rebounds than contested ones. There's nothing wrong with that when there's a center around to do the physically taxing work that makes it possible. It's not the case with the Spurs, so someone who is not used to doing it will have to.
I'm thrilled by the Spurs' offseason and I'm optimistic, just to be clear. They are a contenders. They could win 60 games and the title. What I am saying is they could have trouble on the defensive boards and almost certainly will have trouble protecting the rim when Duncan's not around. If, like Matthew said at the beginning of this conversation, the offense when Duncan sits is great, then those problems don't matter. The lack of a shooting big and a dive man in the second unit worries me a bit but there is so much offensive talent elsewhere that talking about that does feel nitpicky.
Ultimately -- and I think we will all agree here -- it all comes down to Aldridge. He surely knows he will be on the court with Diaw and West for stretches and is likely fine with that. The key is for him to buy in and do the job of a center, which is different than nominally being one. The physical tools are there. There's no reason why he shouldn't be good on that role part time. He just has refused to do it in the past. That has to change. If it does, it would squelch any concerns about the big man rotation.
While I get Michael's concerns about the remarks he made to USA Today, I'm with Matthew. I'm fine with him wanting to score and being honest about it. What I'm slightly concerned about is his commitment to altering his game on the other end to serve the team. I'm choosing to be cautiously optimistic about it but I don't think we can assume it will happen overnight.
This is probably beating a dead horse, and I'm pretty sure I killed said dead horse, but I'm just not concerned about the loss of Baynes in regard to the second group. There's no question he fits the mold of a more traditional center, and that bigger body can get in the way, but along with those 10 shots contested per 36 minutes was the fact that opponents went at him so consistently at the rim when he was in the game. And it's easy to understand why they did so. He only blocked .7 shots per 36 minutes, and he committed 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes. That's during the regular season, before we talk about his abysmal postseason performance, where he was rendered basically unplayable. Baynes may have played like a center, but outside of very specific types of matchups, he was a major liability when it came to the elite levels of competition. And I promise I'm not discounting his value as a regular-season contributor! That's crucial with this team.
I feel it is important to outline the the difference (and the importance of the difference) between contested and uncontested rebounding for some readers who may view the sport more casually. I assure you, though, this was not lost on me. There absolutely are questions as to whether West could hold up adequately in a role as a primary big, simply based on the fact we've never really seen him do it. But I'm not ready to make the leap and say he can't be that guy. I see numbers that tell me he becomes a better rebounder when his monster center is off the court, and it makes me think he can possibly fill a bigger role in this capacity.
Rebounding isn't all that complicated a practice. It takes effort, but it's not all that complex. West having all these uncontested rebounds is a result of having that big man next to him, a luxury he won't always have in San Antonio, and I get how this raises flags. However, as something to which I keep going back, that second group has always rebounded well from every position, and I don't see there being a need for West to suddenly have to be this dominant presence in the paint based on what we've seen from the Spurs second unit over the last couple of years. He very clearly made a sacrifice here to make a run at a title, and I find it difficult to imagine he did so without the knowledge he'd have a fairly significant change in role. I think he's going to murder second units, and while I believe it will take a while to reach its peak, I think this team is going to be a monster.
But I'm always an optimist when it comes to basically anything in life. I've been scammed before. That also makes me an idiot.
I do want to reiterate: the concerns raised by Jesus, as well as the points brought up by Michael, are crucial. We laugh about it being nitpicking, but Mr. Gomez is right in the sense that, when we're talking about the Western Conference and how unbelievably even it is, every tiny advantage matters. It's going to be one hell of an interesting season. I don't know if the Spurs will put another ring on it, but they're going to be good. Really, really good.