I know what you're thinking. You won't say it, not out loud, but after the Spurs rearranged the Mavericks' sock drawer Sunday night in a 112-83 blowout, you're thinking it. "All these blowouts. It's a bit repetitive. I know there was the Knick game and the Cavs game, but a few more competitive games every now and then wouldn't be so bad. I mean, what is there to talk about after all these beatdowns? We can't even point put that the Spurs won big despite the Legacy Big 3 scoring only 11 points, because that's already happened this year. I don't mind, but the fact that we've already broken the franchise record for double-digit wins in a season means a lot of these games are...no, I can't. But, it is. It's a little...boring."
And even if you don't think that, I'll say it. It is a little boring. For a fan like me who often doesn't get the baby to bed or even get home from work in time to catch the start of the game, it's a bit uninspiring to check in and see that the proceedings have already entered Boban Time. But I'll take boring. Boring is fine, boring is good. Because the alternative is for things to be interesting, and interesting is a double-edged sword that gives a clean shave and then slices your nose off. Interesting is what happened last year? Remember last year, when we were losing back to back games in triple overtime, spending months trapped in the 7th seed and losing a different player to injury every night?
Yeah, I'll take boring.
And if there's one explanation for the Spurs' re-embraced the boring, methodical persona of a monotone assassin, it's the bench. How many times have you watched a game where the starters have gotten out of the gate a little punch drunk, only for the bench corps to check in, or even a single substitution like Boris, or Manu or Simmons, and you think to yourself "Wow, sometimes I think our bench might be as good as our starters"?
But this, too, is even a little predictable. The Spurs have had a good bench for the last half-decade. If there was an All-Bench team, our guys would be First Team every year. But something's changed this year. The Manu-led Foreign Legion of years past has morphed into something more advanced, something deadlier. Gone are the weak links, the laughingstocks, the hands-of-marble Jeff Ayers types. Even Boban is a leering death machine who picks up technicals, rather than a sideshow or, in the words of Pop, "some odd thing." There's no walking question mark like Nando de Colo who gives you visions but also makes you cross your fingers. Even this year's uber-athletic, James Anderson-esque project player is making real contributions as one of the first guys off the bench.
So if the bench is no longer Manu and his Merry Men, what is it? To find out, we have to determine which member best typifies the leaner, meaner second unit. I already mentioned Boban and J Simms, so let's talk about some of the others.
It seems generally accepted that the "New Big 3" consists of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green. But whereas the Legacy Big 3 are all superstars on the NBA and international level, the other three are a superstar, an emerging superstar, and an elite role player who depends on streaky three point shooting to maintain his focus and therefore be playable. Since his rookie season last year, I've repeatedly thought how natural it would be for Kyle Anderson to become the third leg of the Spurs N.B.3. He's patient, long of span, maintains control, is
slow methodical deliberate, and he has experience running an offense. How terrifying would it be to see one of the world's best shooting big men flanked by two lanky python-armed wings sporting cornrows and a high fade? Anderson's biggest problem at this point may be that he plays on such a deep bench to begin with, and that Simmons has been so consistent. Anderson isn't a spark like Simmons, let alone like Manu, but he has something that neither of those guys have got: an inner calm. With some more practice, he'll soon be scaring the daylights out of people.
Remember the "original" Patty Mills? He was a loveable little gunner with a Crocodile Dundee accent, who only saw significant run once a playoff seed had been sewn up. This time last year, Pounders were debating on these very pages whether Patty or Cory Joseph deserved the role of Junior Playcaller. Joseph is back in his native Canada, but Mills isn't just the first backup by default; he's the entrenched second-unit point guard (who often plays alongside Tony), with improved playmaking skills, a lean figure, and the ability to go "Patty Thrills" at a moment's notice. Of the bench guys, he demonstrates better than anyone the gradual improvement and trust in the process that's under-girded the Spurs' evolution over the past half-decade.
In an interview Monday on Bleacher Report's XM Radio channel, Jesse Blanchard talked about the evolution of the power forward position. In a discussion centered around Draymond Green, Blanchard specifically named Boris Diaw as an example of a chameleonic modern 4 who "turns games in your favor." Perhaps you think of Boris more for his "Teatime" persona, or for things like this:
And, yeah, he is. But he's also a guy who can single-handedly swing a playoff series:
A big component of the Spurs' bench success has always been the absence of knuckleheads. They've been perfectly willing to let other teams pay the Matt Barnes or Lance Stephenson types. On those rare occasions when PATFO has taken on a potential powder keg in exchange for their on-court moxie, they've quickly pulled the trigger whenever circumstances even hinted at becoming harmful. In David West, the Spurs have found a rare combination of skill, professionalism, and toughness. No, he won't rip your head off in retaliation for a hard foul. Oh wait, yes he will. At the very least, standing up to him would be like standing up to a steel pole set in concrete. He's also steadied the team in some of the few recent games where the outcome was in doubt, or when Tim and LaMarcus couldn't get the post game going. West has also done some spot starting duty, since he's a guy who once scored 44 points in a game. The Spurs having David West on their bench is like having a pet lion in your front yard and then keeping a backup water buffalo in the garage, just in case.
He's still around, isn't he? Oops. I guess that ruins my whole take. Unless the playoffs come around and he does something like this: