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The case for starting Dewayne Dedmon

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The 27-year-old center is already carving a valuable niche for the Spurs this season.

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time. We’ve seen enough. Dewayne Dedmon, a 27-year-old journeyman who has played 162 NBA games for four franchises, needs to be in the Spurs starting lineup alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.

Yes, the guy who didn’t start playing basketball until he was 18 years old because his mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness should start instead of Pau Gasol, the guy the Spurs signed to a two-year, $30 million contract in July. Later, San Antonio nabbed Dedmon off the bargain bin for two-years, $6 million.

Even Golden State, after acquiring Kevin Durant, was pursuing Dedmon in free agency. It’s easy to see why teams were interested.

Before the season, Gregg Popovich called Dedmon “Bruce Bowen in a bigger guy’s body.” Pop later added that he wanted Dedmon to “play defense, rebound, block shots and run the floor.”

Dedmon has lived up to Popovich’s billing thus far, with his latest excursion off the bench resulting in 10 points in 16 minutes. He had five field goals, three of which were alley-oop dunks. Dedmon has been wonderful; San Antonio has outscored its opponents by 91 points in the 271 minutes he’s played this season. People have noticed. There’s a growing sense among NBA cognoscenti that he should play more often.

While he won’t match Gasol’s deft passing touch or his scoring prowess — Pau chipped in 17 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in Wednesday night’s 108-101 win over Boston — Dedmon is the ideal long-term frontcourt partner for Aldridge.

Gasol isn’t a natural fit for the starting lineup when he’s paired with Aldridge. Both players need the ball to be productive, whereas Dedmon can drift to the periphery of the offense and still help the team’s bottom line. Gasol and Aldridge are too similar in skillset. The double-whammy occurs when teams isolate Leonard on the wing and attack either Aldridge or Gasol with impunity. Place Dedmon in Gasol’s place and that’s one fewer weak defender to pick apart.

Dedmon’s inclusion to the starting lineup makes intuitive sense. He’s comfortable defending in space. Aldridge isn’t. His rudimentary offensive game, consisting of alley-oop dunks, put-backs and shots close to the rim allows Aldridge to thrive on the perimeter. Dedmon prefers to roll to the basket; Aldridge enjoys picking and popping his defenders to death. They wouldn’t get in each other’s way and that’s half the battle.

The Aldridge-Dedmon pairing has all the potential to succeed, without the frightening downside of the Aldridge-Gasol duo. San Antonio has played 430 minutes this season with Aldridge and Gasol on the floor, the third-most common two-man lineup combo on the team, and they’ve been outscored by 1.1 points per 100 possessions in that time span. That isn’t embarrassing, but it’s also not what we expect from a Spurs starting lineup.

Besides, even if Gasol comes off the bench, it doesn’t mean he’ll be relegated to 14 minutes a night. Popovich doesn’t have to re-jigger his entire rotation around to make ends meet. It’s more about when Gasol plays, than how much he plays. His minutes can remain in the 24-28 range, but if he’s playing with David Lee and Davis Bertans — guys who highlight his strengths — against reserve bigs, Gasol’s production and efficiency should improve.

Constructing optimal five-man lineup combinations doesn’t mean starting the best five players and moving on. It’s far more nuanced in scope. It’s an inexact science that requires a thorough analysis of the skills and attributes that compliment — or detract from — one another.

Dedmon is the answer to the Spurs puzzle. Now it’s a question of whether Popovich takes a leap of faith to bench a six-time All-Star in favor of a man who has never exceeded 15 minutes per game in a season.

Game ball

Dewayne Dedmon: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 alley-oop dunks, 1 steal, 5-6 shooting, 16 minutes.

Kawhi is the obvious choice here, because he led the team in points (26), dished out six assists, knocked down all seven of his free throw attempts and made 53 percent of his field goals. But you can make the case for Kawhi in 95 percent of games this season so I’m giving the game ball to Dedmon, who played his tail off on both ends of the floor and played the perfect game for a Spurs backup big. It’s a shame he only received 16 minutes of playing time; he was superb.

Quote(s) of the night

"The last time I had a guy who could jump like that for lobs it was Tim Duncan."

— Tony Parker, future stand-up comedian

"Tim (Duncan) is the Jedi master of everything.”

— Danny Green (via Jeff McDonald)

By the numbers

  • 3: alley-oop dunks for the new Lob City Spurs. San Antonio Express-News Jeff McDonald reported that the Spurs have 17 (or 16) alley-oop dunks this year. They had 18 all last season.
  • 8: straight games with 20+ points for Kawhi, his second-longest streak of his career.
  • 11: consecutive victories against the Celtics. Brad Stevens, who is in his fourth season as coach of the Celtics, has not beaten the Spurs in his tenure (0-8). Tim Duncan was a sprightly 34-year-old kid the last time Boston beat San Antonio.
  • 20: wins. The Spurs are the second team in the NBA to reach the 20-win threshold this season, joining the Golden State Warriors.
  • 33: assists on 44 field goals for San Antonio. That’s the Spurs’ second-highest assist total of the season.

#analysis

  • I have a piping hot basketball take, but hear me out. Dedmon is averaging 14.2 minutes per game this season. I think he should play more. *end of hot take*
  • Gregg Popovich played a Patty Mills-Manu Ginobili-Kyle Anderson-Davis Bertans-Dewayne Dedmon lineup to begin the fourth quarter, which is already one of my favorite lineups. Swap out Anderson with Jonathon Simmons or Leonard and it’s even better.
  • So the elephant in the room needs to be addressed. Before the season, I wrote about David Lee. Here’s a quote from this year’s watchability rankings, which measured how fun each Spurs player is to watch. “I might as well admit that I have not hopped aboard the David Lee bandwagon. If there was a David Lee bandwagon and it was the only mode of transportation in the entire world and I was late for work, I would still not ride the David Lee bandwagon because I am most definitely not on the David Lee bandwagon. That's how much I am not on the David Lee bandwagon.” To be fair I did later write that Lee isn’t a “terrible player” but that isn’t enough to save me here. Through 25 games, it’s apparent that Lee is indeed fun to watch — he’s filled the Boris Diaw role better than Kyle Anderson has — and he’s in fact a productive player for the Spurs bench. I am pleasantly surprised because I thought he was done. Now, if you excuse me, I’ll take three slices of humble pie to go.

Twitter highlights

Taco Bell menu item of the game

*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. It's in my Twitter bio (@quixem), after all. Direct any negativity towards Taco Bell in the comments below. It's cool. I don't mind.

Let’s go with the Doritos Loco taco, which is a fun variation of an old favorite. Because the Spurs attempted a bunch of alley-oop dunks, which are a fun variation of a regular dunk.

And that’s a wrap. Until next time ...