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The State of the Spurs’ small-ball

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The latest installment of PtR’s staff roundtable covers small-ball and lots of other topics.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Happy holidays, Pounders. This week PtR contributors Mark Barrington, Marilyn Dubinski, Bruno Passos, Jesus Gomez, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco tackle SB Nations “what every team needs for Christmas theme” along with thoughts and predictions for February’s All-Star weekend. In addition, commentary on the Spurs’ progress as they and the league continue the trend toward small ball, thoughts on the Lakers retiring two numbers on the same night for the same player and the team responds to Gospursgofrommadrid’s question about Pau’s $48 million dollar contract.

The questions posted today were provided to the writers Friday. For questions involving the Spurs matches against the Sacramento Kings, Brooklyn Nets, or New York Knicks, check back next Tuesday.

Without further ado, let’s get in the roundtable that doubles as my family’s dining table the other 6 nights out of the week.

Complete the following sentence: All the Spurs need for Christmas is ...

Mark Barrington: They need to get everyone healthy so that Pop can play set rotations and the guys can get used to playing together again. I originally wanted to say ‘nothing’ because they are so fortunate, as we fans are too, that it seems greedy to ask for more. But I will.

Marilyn Dubinski: A consistent starting line-up. Saturday against the Kings was Pop's 13th different starting line-up, and the lack of continuity is making it difficult for the Spurs to find a rhythm and know their roles. Once Danny Green is healthy and Kawhi Leonard can play in every game and for more than one half, it will get much easier for them to get a roll and reel off long winning streaks.

Bruno Passos: ...the Kawhi Leonard of old.

Jesus Gomez: for all their players to be healthy.

J. R. Wilco: For LMA and Kawhi to play well together.

Who from the Spurs should be invited to the All-Star weekend?

Barrington: LaMarcus should start in the All Star game. Bryn, as a second year player, should be in the Rising Stars challenge, or whatever it’s called. Dejounte should buy a ticket and sit in the stands, because this year is going to be his last chance to see the game from that vantage point for a while. Everyone else should take the time off and spend time with their family—or trainer, in Kawhi’s case.

Dubinski: The only guaranteed thing at this point is LaMarcus Aldridge participating in the main event. Other than that, the only other thing that seems even remotely possible would be Dejounte Murray in the Rising Stars Game. Slim-to-no possibility is Bryn Forbes in the three-point challenge, but he's too much of an unknown, and 41% on three attempts per game isn't impressive enough. My dream would be Manu Ginobili in the skills challenge, even merely as an honoree, but that will never happen.

Passos: Aldridge's game is not exactly built for the razzle dazzle of the All-Star Game, but he absolutely deserves to be there nonetheless. I'm not opposed to everyone else getting the time off, especially since that's the time where the team is expecting/home to be at full strength once again.

Gomez: Aldridge should be a lock for the main event. He's going to be super boring to watch, but he deserves to be there. I don't think anyone else has a great case to be included in the other festivities. It's alright. We got to watch Matt Bonner in the Three-Point Shootout a few years back. That's all I ever wanted in terms of Spurs representation on All-Star weekend.

Wilco: Kawhi was last year’s no-brainer. This year it’s Aldridge. Leonard may be able to play enough to earn his way in as well, but the ASG is more about who the fans want to see, so I won’t be surprised if the Klaw makes it in too.

How do feel about the new All-Star game captain and draft format?

Barrington: Hate it. Now we will have an unwatchable game with no regional identity. I won’t know who to root for. The old format was bad, this will be worse.

Dubinski: I know the players like it, but I think it's corny and could lead to some pettiness and player grudges. Like, suppose Kevin Durant is the captain and Russell Westbrook squeaks in as a reserve (side note: he shouldn't be an All-Star this year, but you never know with the reigning MVP). What happens if he doesn't pick Westbrook first or at all? The media goes crazy, conspiracies fly, etc. I also think it will lead to some odd line-ups, even more unwatchable basketball than it was before, and so on. In short, I don't think this format will last.

Passos: It briefly adds something new to the mix, but the overall product will probably still feel stale, especially since we'll be deprived of actually watching the schoolyard-style picking of teams. I was disappointed to hear that, since it seemed like the NBA was going down the right track by making it more of a spectacle with the draft style.

Gomez: The idea wasn't bad. It would have added some excitement to the event. The hyper competitiveness of those guys might have kicked in after being ranked by their peers on national television. Maybe someone who was picked late would have played harder, to prove the captain wrong. Now that we are not actually going to see the draft, though, the stakes are lower. I expect the game to be as boring as it's been in recent years.

Wilco: I think it’s ridiculous, but what else could they do with nearly all of the biggest names in the West now?

Gospursgofrommadrid wants the roundtable take on "why The Spurs resigned Gasol for $48 million."

Barrington: You got me. I don’t think Pau is overpaid, and if you look at the numbers he’s actually a bargain this year. But I have no idea why they gave the superannuated Spaniard another year on his contract this summer. Maybe they felt leadership from an all time NBA great was important to the team. I’m just going to trust that Buford knows what he’s doing.

Dubinski: I have no way of knowing what goes on behind close doors, but quite frankly he's mostly living up to it so far. He can rebound, shoot threes, pass, protect the rim at a decent enough rate, and that's exactly what everyone wants but rarely gets in a center these days. They also probably like his leadership and chemistry with Aldridge. I'm not going to hate on Gasol for the contract considering he opted out and would have taken less had the Spurs needed him to, plus it's only two years guaranteed. In the end, I trust in PATFO and don't think this deal is hurting them as badly as some think.

Passos: I think Zach Lowe offered a perfect snapshot of both the immediate fan reaction and the team's perspective in one of his 10 Things I Love pieces earlier this year:

"I remember debating the Pau Gasol signing with a Spurs official two summers ago. I was underwhelmed. He was astonished anyone could feel that way about even the creaky, aging version of Gasol. "He knows how to play," the official said. He kept repeating that. He seemed confused that I didn't find "knowing how to play" a super-compelling reason to sign someone."

Count me among the incredulous majority when news of that contract broke, but Gasol has been amazing thus far. Even better, his game is so predicated on his size, high basketball IQ and soft shooting touch that his contract may actually look just fine by the end of year two.

Gomez: I think we explained it at the time. The short version is that they probably convinced him to opt out by telling him they were going to give him a longer contract for whatever figure they could fit below the tax line. In the past, they had signed everyone else first and then given Tim Duncan the rest of their money, so there's precedent. In this case, the figure would have been around $9 million had they actually signed Jonathon Simmons. Since Simmons left, they had a lot more money left. Because the Spurs are the Spurs, they still honored their word. That's what I believe happened after looking at the timeline, anyway.

Wilco: Besides everything said above (which I agree with) PATFO loves smart players, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

The Spurs have been putting a lot of small ball into effect. How are they looking thus far and how will they stack up against other small ball squads?

Barrington: I don’t think small ball is the Spurs strength. They can beat most teams by playing big. I still think they have problems matching up with really good small ball teams like the Warriors and I hope Pop has a plan to counter that. I haven’t seen it yet.

Dubinski: They definitely haven't been as potent at small ball as they have been in the past, but that probably has a lot to do with how little Kawhi Leonard has played since he tends to be the one that keeps the defense and rebounding up even without two big man playing for the Spurs. Still, against most teams the Spurs are at their best playing big and exploiting other teams' lack of size, but I feel like we can't properly judge their small-ball play until Kawhi is back to full minutes.

Passos: They still seem their best when Pau and LaMarcus are on the floor, stretching defenses and exploiting mismatches down low. That said, the small-ball lineups have been pretty fun and I think, outside of when Ginobili is playing the three, pretty effective.

Gomez: It's been a slow process that is still ongoing. Pop has barely experimented with ultra small units featuring Rudy Gay at center, for example. Not having Leonard available has not helped, either. But I think they are making some progress. In the past 10 games they've played small more. Against the Kings, Pop stayed small even when Sacramento had two bigs on the floor for stretches. Hopefully now that Leonard is back, we'll see even better small units out there. The Spurs are going to need to be able to downsize to match up with the Rockets, Thunder and Warriors, so there's no reason not to continue to embrace small ball.

Wilco: I don’t think we’ve really seen the Spurs’ real small ball units — and we won’t until Kawhi is healthy and the playoffs demand that Pop switches from the big lineups he leans on during the regular season.

Kobe Bryant had two jerseys retired last week. Should both jerseys have been retired? If only one was should have been retired, then which one and why?

Barrington: Meh. It’s the Lakers’ decision. If they retired four different numbers for Kobe, I wouldn’t care.

Dubinski: I have no clue. I always forget he played with two different numbers, and I had to cheat and look-up his stats in each jersey to see if there's a clear winner, and there really isn't. He won more championships in No. 8 but really made a name for himself in 24 (without Shaq by his side). If nothing else retiring both numbers was just the Lakers feeding his massive ego.

Passos: Since he accomplished plenty with both, the more recent one makes the most sense to me. Danny Green should take note, just in case.

Gomez: Eh, it's fine. Different teams handle jersey retirements different ways. Avery Johnson's No. 6 hangs from the rafters at the AT&T Center. Most franchises wouldn't have retired his jersey, but the Spurs did. If the Lakers wanted to retire both Kobe jerseys, that's their prerogative. Maybe a more interesting discussion would be how Kobe's legacy is getting reshaped in front of out eyes and how the darker parts of his life and career and being brushed aside in the rush to exalt him, but that's a topic for another time.

Wilco: I could not care less than I do. I am literally at my lowest care setting, which I also call the Kobe Zone. He’s an amazing talent that simply fails to spark my imagination.


You can join in the discussion in the comments below. To have your question posed to the Roundtable, email Jeph Duarte.