All things must come to an end and the Spurs took a first round exit in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. With so many items for the Spurs to discuss, In the Bonus will be tackling the Spurs off season week-by-week. For now, PtR contributors Jesus Gomez, Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco focus on Manu’s amazing playoff career, the Spurs chances of convincing him to return for another season, Kawhi Leonard, the NBA draft, and who to root for once the Silver & Black are on vacation.
Manu Ginobili became the highest scoring bench player in NBA Playoff history by logging his 2,000th point In Game 5. Is he also the best sixth man in NBA history, in your opinion?
Jesus Gomez: Yeah, he is. There have been better players who have occasionally come off the bench. There are career sixth men who have averaged more points. But no one has had as big an impact on a team’s success while playing that role as Manu has had. He was never a luxury or someone who had to be hidden in certain matchups. His game is as well-rounded as anyone’s. He could have been a starter but accepted to come off the bench because that’s what the team needed.
Marilyn Dubinski: I think he is, and I also think the award should be renamed after him. He never got the recognition he deserved for it because he was starting in his best-of-best seasons, and just because Jamal Crawford has three trophies doesn’t mean he’s the best bench player ever. If not the sixth man award, then something needs to be named after Manu because he is the ultimate model athlete both on and off the court.
Mark Barrington: Probably. It’s mostly because Pop had a crazy idea to have his second-best player come off the bench because he had more value elevating the second unit to an elite level instead of making the starting unit marginally better. The strategy was somewhat dictated by the fact that he was somewhat redundant to Tony Parker in the starting unit as a scoring guard, but it was still brilliant and unconventional.
Bruno Passos: Yes, and I’m not sure it’s close when you look at his production, longevity, and the function he served in elevating those units and making sure the Spurs didn’t lose a beat when the starters came off the floor, before helping close those games out.
J. R. Wilco: I think we could have just stopped the question at “...is he also the best?” and left it at that — I’d have been happy to answer with an enthusiastic YES, but that’s just me.
Give us your odds on El Contusion returning for the 2018-2019 season?
Gomez: I don’t think he’s coming back. I’m not basing this on anything other than intuition. Or maybe I’m just trying to prepare myself in case he retires. Who knows. It just feels like this past season was the bonus one. I doubt there’s another. I’d love to see Ginobili back, of course, but for some reason it’s hard for me to see that happening.
Dubinski: I’m giving the chances of him returning a 6 of 10 (although I still find myself leaning even higher). He got through the season relatively unscathed, and despite playing through pain in the playoffs he showed he still has what it takes to compete. Physically it seems like he can still go, but like always it will come down to emotion: if he wants to be away from his family so much and whether or not he’ll miss the game once he calls it quits. I feel like his competitiveness wins out one more time and he returns.
Barrington: My heart says he’s coming back, 100%. I fell off my bike yesterday and hit my head on the pavement*, so it doesn’t get a vote. [*I was wearing a helmet, and I’m OK. I passed the concussion protocol.]
Passos: The year may have taken a greater toll on Manu than he anticipated, between playing more minutes than the two previous seasons, taking on a larger role than expected, and dealing with the off-court stuff. I’d give him a 40% chance of coming back.
Wilco: Over the past few end-of-seasons, Manu has said that he’d take some time off to talk with his family and see how his body felt before he made his decision. This year, he said he’d wait a while and decide whether he felt like an ex-athlete. Hmm.
I think it’s possible that Manu might need to know whether Kawhi’s return is certain before he’s ready to commit to another go. Which means that in my mind the whole SA/KL saga is doubly important, because it will likely determine the fates of two players.
Now that the season is over it’s time to hand out Spurs-centric awards. Who was the team’s MVP (other than Aldridge) and who was the LVP?
Gomez: There are a couple of deserving candidates, but I’m going to go with Patty Mills. He was asked to fill a featured role that didn’t really suit him, and he did it well. Until Gay’s return from injury, Patty was often the only player who could create his own shot, aside from Aldridge. He played a career-high in minutes and started more games than ever, and he was solid. That’s enough to get the nod from me this year.
I almost gave my LVP vote to Kawhi, just because he barely played, but then changed my mind. As much as it pains me to do it, I’m going to give it to Tony Parker. He was the most disappointing guy in terms of expectation vs. production, to me. He was a disaster after being demoted to a bench role. Hopefully he’ll be healthier next season and will find a way to remain an asset for a few more years.
Dubinski: Other than LaMarcus Aldridge? Usually it’s not hard to find a runner up on the Spurs, but this is tough. Rudy Gay was arguably the Spurs’ second-best player when healthy, but he missed too much time to make the cut. The heart wants to go Manu for being the Spurs’ heart and soul and coming up big for them when it mattered the most (like in the clutch, which is what an MVP does). Stats like win shares, points, etc say it’s a toss-up between Kyle Anderson, Patty Mills and Pau Gasol, which tells you what a drop-off there was after LMA. Seriously though, Aldridge had better get some real MVP votes. It will be a travesty if he doesn’t make the top 5 (or heck, even the top 3).
For LVP, I think I’ll go with Joffrey Lauvergne. He was supposed to be that solid third big who provided some defense and energy off the bench with some shooting range as an added bonus. The energy was always there, but a dislocated finger robbed him of his touch on offense for most of the season, and the defense left a lot to be desired. It got to the point where he was almost unplayable and the Spurs were better off staggering Gasol and Aldridge. He didn’t have many expectations coming in, but even what few there were he failed to meet, more so than anyone else.
Barrington: LaMarcus was so much better than anyone else in Silver and Black, it’s hard to figure out who is in second place. But it’s probably Manu, despite not being able to play huge minutes due to being older than dirt. Game 5 against the Warriors was pretty indicative of how things have gone for him this year. He single-handedly brought the Spurs back into contention late, but he also made the errant pass to LaMarcus in the last minute that ended the comeback. He’s great, but he can’t do it himself.
Least Valuable Player? Honestly, that doesn’t sound like a fair question. A certain player missed virtually the entire season, but maybe how the team struggled with his absence proves how valuable he would have been. Maybe the LVP should go to someone who had the talent to contribute, but never got significant time off the bench, like Brandon Paul or Derrick White. But if forced to make a choice, I’d go for Joffrey Lauvergne. He seemed to be a marginally talented end of the bench center, but his defensive rotations were abysmal all season long, and I cringed whenever he entered the game. Bryn Forbes gets a lot of complaints from fans, but he played the role that he was put into by the coaching staff and got better throughout the year. I think he will eventually develop into a serviceable NBA player.
Passos: The drop-off from Aldridge to whoever was number two is drastic. If Gasol hadn’t gotten hurt and had his production taper off towards the end of the year, it may have been him. Ginobili provided some of the biggest moments, but the aggregate production wasn’t quite there. I’ll say Kyle Anderson, although Patty Mills also deserves credit for filling in wherever needed.
Wilco: When a team’s entire attack is built around a single player, that guy is ipso facto your MVP. There is no doubt that LMA filled that role this year for San Antonio. His production led the team in every way — statistically and figuratively, on offense and defense. In short, there’s nothing the team asked of him that he didn’t perform.
For my money, the LVP would have to be Lauvergne, which stinks because I love his game, his attitude ... pretty much everything about him. In the preseason, he added a solid post game to a flashy passing game and I was excited to see what he would do. But an early-season finger injury derailed his year and he dropped out of the rotation.
The Spurs have their highest draft pick in years. Who catches your eye as a future Spur?
Gomez: I’m not a big college basketball guy and haven’t really ramped up my research for the draft, so I reserve the right to change my mind. Right now, tough, I like Jontay Porter if they go with a big and Dzanan Musa if they go with a wing. Porter can hit outside shots and be disruptive on defense. Musa has been a pro for a while and can really score. Either would make a good addition.
Dubinski: I didn’t pay enough attention to college basketball to name many names, but unless a clear lottery pick drops into their lap I think they should do what they always do: go for positional need. Getting a young big to start grooming for the future would be wise, or maybe even a shooting guard with the futures of Manu and Danny Green unknown. Because my knowledge doesn’t extend far beyond this state, I’ll list Texas A&M center Robert Williams or Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith as two talented players who are expected to go mid-first round and could fit the bill.
Barrington: I don’t really watch much college basketball, so I’m not much help here. I like Mo Bamba a lot, but zero chance he’ll still be there when the Spurs pick.
Passos: I guess we’re looking for a piece that fits well alongside Murray and, presumably, Kawhi, right? If that’s the case, a multi-tooled wing or a big that could slide between four and five would be good. Baites-Diop? Zhaire Smith? Kevin Knox? Knowing that PATFO normally have their eye of Sauron fixed more on the west coast, I’d keep an eye out for Troy Brown.
Wilco: I haven’t a clue.
So, who ya gonna root for now?
Gomez: I was a fan of the idea behind The Process. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are fun to watch and Brett Brown is the coach. Go Sixers!
Dubinski: Once the Spurs season ends it’s usually more about who I‘m rooting against than for. I’ll never root for Golden State, and I’m not that fond of the Rockets either. Out of the West I’d probably root for the underdog Pelicans and Jazz, out of the East probably the Raptors or 76ers. I’m past caring if LeBron James wins anything or not.
Barrington: I like the Pelicans, because Anthony Davis is awesome. And they’re playing the Warriors. I think the Raptors will win the East, but I like the 76ers. Basically I will cheer for any team that’s up against Golden State, so I expect to be on the losing side when the Warriors win the championship again this year.
Passos: Ricky Rubio’s injury, and Game 1 versus the Rockets in general, took the wind out of the sails of my temporary Jazz fandom. I don’t have a horse in the race at this point, but I would probably like to see the Sixers come out of the East to take on the Warriors (I don’t see Houston beating them at full strength) in a matchup that could have shades of the 2012 clash between the team of the present (the Heat) versus the potential team of the future (the Thunder).
Wilco: Like Marilyn, more than anything else, the playoffs are about who I don’t want to win. So as long as Golden State doesn’t repeat, I’ll be a happy camper.
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