This is my third Stocking Stuffers post for Pounding the Rock. I wrote my first Stocking Stuffers in December 2014. It was largely about a Lakers – Warriors game I attended in LA on December 23 during ex-Spur Steve Kerr’s first season coaching the Warriors. Surprisingly, a weak Lakers team blew out the young Warriors. If we knew then what we now know about how that Warriors team would do over the next few seasons, we could have made a great deal of money in Las Vegas.
The next Stocking Stuffers was the following December, after the Spurs played at Minnesota on Christmas Eve. During that game, the the Timberwolves television announcers did a detailed comparison of the careers of Kevin Garnett and the Great Tim Duncan, the best power forwards of their generation. Unlike most local announcers, the T’Wolves announcers were not homers, and acknowledged that TD prevailed in that comparison, even before they got to the number of rings each won. (Note: The Great Duncan had more.)
My post also mentioned that the T’Wolves were celebrating Ugly Christmas Sweater Night that night. This meant that every commercial break was bracketed by shots of Minnesota fans in the stands wearing all types of sweaters, and led to this line:
It was “Ugly Christmas Sweater Night” for the game. From what they showed before and after commercials, about 15,000 fans tied for first place.
I mention this because last Friday was National Ugly Sweater Day, and my office celebrated with a spirited contest. Sadly, I tied for second place (along with everyone else except the winner) with this ugly beauty:
All of which leads to this season’s Stocking Stuffers. In a change from prior years, I decided to write about what I would put into the stocking of each of the current Spurs, from youngest to oldest. First, the young:
Lonnie Walker IV: Easiest gift of all. I am gifting more time on the floor, which will help the game slow down for the speedy young SkyWalker.
Dejounte Murray: I gift more time on the court with Derrick White. Admittedly “more time” is a low bar because almost any time Murray gets on the floor with White will be more than they get now. At the present, they generally are on the court together only as they pass each other subbing in or out of the game for the other.
Trey Lyles: Surprisingly, Lyles is younger that White, which I didn’t know until I made this list. Lyles has grown on me as time goes by. A decent defender and a good rebounder, he has an air of reliability about him. I gift time with Chip Engelland to help make Trey into an average to good three-point shooter; he can be a solid role player.
Jakob Poeltl: Other than an “R” in his last name to match the English pronunciation, all Jakob needs to be even more productive is a bit of respect from the referees. He is a remarkably good rim-protector who can block and alter shots without fouling — he just needs the refs to recognize it. Over time, they will.
Derrick White: See Murray’s gift.
Bryn Forbes: Once Pop implements my gifts to Dejounte and Derrick, Forbes needs to embrace the role of sharpshooter off the bench. Perhaps the Spurs have an Aussie and an Italian on the roster who can assist in teaching Bryn the right mind-set to thrive in that role.
Now, the “old.” Remarkably, the Spurs have no one between Forbes at 26 and DeMar DeRozan at 30 years old. Put another way, the Spurs don’t have a single player in his “prime.”
DeMar DeRozan: You always have one family member who is difficult to get the right gift for. DeMar is that guy. How about a gift of the willingness to take more three 3-pointers per game, and to do so without committing a Vinny? (a.k.a. stepping on the three-point line)
Patty Mills: I gift Patty five more years of being the most enthusiastic Spur, and then a coaching job, either with the Spurs or the Australian National Team (perhaps as player-coach). I would love to see Patty bounce of the bench in a suit and tie, giving a hand-up to any of his players who take a charge or dive for a loose ball. What a joy Patty is.
DeMarre Carroll: Either some playing time from Pop, or the gift of another organization that wants a veteran 3-and-D guy who has been lost in the numbers in San Antonio.
Marco Belinelli: Perhaps Marco too would be a good addition to a contender. For instance, a good gift for Marco would be a return to the 76ers, who desperately need a shooter off the bench. They surely have good memories of Marco’s time in Philadelphia.
Rudy Gay: Rudy has fit in much better with the Spurs than I expected. The one thing I would gift Rudy this year is a return to last year’s ability to shoot threes (40%) instead of this year’s (27%). It would be good for him and for the team.
LaMarcus Aldridge: We don’t need to gift LaMarcus what he already has — a game that will age well. LMA has strength, shooting and smarts: skills that don’t fade like jumping ability and athleticism. Instead, I gift him the ability to pass out of the double team. An inside pivot, followed by an overhead pass to a shooter on the other wing, would destroy that double team. No need to thank me.
Coach Tim Duncan: The patience to work with players not as talented as the Great Duncan was. Yes, sometimes we give a gift that the recipient already has.
Coach Becky Hammon: Let’s make it official. Our gift to Becky is an announcement from the Spurs that if and when Pop retires, the Next Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs will be . . .
Coach Gregg Popovich: Finally, for Pop’s stocking: a late-season winning streak that pushes the Spurs into the 7th seed, a first round upset over either team from Los Angeles, a 2020 Olympic Gold Medal for the USA and Pop — followed by a tenured position as professor back at Pomona-Pitzer or the Air Force Academy. Perhaps teaching a class on how to persuade a group of people with diverse skills and backgrounds to collectively strive for, and achieve, common goals. Because he may be the best ever to at doing that. I suppose Pop could also swing by the gym every once a while to lend a hand.