With the playoffs on the horizon, Joe Bendiez and I wanted to get our thoughts across on various topics relevant to the Spurs — most notably, our alarming size disadvantage and the possibility of winning a championship with this current team.
(Editor’s aside: I don’t know the exact logistics of a roundtable but considering it’s just the two of us, maybe the term ’roundtable’ isn’t relevant in this instance. Please disregard this and pretend that our hypothetical roundtable actually makes sense.)
Do you agree with Popovich’s decision to rest the Big Three against Utah and in general?
Joe Bendiez: Yes. Popovich has received a lot of flack for his decision, but you have to realize how physical Utah is down low and at the time, the Big Three needed to be 100% for the Lakers. It was not the best idea to leave them home in San Antonio, because I can relate to Spurs fans not living in San Antonio. I remember when Pop sat Duncan during a road game against Oklahoma City, but Popovich’s four rings speak for themselves. I don’t mind resting guys when the playoffs are a few weeks off, but in general, I would like the Big Three to play often to prevent rustiness.
Quixem Ramirez: Long answer: I find it very difficult to find faults in the best coach of my generation, a coach that should, in all intents and purposes, challenge Tom Thibodeau for Coach of the Year. Wayne Vore of The Big Fundamental coined a stat — minutes per day — which, basically, is a much better way for us to identify rest patterns. Pop realizes this. So, intuitively, he chose the second game of a home-road back-to-back (umm thanks NBA schedule makers?) game against Utah. With the move, Pop manufactured two days of rest for his three best players in a game that was still winnable despite 29.2 percent shooting from behind the arc. It didn’t work out perfectly but I’ll argue vehemently that the move was still beneficial. Short answer: Yes.
Was the Laker game an indictment of our deficient frontcourt size?
JB: Very much so. Andrew Bynum had a great game, and had the obvious advantage over Dejuan Blair. San Antonio needs to continue to get Boris Diaw acquainted and involve Tiago Splitter, but also, the frontcourt’s success depends greatly on Tony Parker. If TP9 drives and is aggressive, more defenders swarm to the paint creating open shooters. If the Spurs can get over their recent three-point woes, the Lakers, or any big front line for that matter, would not be as much of a tall order (no pun intended.) Size is an issue, but trust in whatever adjustments Popovich makes in the playoffs.
QR: Kinda. Yes, we are a little small and prone to difficult frontcourts. But, really, who isn’t? The Grizzlies and Lakers are rare because they have two guys who are excellent down low. In the NBA, it’s pretty difficult to find one quality big man, much less two. Spurs fans shouldn’t be surprised that we are vulnerable in this regard; I certainly wasn’t. The extent of the damage was surprising, though, and, admittedly, a little alarming. But, with a few tweaks, the Spurs are still good enough to win a seven game playoff series against a team with an imposing frontcourt.
Who should earn the most minutes — DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw?
JB: Matt Bonner. The Red Rocket’s role is crystal clear to every Spurs fan, but some don’t realize how he isn’t just a three-point shooter. Bonner spreads the floor so well, which is why the Thunder always seem to struggle with the Spurs. Bonner forces post players to go outside of their zones, and as mentioned, it’s time for San Antonio to get over this drought and rain three’s. Bonner may not be as wide as Diaw and Blair, but he is a bit taller. Right now Diaw still needs a bit more time to truly be immersed in the system, and Dejuan Blair has to show some sort of consistency in his game.
QR: Boris Diaw. While he’s only appeared in eight games, I already like what I see from him. Diaw’s defense — which passes my “eye test” after watching him check Dirk Nowitzki — makes him much more valuable than Blair. He’s not the best rebounder of the bunch or the best shooter but he’s serviceable in both facets. When you also consider his propensity to create efficient offense, Diaw will give the Spurs more options offensively without detracting from the team defensively.
Who is the ideal first round opponent for the Spurs?
JB: Denver Nuggets. While they are barely holding on to a thread, Denver would provide a nice tune-up for the postseason. There isn’t one position battle the Spurs wouldn’t be able match. Also, the Nuggets finish the season with a tough slate that includes the Lakers, Clippers, Thunder, and Magic in their last eight games. The Nuggets haven’t played the best away from home, and the Spurs offense would be a nightmare for the Nugget defense. The Spurs could easily win this in four or five, but the only way I could see this happening is if San Antonio can earn the top seed.
QR: I’ve been running a little long with my responses so I’ll just choose the Phoenix Suns. If the Suns miss the playoffs (1.5 GB behind Denver), I’d have to pick Denver.
What potential opponent scares you the most in the playoffs?
JB: Memphis Grizzlies. Thursday was one thing, but a series with the Grizzlies would take a toll on San Antonio’s front court. They are an aggressive group who have done well recently, and we all know about that home crowd. They are great defensively, and out of any team in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies pose the biggest threat. They have the mindset they can beat San Antonio in a playoff series, because they did last season. The Spurs should be a bit scared of the Thunder and Lakers, but match-up wise, the Grizzlies are the one team I would rather not see standing in the way of a fifth NBA title.
QR: I’m going to go against the grain and actually pick the Oklahoma City Thunder. Memphis is an obvious choice, and still pretty tough in their own right, but they won’t have Darrell Arthur or Shane Battier. Plus, Manu will (*crosses fingers) be healthy should we meet in the playoffs. I don’t think the Lakers will be any easy matchup either, but the Lakers benefited from a confluence of factors last week that probably won’t repeat themselves. The Thunder, especially if they have homecourt advantage, will go into the playoffs with two elite scorers, in addition to a quality playmaker in James Harden. Serge Ibaka makes a huge impact defensively and his midrange shot is quickly developing in a valuable asset for the Thunder offense as well. After you factor in the two rounds of playoff basketball the Spurs would have to endure to even play the Thunder, it isn’t such a no-brainer after all.
Can the Spurs win a title without an excellent defense?
JB: Definitely. Defense wins titles, but the way San Antonio has the capability to score at will makes me think they can get by with, at the very least, a decent defensive showing. Which means: limiting offensive rebounds and avoiding foul trouble. It worries me at times how the Spurs can’t seem to rotate as well as year’s past, so I would expect Popovich to go against some of his traditional playoff rules. This includes playing young and inexperienced guys, because there’s no way he would limit Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green. The Spurs will need a total team effort, the biggest thing standing in the way of a fifth championship is injuries. If the Spurs can stay healthy, there’s no doubt they could be hoisting another Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of June.
QR: Because I have no life, I took the liberty of compiling offensive and defensive stats from the last 13 NBA Champions. What I found: the average NBA Champion, with the glaring exception of the 2000-01 Lakers, played solid defense. What I also found: the average NBA Champion, the 2004-05 Detroit Pistons’ contributions notwithstanding, also benefited from an elite offense. The Spurs have one area covered and, with the inevitable reduction in minutes from Blair and other deficient defenders, they have the potential to get better on the defensive end. Yeah, that sounds like championship material to me.