While the notion that the Lakers — because of the girth of their frontline — are a pretty difficult matchup for the Spurs is a sound one; I contend that the Spurs pose an even tougher matchup for the Lakers.
Yes, the Lakers Twin Towers, an infallible assortment of size and ethereal talent, aren’t exactly an assignment Gregg Popovich relishes. But, if we’re continuing the Lakers analogy, the Spurs’ backcourt would be the Twin Bullets, two scrupulous guards capable of delivering irreparable damage to the opposing defense. And, given the intrinsic nature of the Spurs’ rotation and the rapport of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the defense cannot reasonably expect to contain both.
Now that Ginobili is returning to form, the Parker-Manu backcourt tandem becomes even more deadly. When both are slashing towards the rim with relative impunity and creating for their teammates, how will the Lakers defend them?
According to 82games.com, the Lakers struggle tremendously against the 1s and 2s of the league. Point guards average 18.6 points and 9.2 assists per 48 minutes and shooting guards average 20.7 points per 48 minutes. That is understandable considering the vast amount of talent at the point guard position and, even though the shooting guard position is pretty top heavy, the scoring ability of guys like Eric Gordon, Joe Johnson, Dwayne Wade etc.
The Spurs, conversely, struggle against longer, talented big man. That is a given. Unlike the Lakers, though, the Spurs have enough depth — don’t forget the rotation should become tighter in the playoffs meaning more minutes for better defenders rather than the other way around — to, albeit slightly, cover for their defensive deficiencies down low.
The acquisition of Ramon Sessions (13.6 points, 6.9 assists in 18 games with the Lakers) has definitely been a positive one. Without Kobe, Sessions has been able to handle the ball more often which, given his skill set, is something that suits his game very well. Yet, even so, Sessions cannot reasonably expect to contain Parker.
Therein lies the value of the Spurs’ backcourt. Coupled with an abstemious diet of Tiago Splitter pick-and-rolls, one of the most consistently efficient options in the league, the Spurs offense is one that can easily exploit the Lakers’ 13th-ranked defense.
Plus, the value of playing Manu on the bench is immeasurable; the rotation essentially guarantees that either Manu or Parker will be patrolling the lane, looking to find teammates or draw fouls on the Lakers bigs. Without any time to adjust to their relentless attacks on the rim, the Lakers advantage will be rendered mute.
The Lakers may decide to defend Manu with Kobe Bryant, a plus defender even at his advanced age. And that may give them a better chance to prevent the Spurs’ backcourt from having their way. I don’t see this as a realistic option because Kobe, even with his first-team All-Defense selection, is rarely asked to guard elite players. Manu’s helter skelter game and deft finish at the rim surely deserve the label as an elite player. Do the Lakers really want to put immense pressure on their best player and the source for the majority of their offense to cover for their inability to guard shot creating guards?
I don’t think so. And, while Parker and Manu aren’t the most imposing tandem physically, the Lakers shouldn’t expect their length to carry them to a deep playoff run by default. It’s not always that simple.