Season review: DeJuan Blair

Mar 17, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair (left) and guard Daniel Green (right) warm up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Spurs 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

The profile
Minutes: 21.3
Points: 9.5
Rebounds: 5.5
Assists: 1.2
FG%: 53.4%
3P%: 0.0%
FT%: 61.3%

The (advanced) profile
TS%: 54.9%
USG%: 21.7%
PER: 17.6
Offensive PPP: 0.95 (113th)
Defensive PPP: 0.93 (369th)
Offensive rating (points per 100 possessions): 108
Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 102

DeJuan Blair is an interesting basketball player to say the least. In fact, I would even venture that his game is captivating. I believe his limited offensive repertoire — his only redeemable offensive quality is in the pick-and-roll; Blair scored 1.17 points per possession as the roll man, 20th in the league — and deficient defense has created a chasm between many Spurs fans.

Does DeJuan Blair’s energy and offensive rebounding offset his complete inability to defend most players? Or does his defense make him a liability, rendering him useless in the context of most lineups? I stand on the latter end of the spectrum. While I appreciate his relentless energy on the floor, I can’t stomach his defensive ineptitude. Blair allowed 0.93 PPP on post-ups, putting him 204th in the entire league. Post-ups represent 34.5% of Blair’s possessions. His tendency to gamble, lack of mobility and his small stature (Standing at 6’7″, Blair is generally tasked with defending most centers) making him a favorable matchup for just about any post player capable of catching a basketball.

Watching Blair defend the post irked me. Not only was the possession probably going to end well for the opposition but Blair seemed to compound his mistake by fouling, combating one of Gregg Popovich’s fundamental defensive philosophies. Blair posted the highest foul rate of any Spur this season, averaging 4.9 personal fouls per 40 minutes. Spurs fans stomached his defense because he was flourishing in San Antonio’s system.

His minutes decreased incrementally as the year went on. This happened primarily because the Spurs’ front office brought in more balanced frontcourt players and the emergence of Tiago Splitter. Contrary to popular belief, though, Splitter’s post defense was actually worse than Blair’s and his foul rate was a tick lower.

Splitter became a more valued member of the rotation because he was even more adept at running the pick-and-roll than Blair and he rebounded better defensively (although part of Blair’s low defensive rebounding rate can be attributed to Tim Duncan.) Blair’s offensive rebounding did create some favorable opportunities for the Spurs’ offense but these extra opportunities aren’t as valuable as you would think given the context of the Spurs’ system. San Antonio, collectively, makes it a point to get back in transition rather than lingering around the hoop in an attempt to create extra possessions. Popovich believes that floor spacing will limit the opposition’s ability to score in transition and by crashing the offensive boards consistently Blair compensated floor spacing for a result that, Popovich believes, isn’t as beneficial. Considering one of Blair’s strongest attributes is his voracious appetite for extra possessions, a significant part of his game was esentially marginalized.

When the Spurs acquired Boris Diaw on Mar. 23, Blair’s minutes decreased significantly. Diaw’s prodigious playmaking ability gave him a distinct advantage over the one-dimensional Blair. Although Diaw was relatively new to Popovich’s system, his passing made him an essential “middle man” in the inner machinations of the No. 1 ranked offense. San Antonio quickly discovered that his post defense was not only slightly better but drastically better than they expected, making it even harder for DeJuan to keep his rotation spot. Thus, Blair was pushed out of the rotation rather than Matt Bonner.

Although Blair started 62 games for San Antonio, Popovich felt comfortable with Diaw to insert him into the starting lineup in Game 1 against the Utah Jazz. Blair didn’t make any impact in the playoffs, averaging 5.5 minutes in the postseason.

San Antonio will be pressed into a decision next year, as the 2012-13 season could be Blair’s last donning the silver and black. They will surely pick up his team option for $1.05 million as it represents a good value on the market. But given the depth they’ve accumulated, anything more is probably too much to ask for.

***

Performance of the year: Mar. 16, 2012 at Oklahoma City. W 114-105.
The line: 26:18 MIN | 11-15 FG | 0-2 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 22 PTS | -4

The prototypical DeJuan Blair game. He crashed the offensive glass (six offensive rebounds), used his girth to create space in the pick-and-roll and made the most of his limited opportunities.

This type of performance continued to give credence to the notion that Oklahoma City provided a good matchup for Blair, as Air Alamo staff writer Joe Bendiez touched up on prior to the Western Conference Finals.

Season grade: C

Topics: DeJuan Blair

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