Rhys Tong-Jones: We’ve all heard about Joakim Noah’s recent assist binge, but is there another player that the Spurs need to keep an eye on for Tuesday’s game?
Ronald Agers: The guy the Spurs have to look out for is Jimmy Butler. He has filled in the role for Luol Deng very nicely. When Deng was traded to Cleveland, a lot of people including myself thought “tank” but with Butler assuming the duties of Luol Deng, plus improving his offensive game making it more efficient. He is a X-factor in the game.
The Spurs are always written off as old and are not considered as the sexy picks to make noise in the playoffs like OKC or the Clippers, however they are tied in the loss column with the Thunder (edit: now have 1 less) for the number one seed. I know everyone wants to know…How in the world does the Spurs continue to thrive as a team for so long? Tell us please!
RTJ: You’re right, everyone does write off the Spurs, but they manage to be at the top of the Western Conference year after year. I would have to say its a combination of great coaching, and great front office work. Seemingly every year the Spurs manage to pick up some unheard of or washed up guy and turn him into a key contributor (Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills Etc. ). This depth allows Coach Pop to rest his star players ( Duncan is playing less than 30mins/game) , which in turn prolongs their careers. It’s a two way street though, because the system that Popovich runs allows him to slot players in without much drop off from the starters. Since the system encourages passing and ball movement , all you have to do to be successful on this team is pass or shoot. Given that, it makes it easier for the front office to find players that fit in so well.
So where has D.J. Augustin come from? Picked up off the scrap heap and now playing important minutes for one of the most dangerous teams out East, what is it that’s changed and made him a useful player?
RA: The system of the Bulls. If you watched the game against Miami on Sunday, the system allows DJ to succeed. Look at the players in DJ’s position in the past…Nate Robinson, CJ Watson, Marco Bellinelli. Here’s a stat for you, Tom Thibodeau has coached games in which Derrick Rose has palyed 130 times. He coached without him 164 times. Obviously the system the Thibodeau has put together is a “sum of it’s parts” system. Since Luol Deng has been traded, Augustin is the leading scorer. The system has put Augustin in a position to succeed.
Tim Duncan seems like he has been playing since WWII. How does he stay for effective for so long?
RTJ: Duncan has never been a player who relies on out-running or out-jumping his opponent. His nickname isn’t “The Big Fundamental” for no reason. He just has great footwork, great positioning and great awareness which, if anything, only gets better with age. And it doesn’t hurt that his coach is willing to give him games off with a DNP-Old. To be fair he has dropped off a little bit this season, but he is still easily one of the best big men in the Western Conference.
Final question: there are currently rumours going round about Carmelo Anthony potentially joining the Bulls as a free agent over the summer. Do you A) think that would be a good move for the franchise, and B) think the rumours might have a negative impact on say, Carlos Boozer, since he will have to be amnestied to get Melo, but Joakim Noah openly admitted to recruiting Melo, knowing that he could only join if Boozer left.
RA: In my opinion, I don’t think that Melo is coming. Here’s why: the Bulls don’t have the cap space even with the amnesty of Boozer, which I will get to in a minute. Melo is not a good fit because he struggles on the defensive end. You don’t play “D” in Chicago, you don’t play. Ask Carlos Boozer, who watches the game on NBA league pass in the 4th quarter. As for the Melo effect on him, he shouldn’t worry, he’s basically done in Chicago. Anyone who has 11 points in the 4th quarter FOR THE SEASON will not be around very long. Taj Gibson leads the league in 4th quarter minutes. As for the recruiting, it was two guys talking trash at the All-Star game. I fell out laughing when I saw the Noah interview on ESPN imitating a valley girl mocking the media that told the story. Non-issue.
With the Thunder in a funk losing four of their last five (edit: now 5/6), Do you think the Spurs can get that return trip to the Finals?
RTJ: Absolutely. I don’t expect the Spurs to get the 1 seed (2 or 3 is more likely), because the stars will start resting more as we get close to the playoffs. But this Spurs team matches up surprisingly well with the Thunder – Danny Green can pick up Westbrook, and Kawhi can do his best on Durant. I honestly believe the Spurs are a better team this year than last, due to the growth of Patty Mills, Kawhi Leonard, and the emergence of Boris “Cake Eater” Diaw. Whatever happens in the playoffs, it’ll be a great spectacle.