Does signing Kevin Garnett make sense for the Spurs?


Dec 3, 2009; San Antonio, TX, USA; Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett (5) reacts after scoring and drawing a foul against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at the AT

It sounds utterly inconceivable. I was a taken aback by the mere speculation of the San Antonio Spurs signing unrestricted free agent Kevin Garnett. But, according to Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express News, someone in the Spurs organization floated around the possibility of signing Garnett.

Doesn’t Tim Duncan hate Garnett with a passion? Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated wrote that Duncan “hates him the way liberals hate Sean Hannity.” Which, if you aren’t familiar, is a lot.

But, once you get past the awkward juxtaposition of attitudes, — Duncan’s consistent monastic persona isn’t a synonymous fit with Garnett’s creepy intensity — signing Garnett makes sense for the Spurs in a basketball sense.

San Antonio was the worst team at defending the pick-and-roll ball handler in the entire league, allowing 0.88 points per possession. They did limit the roll man in the pick-and-roll, however, to 0.95 PPP (10th). Garnett was particularly adept at defending the pick-and-roll, and while he doesn’t have the same speed and agility, he is still able to hedge hard on screens and disrupt the entire operation at the point of attack.

Theoretically, a defender of KG’s caliber should improve San Antonio’s pick-and-roll by impeding the ball handler from crashing into the lane as often especially when the threat of Tim Duncan still looms. They are synonymous in this sense; Duncan or KG can defend the pick-and-roll with almost identical proficiency and the other can more than easily hold down the forte, call out rotations and provide excellent help defense.

The Celtics allowed 98.2 points per 100 possessions barely edging out Chicago. Boston’s defense also held opponents to an anemic 41.9% shooting from the field and 30.8% from behind the arc. It may sound counter intuitive but you can credit the majority of their success on the defensive end to Garnett. Yes, you can’t judge the success of a defense on one individual. But, defenses only truly succeed when they operate with precision, timing, make proactive rotations and, most importantly, act as a corresponding unit, reacting and deciphering the offenses tendencies as one and not individuals. Garnett, more than anyone, made the system work.

He anchored the defense, pumping in all the necessary nutrients, keeping it a float and swatting the occasional shot to maintain dominance, essentially operating as the heartbeat of the Celtics’ defense. Whenever he goes, the Celtics go. It’s that simple. Given all of my superlatives so far, is it too much of a stretch that his addition would vault San Antonio’s 10th ranked defense into the top 5? (Correct answer: No.)

Offensively, San Antonio’s offense would become that much more deadly. In lineups that contain Duncan and Garnett, the Spurs would have a multitude of options at their disposal. They could run the offense through Garnett and Duncan down on the low block — KG is actually more effective in the post than Duncan at this stage of their careers — or pepper the defense with either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili or, if they so choose, take advantage of aggressive defense and spot up Duncan/Garnett from 16-feet.

Both are effective on mid-range shots, converting on nearly 46% of their shots from farther than 10-feet collectively. The floor spacing might not be quite what Gregg Popovich prefers but, if you have read this piece at all, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Duncan and Garnett may be complete polar opposites but, if you prescribe to sociologist Robert F. Winch’s Law of Attraction theory, then pairing the two makes intuitive sense.

Sometimes opposites do attract.