Mar 25, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (left) and forward DeJuan Blair (right) react against the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter at the AT
(Editor’s note: This is the 10th and final series of posts that detail the San Antonio Spurs in a much more defined, analytical light. Statistics courtesy of the excellent MySynergySports.)
In many ways, DeJuan Blair progressed in his third NBA season. He improved his efficiency across the board which compensated for his declining rebounding rate.
His defensive rebounding has never been his strong suit anyway. But his inability to crash the defensive glass was an important reason why he didn’t earn much playing time in the playoffs. His playing time was cut by two-thirds in the playoffs compared to the regular season.
(Here’s why: The Spurs grabbed 76% of available defensive rebounds last season, good for first in the NBA. This isn’t anything surprising as the Spurs rarely compensate floor spacing for offensive rebounding opportunities. Blair, naturally, contradicts this belief and Gregg Popovich would rather have players that adhere to this methodology.)
From a micro level (which is generally the type of analysis I have been looking at for this series), Blair was a far more effective offensive player. Defensively, he remains a bit rough and his penchant for gambling, coupled with his poor size, makes him a below-average defender.
Where Blair improved significantly was in the pick-and-roll. He ranked 56th in points per possession (PPP) in the 2010-11 season compared to 1.17 PPP this season. He improved even though he turned the ball over more often and didn’t draw as many fouls. His saving grace, though, was his 62.2% shooting mark on 119 attempts as the roll man. That, in itself, offset the vast disparity in free throws and the extra tick in turnovers. His shooting percentage aside, it isn’t a good thing if a one-dimensional player isn’t taking care of the ball and drawing fouls. It makes him more one-dimensional and reliant on his finishing ability to score points. (Blair also underwent the same progression on cuts as he turned the ball over more and drew less fouls.)
On post-ups, though, Blair wasn’t as proficient. He did make a concerted effort to prevent turnovers and draw fouls but he didn’t shoot the ball well from the post. He converted on 35.5% of his 110 post-ups attempts.
When discussing Blair’s game, I liken him to the equivalent of a suited connector in Texas Hold Em (ie: a seven and eight of hearts). It is a valuable hand, yes. But the value of the hand directly correlates with the person who holds the hand and their relative skill. (For non poker playing readers: A suited connector is an interesting hand even though, on the surface, it looks pretty weak. It’s strength lies in its ability to draw straights or flushes, two results that will likely win any hand.) If a poker professional holds a suited connector, then the hand will be likely be used in an optimal and ultimately equitable fashion.
Should a novice attempt to play the hand, the hand poses a significant amount of problems that a competent professional would otherwise eliminate because of their acuity. The suited connector is a powerful weapon if used correctly and dangerously ineffective without a sound base of knowledge. Yet there are successful players that don’t use the suited connector in their repertoire. That’s because using them can be a volatile and costly investment.
Blair is the same way as he needs to be in an environment that highlights his few elite skills. In the wrong hands, Blair isn’t very valuable. Since the Spurs aren’t necessarily interested in playing Blair (hence Boris Diaw’s two-year, $9.2 million contract) that opportunity probably won’t be in San Antonio.
For more on Blair’s possession distribution and links to the first nine parts of the MySynergySports series, check the chart below.