Tony Parker has not been getting any younger, Patty Mills has an inconsistent game, and Dejounte Murray is 19 years old. The Spurs point guard position could very well be the Achilles heel of an overall promising Spurs squad.
Boasting a lineup featuring young super star Kawhi Leonard and elite big man LaMarcus Aldridge, the San Antonio Spurs should be a fantastic team next year. Talent wise the Spurs should be set up to fiercely contend next year, however they have one big problem, the point guard position.
In a world where the Spurs just lost to Russell Westbrook in the playoffs, watched Kyrie Irving erupt in the Finals, and have to deal with back-to-back MVP Steph Curry (with his new super-friend team mate Kevin Durant), having a point guard dilemma is not good.
Apr 24, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and guard Tony Parker (9) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. San Antonio Spurs defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 116 – 95. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Thus the Spurs true weakness is revealed, their ever growing deficiency at point guard. Gone are the days where Tony Parker can lead the Spurs with his crafty, wrong-footed layups. Sadly Parker is not 29 years old anymore, and he has certainly lost a step (or three).
In 2013, Parker was arguably the best point guard in the entire association and probably a top five player as well. The Spurs probably would have won it all in 2013 if Parker hadn’t been hindered by a very serious hamstring injury. Since then Parker has won an NBA Championship and suffered number of leg injuries.
As of now Parker is 34 and will turn 35 before the playoffs start next season. Even if the team runs through Leonard and Aldridge, Parker will have trouble holding his own against the elite point guards of the league just like he did last year.
During the OKC series, the Spurs had to hide Parker on Roberson or Waiters almost all the time, or else Westbrook would simply go through Parker if he would helplessly attempt to check him. Now that Durant defected to the Bay Area, the Thunder should not be a threat to the Spurs’ title chances, but that leaves Golden State.
Last year the Spurs lone win against the Dubs was an unconvincing one. The Spurs only put up 87 points without defensive specialists Andre Iguodala or Andrew Bogut suiting up for GSW. The other three games against the Warriors were not fun from a Spurs’ fan’s perspective, most of which being embarrassing blowouts.
It is common NBA knowledge at this point that the title favorites for 2016/17 are the Golden State Warriors. So if the Spurs do have true title aspirations, they will have go through them, which fully exposes their weakness at the one.
Who can Parker guard? Steph is bad idea, he is lightning quick and will burn Parker easily. Klay is even worse, he is 6’7″, so will shoot right over Parker all day. In the past Parker would occasionally guard Harrison Barnes but with Dubs roster evolution to now include four time scoring champion Kevin Durant (who is at least 6’10”), that is not going to work.
So the Spurs must turn to their bench, at least for defensive purposes, if they want to beat the Warriors. Their options are limited to such names as: Patty Mills and Dejounte Murray.
Nov 18, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills (8) shoots the ball against the Denver Nuggets during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Patty Mills is a great shooter and has played some great minutes for the Spurs. However, he also played some pretty poor minutes as well. He averaged 10.2 points per game in the 2014 NBA Finals, and was a major part of the championship team. Yet he only managed 4.0 points per game last year in the OKC series and made no more than two field goals in a single game.
Even though Patty is quicker than Parker at this point in their careers, he is probably not the end all solution to their point guard troubles, as he has similar defensive issues that Parker does and is not consistent enough with his offense to make up for it.
That leaves the Spurs with 19 year old rookie Murray, who showed flashes of potential in his summer league performance but is still quite raw and unpolished. Luckily for the Spurs, Murray has the kind of physical tools and ceiling to be the solution to a lot of these point guard qualms.
Murray is 6-foot-5 with nearly a 6-foot-10 wingspan, making him a defensive weapon which when paired with the likes of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, could make perimeter defensive lineup to be feared. However, Murray is quite literally just a kid, and with his turnover problem very prevalent in his summer league play, it seems evident as of now that he is not yet fit to run an NBA team.
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Thus the Spurs point guard problem comes to fruition. They have a hall of famer on the wrong side of 30, a great shooter without the consistency of a starter, and a rookie who is most likely a year or two away from being able to really contribute. With the Warriors roster listing Steph Curry and
, the Spurs will have to face this problem if they wish to even make the Finals, where Irving and the Cavs will most likely be waiting.
Trading for another point guard is an option, although unlikely. The Spurs are well over the cap and would have to dump some salary to accept a player that could help them. That is if they find a suitor willing to take whatever anemic package they could put together featuring role players, old veterans, and very late first round draft picks.
The only thing the Spurs can try is to tinker with their lineups. Inserting Manu Ginobili at the point for stretches could help, but in the long run he will not be able guard quick point guards just like Parker. The only other option is to increase the roles of Jonathon Simmons and Kyle Anderson.
Perhaps a no-point guard lineup featuring Simmons and/or Anderson will be the Spurs ultimate trump card.
These lineups, one big, one small, may be the only way the Spurs can compete at the highest level next season. The first lineup enables the Spurs to keep two bigs on the floor while having Anderson run the point. Green would probably take the opposing teams point guard and Leonard would take the better offensive player of the opposing teams shooting guard or small forward.
The second lineup enables the Spurs to guard the perimeter to the best of their ability, run up and down the floor, and still keep the team’s two best players, Leonard and Aldridge, as featured as possible. If Leonard and Anderson can control most of the ball handling, then all this lineup is missing is a true rim protector, which is going to be a theme in most of the Spurs’ lineups anyway.
If the Spurs get creative, they might be able to shoulder the burden of their point guard troubles. However if the Spurs cannot create chemistry with a lineup that can both defend the perimeter and instigate the offense, they are doomed against the Warriors and Cavaliers. Whether that means Parker has a renaissance, Mills becomes consistent enough to be an everyday starter, Murray truly is a jackpot draft pick just like Parker was in 2001, or the Spurs discover a lineup without a PG that succeeds.
For Spurs fans next year, at least two things are clear. The Spurs are an elite team that need to figure out the one spot if they want to win the title, and they really, really should have kept Cory Joseph on this team.