Should the San Antonio Spurs Rest Their Starters?

Apr 2, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) shoots the ball past Utah Jazz point guard Dante Exum (11) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) shoots the ball past Utah Jazz point guard Dante Exum (11) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs beat the fourth seed Utah Jazz 109-103 despite missing a few key players from their starting lineup.

The Spurs are sitting pretty right about now.

They’re currently 59-17, having already clinched the division and the second seed in the West. Essentially, if the Spurs wanted to rest their starters the rest of the way, they could do that and not lose any ground in terms of seeding.

However, instead of resting the entire unit, head coach Gregg Popovich is systematically resting some of his starters, while playing others, making sure the continuity continues into the playoffs.

The Spurs' final 6 games come in a span of 10 days. "I think we need to manage it wisely," said Pop of resting/managing mins down stretch.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 2, 2017

Yesterday against the Jazz, LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobli, David Lee and Danny Green were all sidelined, some for nagging injuries, and others for rest. Despite resting two starters and three key role players, the Spurs were still able to beat the Jazz.

In a perfect world, the Spurs would have beat the Golden State Warriors last Wednesday, and competed for a first seed and home-field advantage during the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Warriors were the better team that night, and the Spurs had to settle for the second seed.

It’s worth noting: most teams would LOVE to settle for the second seed in the Western Conference, just ask the three, four, five, six, seven, and eight seeds.

The Spurs have fallen to 7th in Offense (109.3 PP/100) after 75 games and remain 1st in Defense (100.8 PP/100).

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 1, 2017

Nevertheless, the Spurs are one win away from another 60-win season, and will have home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs, should they get there.

However, the Spurs still have six games left to play this season, and fans have differing opinions on how Popovich should handle the playing/resting situation.

Some fans believe that the starters should play minimal minutes, and prioritize health heading into the playoffs. Other fans believe the starters should play a normal load of minutes, and ensure the offense rolls into the playoffs with a high-level of continuity.

Kawhi Leonard is the only player in the NBA with more than 1,700 points and less than 150 turnovers this season.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 2, 2017

Popovich has quite a bit of experience dealing with situations like this, considering the Spurs are consistently in positions like this down the stretch of NBA seasons.

If you ask Kawhi Leonard what he thinks about rest, his answer won’t surprise you.

Kawhi Leonard says he told the coaching staff he'd like to play the rest of the games. I'll be shocked if he gets his wish.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 2, 2017

Leonard wants to continue to play these final games, fine tuning his offensive game heading into the playoffs. Leonard is finally beginning to experience double-teams, and only experience and practice will make him better in those types of defensive looks.

On the other hand, Leonard did play 35 minutes yesterday, and some believe that 35 minutes is too much at this point in the season. To that point, I would agree.

Spurs reach 30 wins at home for the fifth straight season and the 15th time in the last 20 years.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 2, 2017

However, that is because Aldridge, Green, Lee, Ginobli and Mills were unavailable. The next game for the Spurs is Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, which despite clinching the second seed, is the most important game left in the Spurs schedule.

Why? The Spurs and the Grizzlies are essentially a lock to play each other in the first round, and the Spurs have struggled against the Grizzlies this season. Earning a victory Tuesday night would elevate the Spurs confidence, while a loss would create some doubt heading into the playoffs.

Tony Parker on criticism after Golden State game: "It doesn’t really bother me. It’s been like that my whole career, and I’m still here.”

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 2, 2017

Once the Grizzlies game is over, Leonard’s minutes will likely be on some type of restriction. The beauty of the situation is that the Spurs can continue to win games without playing their starters a ton of minutes while simultaneously prepping the role players for the playoffs.

Popovich can continue to rest certain players in certain games, making sure the players head into the playoffs with the right combination of health, energy, and consistency.

The consistency on the offense is key. If the Spurs rest their starters the rest of the way, and get off to slow starts against the Grizzlies, a loss in the first round is not out of the realm of possibility. However, playing the starters down the stretch helps decrease the chances of that happening.

Tony Parker is now 1 of 4 in NBA history with 500+ points & 250+ assists in 16 different seasons: John Stockton, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 2, 2017

This is incredibly important for Tony Parker, who received a lot of criticism (myself included) following his scoreless outing against the Warriors last Wednesday.

Parker responded by scoring 21 points on 7/15 shooting, along with five assists, and four rebounds. This was Parker’s highest scoring outing at home this season.

While he played great, I can’t let Parker off the hook just yet. His credentials speak for themselves, and Parker is an automatic first ball hall-of-famer. However, he is starting to get up there in age, and his play against the elite guards in the Western Conference has been inconsistent.

Tony Parker on criticism after Golden State game: "It doesn’t really bother me. It’s been like that my whole career, and I’m still here.”

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 2, 2017

Yesterday, Jazz starting point guard George Hill was unavailable, so Parker had the luxury of playing against backup point guards Dante Exum and Shelvin Mack.

If Parker manages to have a productive game against Mike Conley and the Grizzlies on Tuesday, i’ll feel more comfortable saying Parker is playoff ready. Until then, i’ll reserve judgement.

Either way, Parker getting a solid amount of minutes heading into the playoffs is critical, as having a vintage Parker elevates your chances of reaching another NBA Finals.

Lot of truth here. Parker might be the most underappreciated-by-his-own-fans Hall of Famer in history.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 2, 2017

Outside of the Spurs second half against the Warriors, the offense has been firing on all cylinders, due in large part to finally having everyone back healthy.

Since March 23rd, the Spurs have beaten the Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Jazz. The only loss came against the Warriors, who just so happen to be the best team in the NBA at the moment.

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All in all, the best plan of action is to continue to play the starters down the stretch, making sure that minutes are being monitored. The Spurs play two back-to-backs to finish the season, and you can expect Popovich to rest players in those games. Other than that, the Spurs shouldn’t change too much with their rotations, considering how efficient they’ve been as of late.

If the Spurs can continue this level of play and head into the playoffs with immense confidence, and a healthy squad, the sky is the limit for this Spurs team.