San Antonio Spurs: Rotation changes impact team’s second-half look
By Rob Wolkenbrod
More rotation changes are in play for the San Antonio Spurs.
In a loaded year of injuries, it remains difficult for the San Antonio Spurs to keep things consistent. The starting lineup faced multiple changes, and the rotation itself saw players move in and out. Players’ minutes fluctuated and challenged some to get regular playing time.
The aftermath of the All-Star break featured this, again. This time, Rudy Gay returned from injury and Danny Green missed Friday’s game with an illness.
The Spurs pushed Gay back into one of the top bench spots, which he held before a December heel injury and during the first installment of Kawhi Leonard‘s injury saga. The 31-year old was one of the team’s best scorers in the first half of the season, and with production a recurring issue for San Antonio in 2018, it’s no surprise the team reinstalled him in this old role.
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When someone’s minutes increase, it takes a toll on someone else’s on-court time. This became the case for Davis Bertans, even though he carved out a consistent bench role and started the final six games before the All-Star break, the last three of which were double-digit point efforts.
In the two post All-Star break games, Bertans totaled just 15 minutes on 0-2 shooting for 0 points. So, he all but lost his role to Gay as both play the stretch four. The Latvian big man’s lack of offensive versatility, compared to Gay’s, may have cost him, with the Spurs now able to utilize someone that can score from multiple spots on the court and be featured in different lineup sets. Barring in-game foul trouble or injury, he’s on the outside looking in.
The surprising change transpired from Danny Green’s food poisoning that kept him out of Friday’s game in Denver. He returned vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, but in a rare bench role, and thrived as instant offense to propel the Silver and Black to a double-digit point win.
As Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News noted, Green’s move to the bench was strategic and not just because he needed to be worked into the rotation. The team liked what they saw from Patty Mills, who played next to Dejounte Murray as an undersized shooting guard. Mills delivered 21 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds vs. the Nuggets which warranted this move, and followed with 11 points, 5 assists and 2 rebounds vs. Cleveland.
Will this move stick? Green’s 22 points on 5-for-9 from 3-point range made the case for it. If so, and if he plays at least one more game off the bench, it would be his highest total of non-starter appearances in a season since 2013-14 (eight games off the bench). He averaged 8,9 points on 38 percent shooting, with a 22 point outing as the highest of this stretch.
If Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich keeps this change, he sacrifices defense for scoring in the starting lineup. However, Green was the long-term starter and defensive option to play next to Tony Parker, when he was the man at point guard. Since it’s Dejounte Murray, a defensive-minded player at the one spot, maybe Mills makes sense as the scorer to play next to him, while a fresh former Tar Heel enters the game fresh, ready to cover the team’s best perimeter player and shoot from long distance.
Danny Green scored 22 points in 22 minutes of play, including 5 3️⃣-pointers vs Cleveland #GoSpursGo #TarHeelTriple pic.twitter.com/vXD34PnU7N
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 26, 2018
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Even as the Spurs sit near the top of the West, changes can still happen to shake things up, especially after a four-game losing streak that narrowed the team’s advantage in the standings. Let’s see what sticks and how it impacts the final stretch.