The San Antonio Spurs bench can dominate defensively
By Ethan Farina
The San Antonio Spurs have always prided themselves on having one of the best bench units in the league. This year’s group is ready to be a collective menace on the defensive end of the floor.
The bench mob has long been a point of pride for the San Antonio Spurs. Whether it was Manu Ginobili coming in to lead the charge or, more recently, Patty Mills stepping in to run the second unit, Spurs fans can rest assured knowing that the bench unit will positively impact the game. Last seasons group was impressive. They finished with a 1.3 plus/minus rating, good enough for fourth in the league among bench units. This year’s group can be even better.
The exact members of this year’s second unit are still to be determined. But we can make a few assumptions based on who was heavily involved last year, who was brought in this year, and what generally makes the most sense for the team. Any way you slice it, this year’s group is poised to be a defensive force to be reckoned with.
It starts with DeMarre Carroll. The veteran Carroll has made a nice career out of his defensive and three-point shooting abilities. Likely coming off the bench for the Spurs, Carroll will bring a much needed gritty mentality and level of tenacity that was lacking at points last year. At a solid 6’8 and 215 pounds, Carroll has both the height and strength to guard new age power forwards. He also has the lateral agility and defensive IQ to stay in front of quicker wing players.
Carroll’s ability to guard most small and power forwards will allow San Antonio to experiment with a variety of lineups to figure out what works best. A pairing of Carrol and Jakob Poeltl could be particularly dangerous.
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In last year’s playoff series with the Denver Nuggets, we got to see Poeltl’s defensive potential in full effect. You can’t really hope to shut down an MVP candidate like Nikola Jokic but Poeltl did his absolute best to both the Nuggets big man and held his own throughout the series.
He’s not an outstanding athlete, but standing at 7’1 with a solid frame, Poeltl can be a strong rim protector. He already does a commendable job contesting shots. He contests 19.3 shots per 36 minutes, good enough for 7th in the league among players with 500 or more minutes. Having the rock-like Poeltl protecting the rim should give the rest of the team a sense of assurances that, if they should get beat, Poeltl will be there to contest the shot.
Finally, if the Spurs really want to create a serious advantage with their bench unit, they will bring Derrick White off the bench as their next legendary sixth man. I’ve written about this before and I stand by the take. Having White lead the bench unit could be just the spark the team needs to take the second unit from solid to spectacular. He’s a smart, fundamentally sound defender. He led the team for much of last season, and it would alleviate spacing issues in the starting lineup.
If White, Carrol, and Poeltl are all in the Spurs second unit then the team will be in a great position. The other two spots could be filled in with players like Lonnie Walker, Patty Mills, and Keldon Johnson. Of those three, I think that Walker and Johnson would best compliment the White, Carrol, Poeltl trio if the Spurs are going all-in on having a bench mob that can put opposing second units in a stranglehold.
Defense and solid second unit play have long been hallmarks of the San Antonio Spurs. This year the two can be combined as the Spurs will be able to put out a squad that will be capable of shutting down opposing teams backups on a nightly basis.