To be young again

by

“A lot of athletes can’t play basketball. Young and athletic has to come with some sort of skill. Young and athletic is easy. I can go get five from the D-League who are young and athletic.”

-San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, via the May 13 Express-News Interview

 

In his sit down with the San Antonio Express-News‘ Jeff McDonald and Mike Monroe, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was very candid about this past regular season and what lies ahead for San Antonio after its disappointing end in the first round.

Young and athletic. Two of the cliché buzz words general managers spew every offseason along with the phrases “defend better” and “run more.” Those outside of the San Antonio Spurs organization have been calling for the Spurs to make the transition for years, often falling on the deaf ears of R.C. Buford and Popovich.

Acquiring youth and athleticism would be nice, Popovich annually insists, but not simply for the sake of doing so. If the Spurs can fit such luxuries into their budget, and it helps improve the team — it’s not as if Popovich is inherently opposed to the notion. But again, it has to improve the team.

To pull from the highlighted quote, Popovich and the Spurs did in fact “go get five from the D-League.” Never mind that of those five, one of them was Steve Novak, who checks in as a slighter, less athletic version of Matt Bonner. Danny Green, Larry Owens, Othyus Jeffers, Da’Sean Butler. All are young athletes, but hardly ready to help the Spurs in the present.

Go back further and read through the list of players that have enticed Spurs fans with the promise of a dunk or two, only to never be heard from again in the NBA. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ian Mahinmi, Garrett Temple. Hell, in his brief stint with the Spurs, James “Flight” White was as young and athletic as one will ever see in the NBA.

It’s not as if the Spurs haven’t experimented with youth. And it’s not as if Popovich and Buford dislike youth and athleticism. They simply are not enthralled with the youth and athleticism available to them at the back end of the draft or the bargain bins of free agency.

Capped out and near the back end of the draft for much of the past two decades, the prospects left available to the Spurs have fewer and fewer dimensions to their game. If a young prospect with NBA impact athleticism falls within the Spurs means, there’s generally a good reason for it.

They typically can’t play basketball.

Armed with minimum contracts, shooting is perhaps the cheapest, most immediately impactful skill set a team can acquire. And if a player can combine that shooting with basketball intelligence and functional athleticism then there is a slight chance they can be the next Gary Neal. If Neal were taller, faster, or jumped higher, chances are the Spurs could not have afforded him.

That’s not to say the Spurs haven’t missed out on prospects within their resources. Dorrell Wright, for example, would have made a lot of sense on the wings this season and moving forward. But for every Serge Ibaka or Wright that pans out, there are a thousand Ndudi Ebis.

At this stage in the Spurs history getting younger and more athletic on the fringes of the roster would hardly make a difference. There are no impact athletes to be had.

In that sense, getting younger and more athletic is misguided and overrated to an extent. Because the best place to be young and athletic is in the core of your team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Young and athletic is easy. Young and athletic and skilled enough to be better than what the roster already has? While still being affordable? Good luck.

  • Junierizzle

    Pretty much. Just because a player is young and athletic does not mean they can play. Shannon Brown for example, is young and athletic, do I want him NO. 

    It’s so easy to say Trade Tp and bring in some young wing or young Big man. But who would they bring in? Who? I’ve heard Andre Igoudala’s name mentioned. Yes he is young and athletic, but would he really help the SPURS if they had to give up TP? I don’t think so. With TP, of course he could help.

  • Rob

    A follow up to the previous blog?…good luck indeed.

    To me this quote was most intriguing from that article… “Our biggest
    need right now — depending on what ’Dyess does (with retirement) — is a
    starting four (power forward).”

    Followed by…”We need to know who is going to be our
    starting four. Is it DeJuan Blair? Is it (Tiago) Splitter, where Timmy’s
    the four and Splitter’s the five? Is it Matt Bonner? Do you need to
    make a trade? We’re investigating all those areas.”

    I agree…the most dire need for the team at this time.  Bonner cannot be your starter.  Blair is just not mentally prepared or “skilled” enough as mentioned by Pop.  Do you really want Duncan to continue to play PF if they start Tiago and Tim?  Very poor options as exposed by the Memphis Grizzlies.

  • Bob

     I think Tim has to go back to playing 4. That’s where he plays best. Some argue he’s not quick enough to defend a power forward yet he’s still alot better than Bonner/Blair. That said the team needs a real legit 7 foot center and not a power forward masquerading as one. Splitter can play the 5 with Tim at the 4. He’s probably the best option there since Robinson.

  • Sam

    “With TP, of course he could help.” Exactly, we don’t have to give up TP to get him. Philly already has a future point guard in Jrue Holiday. That’s the reason that Andre Iguodala’s name has been mentioned is because we don’t have to give up any of the big 3. Spurs want to get rid of RJ and Philadelphia has been reported that they want to get rid of Iguodala. If we spicen up the deal we can get him and that makes the team better. Andre Iguodala isn’t just young and athletic, he’s a playmaker. That’s something the Spurs need and Philly doesn’t.

  • Dkilgored

     The word “talented” is missing… finding guys that are young, athletic, and exceptionally talented begins to define the scope of what the Spurs need.  If the talent is there, the skillfullness can come in time. Guys like Rose, or even Griffin and Love, are examples of guys that pay off relatively early in their carreers, but fans need to wrap their heads around the fact that we aren’t always gonna get instant help in the form of Neal, Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, Elliot and Robinson going forward and need to look at upside with patience. It usually takes even a talented guy 3 to 6 years to really become a well-rounded NBA player.  Westbrook and Ibaka are going through this process now, as is Nic Batum. Favors, Wall and the rest of last year’s draft class have hardly yet begun.
     
    Given this long deveopmental window, it’s good to stockpile, yes, young and athletic TALENTS that can grow together. Guys who, odds are, are found in the lottery. The Spurs should whole-heartedly invest in that process
    next summer, and blow it all up at that time, the window is shut for this group, so don’t look so much for guys who can “help now”.  Get a headstart on youthful upside if you can get it, but with a lockout-shortened season favoring the Spurs vetrans, and with the poor draft class, this summer is not the right time to start over. This group is a marginal playoff team with no real future, things won’t get signficant again until you see a young talented group that is a marginal playoff team with a strong future as they grow toward their prime.

  • Tim in Surrey

     Interesting. I guess I understand the continual appeal of the young athletic player, but not really. There are plenty of great players that aren’t athletic at all–including a number mention in this entry or in the comments. Noah and Love, for instance, aren’t athletic (at least by NBA standards of the word). For that matter, Tim Duncan was never athletic. I’d rather have people who can play basketball really, really well. Find us a few of those and you can keep the athletes. After all this is basketball, not the decathlon.

    P.S. – By the way, DaSean Butler was never particularly athletic even before his ACL tear. He is, however, long, strong, smart, and very skilled. Which works for me, assuming he can recover fully.

  • Tim in Surrey

     Interesting. I guess I understand the continual appeal of the young athletic player, but not really. There are plenty of great players that aren’t athletic at all–including a number mention in this entry or in the comments. Noah and Love, for instance, aren’t athletic (at least by NBA standards of the word). For that matter, Tim Duncan was never athletic. I’d rather have people who can play basketball really, really well. Find us a few of those and you can keep the athletes. After all this is basketball, not the decathlon.

    P.S. – By the way, DaSean Butler was never particularly athletic even before his ACL tear. He is, however, long, strong, smart, and very skilled. Which works for me, assuming he can recover fully.

  • Hicksy

    I’m with yu Rob, Tim needs to play for 4 and Splitter is best as a 5 anyway. Let Blair come off the bench as energy and hustle. Unless a legit/proven 7ft opion became avail in trade  

  • grego

    He was athletic enough to be a fairly good defender though.  

  • grego

     I think Butler and Green have a chance. We’ll see how Anderson recovers because he’s another one of the “athletic” bunch. 

    Green has D and a nice jump shot, both of which he was known for at UNC. Butler has a nice shot and also is noted for his D. 

    Spurs like D and that’ll help keep them in the door. Playing smart and within the system is what’ll ultimately push the guys in. 

    As for the other guys…
    Hairston – his offense was very limited. Jump shot was suspect. He had a few years to show improvement
    James White – has a low BBIQ. 
    Temple – never recovered from his injury, at least mentally
    Owens – i’m not sure why because he had a pretty solid stay. He’s an older rookie which makes sense by how Spurs tend to prefer their younger guys – (Green would make him less needed though)
    Jeffers – was too small and still did have that shooter mentality
    Pops – similar to Ian in that he had the athleticism but his BBIQ is low

  • grego

    You dangle Hill and/or Blair if you want to move an RJ contract. Not that it would happen, but that’s who you got to give. There’s no way you do TP for Iggy. You just shot yourself in the foot at PG unless there’s another deal that brings in a PG. And Hill is not a PG. 

  • Craig21rt

    In what way is Parker more of a PG than Hill? Just because Hill can shoot like a SG doesn’t mean he cannot run the offense at PG. Tony Parker is a scorer and just an ok facilitator. He does break down the defense with his penetration but he still cannot consistently run basic pick and rolls as well as Manu can. If we can get a big man or a replacement for RJ with TP then we have to pull the trigger. Besides, he has already mentally resigned from winning a championship here, why keep him?

  • grego

    Prior to this season, the majority of his points were assisted on (as his points came mostly off jump shots). This season he’s developed a more of a mix into his game, but his shooting has gone down from a year ago. Also, his assist percentage is down from a year ago and his assists per game are down from a year ago. 

    There’s a reason Hill came in for Manu early in the first and then Manu came in for Parker. This was to ensure a primary ball handler was in the game nearly all the time. I’m not saying Parker would ever make you forget about Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, but he’s improved his passing the last few years and court vision. He runs the pick and roll really well with the bigs, especially Timmy. Hill has finally learned to pass out of the pick and roll sometimes, but most of the time he gets stuck and ends up making a pass to get out of trouble/shot clock is low or takes the shot himself/drives. There’s also a reason why Pop experimented with Neal ball handling at times to lessen the burden of Hill trying to play PG because he becomes much less effective in his game on the offensive end when he plays the PG. As a 2, he’s sufficient but, he is not a 1. Overall, he’s a good player, but he’s not a PG unless he changes significantly over this offseason. 

    If an RJ trade is going to happen, it’s going to be with a cap friendly potential youth like Hill or Blair. TP/RJ is way too much and Spurs would need to get a quality PG back. Hill and Manu is not a good combo as your only ball handlers. 

    Hill is one of my favorite players, but I’m not going to hide the fact that he isn’t anywhere close to a PG as far as PG duties go.