Backing up RJ
One of the biggest questions entering the San Antonio Spurs’ training camp was who will back up Richard Jefferson? The team appeared to have a glaring hole behind RJ, one that became even more pronounced when thinking about Jefferson struggling as much in his second year with the Spurs as in his first.
Through three preseason games, Jefferson looks both more comfortable and aggressive on the floor. His numbers don’t reflect that change yet, but RJ’s game passes the eye test. With the Spurs probably employing many three-guard sets featuring Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and George Hill this season, there won’t be extended minutes available behind Jefferson. But there will be enough to make an impact, for better or worse.
It was expected that rookie James Anderson and second year swingman Alonzo Gee would be the two competing for minutes behind RJ, with the loser commuting up I-35 to play for the Austin Toros. Then the Spurs brought James Gist and Bobby Simmons into training camp to challenge Anderson and Gee for the maybe 10-12 minutes behind RJ.
Most of the pub in the backup 3 competition chronicled the work of Simmons and Anderson. Simmons, entering his ninth year, is a proven NBA player. And the Spurs spent a valuable first round pick on Anderson — the 20th overall pick, San Antonio’s highest since drafting Tim Duncan first overall in 1997 — so they were sure to get a stronger look than Gee and Gist.
And through three preseason games? Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happened.
Gist and Gee have done almost nothing to impress. Gee has sat out more games (2) than he’s played (1). In preseason, that’s not usually a good sign. Gist spent practically all of his time at power forward and center this preseason so, for all intents and purposes, he’s out of this competition. Both will probably be cut by the time the regular season starts and head to Austin, unless Gist goes back overseas.
If I was put on the spot to make a pick as to which player would get more time playing small forward right now between Anderson and Simmons, I’d side with Anderson. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has played Anderson 16 minutes per game through the team’s three games this preseason. Anderson is only averaging four points per game, but he’s shooting almost 42% from the field and 33% from behind the 3-point line.
In addition to his offensive prowess, Anderson appears to be able to both spell defense and say it once in a while, simple requests from Coach Pop. Anderson hasn’t quite adjusted to the NBA style yet, but he looks to have the makings of a solid defender in both effort and athleticism. Against the Miami Heat on Saturday, Anderson blocked Kenny Hasbrouck’s jump shots twice in the same quarter, no small feat.
Simmons, on the other hand, is slow out of the gate. While his time spent on the court is similar to Anderson (13.3 mpg), he has not put up the offensive numbers the Spurs’ first round pick has. Simmons is averaging two points per game on 30% from the field, and has yet to hit a 3-pointer.
Defensively, Simmons hasn’t done much to stand out. Although, when you’re talking defense, that’s usually not such a bad thing. After the first three preseason games, Simmons is at +28 in the +/- tally, with his high a +16 on Tuesday night against the Clippers in Mexico City. Anderson’s +/- so far this preseason? -5. Ouch.
So the battle between Anderson and Simmons isn’t as cut-and-dry as I’d hoped. Given Coach Pop’s preference towards veterans, especially with this Spurs core nearing the end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Simmons last through the preseason and continue on the roster for the first part of the season. On the other hand, Coach Pop said before the team’s first preseason game in Houston that San Antonio won’t carry more than 14 players on the roster, so that could throw a wrench in that theory. It’s anyone’s guess.
With Richard Jefferson not playing, in uniform, or even in the state tonight (along with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) when the Spurs take on the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, PA, there should be plenty of minutes to go around for players on the bubble. Maybe then we’ll get a longer look at who’s leading the charge.