Can DeJuan Blair be an All-Star when Tim Duncan retires?
DeJuan Blair became a favorite of just about everybody involved with the Spurs in his single season in the NBA (there’s gotta be someone who doesn’t like him, right?). Selected with the 37th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, analysts immediately dubbed Blair the steal of the draft. His 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game were solid for a rookie, but nothing spectacular.
What were spectacular, however, were the performances Blair put on in games where Tim Duncan was unavailable. On January 13 of last season, the Spurs paid a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Duncan sat out the game after playing 40 minutes the night before and Blair started in his place. 48 minutes of game time later, Blair racked up 28 points, 21 rebounds and two blocked shots. In the last game of the regular season, with Duncan resting before the playoffs, Blair put up 27 points, 23 rebounds (8 offensive) and four assists in a 96-89 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Another performance of note, though one that doesn’t factor much into the general message of this post, was his showing in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge.
This output in the absence of Duncan leads to the question, can Blair put up similar numbers on a consistent basis when Duncan retires? Obviously, itâ€™s damn-near impossible for a 6â€™7â€ post player with little to work with for a jump shot, or any post player for that matter, to average 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. But can Blair put up the requisite numbers on a nightly basis to make him an All-Star?
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Blairâ€™s per 36 minute numbers last season are close to what he would need to get the attention of voters and opposing coaches. One area not in the table that he needs to work on, and will with proper development, is fouling. Foul trouble limited Blair’s minutes in a number of games during his rookie season, and 5.4 fouls per 36 minutes is not a good sign. Otherwise, here are Blair’s numbers per 36 minutes:
|Name||Points per 36 minutes||Rebounds||Assists||Blocks|
Looking at the per 36 minute numbers from last yearâ€™s Western Conference All-Star big men, Blair has some work to do. But he’s close.
|Name||Points per 36 minutes||Rebounds||Assists||Blocks|
Needless to say, per 36 minute averages are not the end all, be all of selecting All-Stars. For one, thereâ€™s no guarantee that increasing Blairâ€™s minutes will likewise increase his production. Some players are more effective in limited action. With Blair, we have a small sample of very impressive performances in expanded minutes, performances where Blair was not the focal point entering the game. Itâ€™s tough to say how good he would have been if the opposing team entered the game prepared for Blair being the number one or number two option offensively.
The starting spots on the All-Star team, voted by the fans, go to the stars. And as much as people seem to like Blair, heâ€™s not there yet. His only real shot is latching on as a reserve, and coaches have their own reasons for selecting the All-Star back-ups. Those spots go to the best of the rest, players who are having excellent seasons. Sometimes itâ€™s a player deserving of a starting spot but — thanks to the irregularities of fan voting — he doesnâ€™t get it. Other times spots go to players on the teams having the best seasons. Almost every season this past decade, you could count on the Spurs having a couple of All-Stars. Same with the Lakers. When Duncan retires, whoâ€™s to say the Spurs will have a good enough record to warrant an All-Star spot or two?
But where the future looks promising, is seeing how limited Blairâ€™s offensive game is right now. As mentioned previously, Blair has no jump shot. Itâ€™s the primary reason he couldn’t play alongside Tim Duncan last season, as Duncan is more effective when paired with a big man who can hit a 15-foot jump shot. Blair worked this summer with Spurs shooting coach Chip Engellend, but we donâ€™t yet know the extent of his improvement in that area. Time will tell.
In addition to the lack of shooting prowess for Blair, his post game needs to be more creative. Because heâ€™s shorter, Blairâ€™s back-to-the-basket game is limited to a lot of up-fakes and using his wide base to create space. Thereâ€™s not a polished up-and-under move or jump hook for him to throw at defenders. Most of his points come off of offensive rebounds and rolling to the basket on the pick-and-roll. Adding any sort of post move and/or jump shot to his game will immediately give a bump to Blairâ€™s scoring numbers.
But where Blair did excel last season, was as the roll man in Spurs’ pick-and-roll situations. Often paired with Manu Ginobili, Blair scored 1.05 points per possession on plays where he took a shot as the roll man, according to Synergy Sports. He shot 56% from the field on those plays and scored 54% of the time. Blair even had 11 And-1′s.
DeJuan Blair is deceptively quick for a guy with his girth. Couple that with above-average ball-handling skills, and you’ve got the makings of an excellent face-up post player. Once he gets a jump shot, that is. And this summer, Blair appeared to slim down some, presenting the possibility that he could own an even better first step.
Until Tim Duncan retires, though, how much court time Blair sees depends on his defense. As an undersized big man, opposing teams sometimes view Blair as the weak link on the defensive end of the floor. In Game 2 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Phoenix Suns, the Suns gave the ball to Amare Stoudemire repeatedly in the fourth quarter when Blair was in the game. More than a third of the shots Blair defended last season were in the post. Of those, Blair allowed 1.07 points per possession.
On the flip side, Blair was reasonably successful defending the pick-and-roll in his rookie year. He gave up only 0.9 points per possession when defending shots by the roll man in pick-and-roll situations. This is a good sign considering how often NBA teams run the pick-and-roll and the good looks players get at the basket when receiving the ball as a roll man.
Continuing the development Blair showed as a rookie, is it unreasonable to expect him to contend for an All-Star spot in two or three years? No, not unreasonable. But weird things happen when some guys play starter’s minutes, and their production dips. There’s nothing to make us think that Blair will encounter this same fate, other than his fouling habits, and his performances in Tim Duncan’s absence last season stand on their own.