The Spurs’ frontcourt is lopsided
You know that silly debate whether Tim Duncan is a power forward or center? It kind of matters now.
The Spurs areÂ 2-1, but through three games they’re a below average defensive team. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair are playing relatively poorly. This is not a statistical judgment. It’s one of those we-watch-the-games judgments. During the opening three games of the season, the Spurs’ starting frontcourt tandem of Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair has simply underperformed against expectation. The season is young, but the Spurs have at least one important problem to solve.
Offensively-speaking, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair are centers. They’re three players who, all things being equal, should play on the block. The Spurs’ offensive spacing goes to hell unless they have one frontcourt player spacing the floor for the other. This is why Matt Bonner is so effective in San Antonio, and why the Spurs miss him more than most fans realize.
What we’ve seen from this season’s early action bears this out. Tim Duncan is shooting a lot of long twos. Too many longs twos. DeJuan Blair is dramatically underperforming after a sizzling preseason. Last season, statistician Wayne Winston carefully demonstrated that DeJuan Blair is best paired with Matt Bonner, as their two-man APM is very strong. Blair plays well alongside Duncan if the Spurs are running a three guard set. Winston’s 2009/10 numbers show that Blair functions best alongside a floor stretching big or as the lone big in small ball sets.
On the defensive end of the court, Tim Duncan’s man is routinely the guy who comes out to set the pick. Opposing teams want, more than anything it seems, to get Tim Duncan switched on quick guards. Meanwhile, teams are able to exploit Blair’s height on the low block.
Long stretches of Duncan-Blair introduce offensive spacing issues into the offense. On defense, it puts both players in situations the Spurs would do better to avoid, or at least minimize. Blair can not space the floor for Duncan, and Duncan is wasted if he’s forced to spend the majority of his minutes shooting spot up 17 footers.
This is not to say that Duncan and Blair can not play well together. They can. But in shorter stints. They’ll flourish as good health allows the Spurs more flexibility to mix a diverse range of skill sets.
Jerry West used to say, when building a roster, it was best to have 12 guys who all brought something unique to the court. The Spurs are much closer to a Westian roster once Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter can be fully re-integrated into the game plan. This is stating the obvious, but I think it helps to explain DeJuan Blair’s early season struggles. And, although it’s easy to blame Tim Duncan’s most recent two games on Father Time, the more likely explanation is that Tim Duncan will benefit from better spacing too.
Matt Bonner is like cowbell. More, please.