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 are 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.

  • SA_Ray

    Matt Bonner shouldn’t be playing more than 15 minutes a game though. Blair and Duncan are going to have to adjust to each other at some point aren’t they?

  • Timothy Varner

    Bonner for 15 mpg sounds right.

    Tim Duncan can’t adjust to the jumpshot DeJuan Blair doesn’t have.

    And, while we’re on the subject, it would make me proud if, whenever Matt Bonner went to the scorer’s table, the clank of cowbell filled the AT&T Center.


  • bigtee34

    I though the plan was for Timmy to take alot of 17-20 ft shots this year to minimize the wear and tear of the post up game, and let blair and tiago battle down low. At least thats what Sean Elliot said ” when timmy sets his feet he’s probably the best midrange shooter on the team”.

  • bigtee34

    wish I could edit I meant for that to say thought not though.

  • zainn

    I think the mcdyess and duncan combo should be starting, and youngans tiago and blair should just come off the bench. Mcdyess’ outside shooting can be somewhat of what matt bonner provided and the youth of tiago and blair can be amazing. Also, keep neal off the bench. Maybe he’ll win sixth man of the year…

  • dingo

    Eventually I see Splitter alongside Duncan starting. While it wouldn’t space the floor as much as Bonner, in the situation they try to take on Duncan via the pick and roll at least Splitter’s height isn’t a disadvantage and he can protect the rim.

    Then I see Bonner/Blair to sub Duncan/Splitter. A dose of McDyess when there is foul trouble, injuries, or Duncan’s resting on a SEGBABA.

    But its early. I think the Suns game should be interesting, hopefully we can get some revenge from last years sweep.

  • rj

    don’t mean to be gloomy, but is a trade in order for a more versatile, younger 4? seems like we have some real assests and the guard position, but too much to give up. we may have one of the best backcourts in the nba aside from the miami monsters. isn’t dejuan supposed to be playing more pf this season? duncan really showed some age last night, but applaud hos vet savvy for not trying to force himself into the game. he played well in what was a young man’s game

  • SA_Ray

    @Timothy Varner
    In my section, whenever Matt Bonner heads to the scorer’s table, you mostly hear sighs. :(

  • bduran

    I agree with this. Blair can be a monster, but he’s not very versatile at this point. He needs another offseason or two like the las tone. When TD is on the floor, the focus should be on what helps him. Luckily, when Bonner is healthy and Splitter is in shape I think we have plenty of front court versatility to show case all of our bigs. However, Blair should probably lose his starting position when Bonner comes back in order to maximize our talent.

    Blair should probably get most of his minutes with Bonner and McDyess. Especially since RJ is playing so well that the 3 guard sets are less of a necessity. Certainly I don’t think we should see a lot of Parker, Blair, and Duncan since all those guys prefer the paint.

  • Spicy

    I couldn’t disagree more with this posting. Bigtee34 has it completely right. The days of posting Timmy on the block all night are all but gone.

    The Spurs are going to be a lot of selective with when Tim posts up. They are trying to limit the wear and tear over the long grind of the season. We all know this. This is part of the evolution of that.

    Tim this year will be utilized more by being a screener, a cutter, and a jump shooter just as much, if not more so then him as a post up player. With DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, Tim’s role has changed!! Accept it.

    When Bonner returns, Tim will start to see more action on the block. This will be the case when the post season rolls around. But till then, this is the CORRECT move by coach Pop. Very rarely does Sean Elliot say anything close to useful insight, but in this instance he’s right.

    Tim has a very good mid-range jump shot. Sure its a little flat at times, but but he can make it consistently. Those fans thinking DeJuan’s evolution would be him taking those shots were gravely mistaken. Add in Tiago’s time on the floor, and Tim is now to the stage in his career where he is going to do what David Robinson did during his twilight run.

    Tiago is a screener and low post player. DeJuan is a screener and low post player. Timmy playing 15-18 feet out is the right move.

  • The Beat Counselor

    Hmmmm…well first off interesting article and we indeed have a dillema.

    Wasn’t Blair working on a mid-range shot over the summer? What happened to that? Love the kid but he needs to learn how to pump fake.

    Didn’t some European Laker Scout say on the 4-Down podcast in August that Splitter could shoot? Weren’t there descripitons of Splitters game as being like Varejao’s but that he was better offensively? Were those false?

    Also, TD looks really thin now, and yet he still isn’t able to guard the pick and roll. His weight makes me wonder if he can guard centers any more either.

    As for the Bonner solution, it makes sense but he is such a liability defensively. Wish Pop could spend a whole summer with MB the way he did with RJ.

    On a more positive note it seems like McDeyess is a lot more integrated into our system now and our gaurds are able to find him much more easily.

  • rob

    Points well taken and duly observed by others posting on this site regarding this very situation.

    I would give it some time to see how the Duncan/Blair combination pans out. But I wouldn’t give it more than 10 games before making an adjustment if production doesn’t get better than what’s been witnessed thus far.

    And though it was panned off…Duncan’s decline in ability to cover due to age IS the biggest factor in this scenario and one that cannot be reversed. So either Blair is going to have to become the post player coming out to defend and/or develop a consistent short range jumper to help compensate for Duncan’s lack of athleticism. Or…. hope that Splitter learns the system quick enough to play the role that Blair is playing now.

    To me Bonner and McDyess are out of the question to be the starters on the frontcourt for obvious reasons. But if one of them were to have to be…I’d prefer McDyess. So that leaves only Splitter to help in this situation by accelerating his ability to become the starter. Blair playing with McDyess or Bonner better suits the scenario stated in the original post though it drastically deminishes our post defending abilities in that situation.

    I hope hind sight doesn’t become 20/20 by not getting another defensive big this past offseason. But as it stands now (without knowing how well Tiago will develop) it has a very good chance of becoming just that from what’s been shown thus far.

  • Jordan

    I see Tiago starting by the end of the season. Blair just works better as a guy coming off the bench with high energy.

    As for our defensive woes, I feel like the problem is that we’re conceding the mid-range shot too willingly. We do a decent job of chasing people off the 3, but either our bigs sag off too much or don’t even come out. Now, I know a staple of the Spurs D is to concede the long 2 if we have to give up a shot, but can we please at least try and defend it?

    This game felt like we were being blown out in the first quarter. I was amazed to see we tied. It was a decent win, though I have no idea how we won by nearly double digits.

  • Jaceman

    That is true, but do you think Duncan’s decline in effectiveness stems from age reducing his mobility? Duncan and Robinson traded time in the low-block fairly effectively back in the heyday of Spurs dominance. I understand that Duncan won’t be blocking as many shots rotating, and as currently stands DeJuan Blair is closer to a glorified Malik Rose than a Charles Barkley per se, though if I recall correctly, Rose had a sort of jump shot.

    While I like Duncan a lot on the low block, would it be feasible to run offenses through Duncan out 12-15 feet in the wings (where he likes that bank) and use him as a high post passer as opposed to the pick-and-pops that the guards are currently running? That I feel would also more effectively use the skills of say like Richard Jefferson as well. Personally, I’m seeing way more isolation plays than I like. While I like the ball movement, it’s like we’re throwing the ball around going, “Okay, now it’s your turn to try what you’re good at to score.”

    More than necessarily a jump shot (though that’s a very big part of it) Blair needs to develop a more versatile offensive game. He can’t try to back his way into the basket all the time, especially in the NBA, where the big men are bigger and stronger than in the NCAA. Get to the foul line DeJuan. The height issue will always be an issue. It was the same issue that Jeff Van Gundy faced playing Larry Johnson in 1999. Can Blair compensate for that? I didn’t relish Larry Johnson shooting 3-4 three pointers per game, but he could (and hit a decent enough number).

    @rj While we do have a glut of backcourt talent, most of it is unproven except Manu and Tony. Big men are hard to come by. Is there really anyone out there that you can think of that we can land with a trade of like Gary Neal, Bobby Simmons, Curtis Jerrells, or even George Hill and/or James Anderson (both of whom I don’t want to trade)?

  • bduran

    I think Duncan’s decline is over rated. He’s still a very efficient post player on offense and he’s still a great rebounder. I also don’t think his man defense has suffered much. The two areas that I see a decline are in his ability to play big minutes and his pick and roll D where being a bit slower in the NBA can really hurt. We’ve certainly addressed the minutes issue by getting some quality bigs with Blair, McDyess, Splitter, and even Bonner. Now we need to work on helping him out in the pick n roll.

  • Rodrigo

    Just saw a Spurs game on courtside seats for the first time and I learned that TD and Blair are not on a chemistry high at all.

    Listened and saw TD frustrated with Blair (it feels to me that Blair is hanging too much on TD spots) and that has forced Duncan to play more like a pure center things he has been doing sporadically though never full time. Heck he has even been shooting that classic baseline J Oberto used to take though ineffectively.

    I think Splitter will start at the true 5 and TD will move back to the 4. Blair’s role will become what Malik Rose’s used to be circa 2003.

  • Zeus

    Trade Blair and Gee to Minnesota for Kevin Love. Kahn will fall for this. Trust me.

  • joeeeeeee

    top ten nba players of all time:
    1. Matt Bonner
    2.Michael Jordan
    3.Wilt chamberlin
    4.Magic Johnson
    5.Bill Russell
    6.Oscar Robertson
    7.Larry Bird
    8.Kobe Bryant
    9.Kareem Abdul Jabbar
    10.Hakeem Olajuwan

  • Andres

    I think all the talk about spacing is nonsense, the spurs best years have come from:
    Duncan- Robinson
    Duncan- Nestorovich
    Duncan- Mohamed
    Duncan- Oberto

    Those were great defensive teams and championship teams. If anything, the spurs system is built for two long players in the paint…

  • Timothy Varner


    C’mon. Bonner shouldn’t be higher than number 3 on this list.

  • Espoon

    I say that on Dec. 15 the Spurs trade Bonner, McDyess, and other for B. Diaw. Let the Bobcats buyout McDyess and let him take a holiday break before he returns to the Spurs. Get a 3rd team involved if they need to. Make Diaw the starter, bring Blair off the bench, and have McDyess as the 5th big.

  • SAinSLC

    I got a FEVER!!!

  • Pingback: The Point Forward » Posts Court Vision «()

  • rob
  • Destry White

    I love Blair BUT he is undersized. This poses a big problem for us. If we meet the Lakers in the playoffs (assuming we make the playoffs) I just dont see many minutes for Blair.

  • Jim Henderson

    “I would give it some time to see how the Duncan/Blair combination pans out.”

    Rob has it right on this. It’s way too early to make decisive judgments about TD & DeJuan playing together. The fact is, Blair’s upside is at the power forward, not the center. And TD’s future is more at the center, not at PF. As far as offensive & defensive sets, we can mix & match our five bigs depending on the match-ups game to game. Some match-ups are simply difficult, like Kaman & Griffin, regardless of who’s guarding them.

    “To me Bonner and McDyess are out of the question to be the starters on the frontcourt for obvious reasons. But if one of them were to have to be…I’d prefer McDyess.”

    I agree.

    “I hope hind sight doesn’t become 20/20 by not getting another defensive big this past offseason. But as it stands now (without knowing how well Tiago will develop) it has a very good chance of becoming just that from what’s been shown thus far.”

    That’s why I wanted to get Amundson so badly.

  • bduran

    I agree that McDyess and Bonner shouldn’t be starters, but in McDyess’ case it’s only because of age. So far I like what he’s giving us when he’s on the court, he just can’t play starters minutes. However, I’m not sure we need a true “starter” other than TD in the front court. If TD is getting 30 minutes a game that leaves 66 minutes left (minus whatever time we go small with RJ or Simmons at the 4) for Blair, Splitter, McDyess and Bonner. That’s only 16.5 minutes for each. I definitely agree with Jim, we just mix and match depending on who we’re playing and what’s working. All of those guys are at least okay in the right situation and I’m banking on Blair and Splitter being much better than okay by year end.
    I’m of the opinion that having Bonner and McDyess as your worst two bigs out of 5 is a good thing.

  • viper160

    OK, where to start? Let’s all remember that DeJuan Blair is not going to grow-so what we have is someone 6 foot 5 that was drafted to be a big. Sorry DeJuan Blair will not be 6 foot 11 or 7 feet tall. He occupies space in the paint and can bang but if he is required to guard Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol forget it. As for all the Matt Bonner lovers out there, he is slow on his feet, he plays matador defense, and his rebounding and defensive blockouts are questionable. Tim will get his points but he is not going to be a 20 year old Tim. Tiago Splitter has been injured and is slowly being worked into game shape. If we all will think about Nazr , Antonio or Fabricio they were bigs who clogged up the paint on defense and put in garbage buckets off a rebound. Tiago will be in the game more as he gets in shape, and his offense will improve as he gets to spend more time playing with his teammates. It will take time for this team realize the weapons that it has and being 2 and 1 after 3 games is great. DeJuan’s effectiveness on the offensive side of the court will increase once he gets a consistent 15 to 18 foot shot. It will force the defense to go out and cover him, until he gets an outside shot the defense will continue to collapse on Tim. I had hoped DeJuan would have spent the summer working on a jump shot off the dribble but so far he still looks like last years DeJuan. DeJuan’s lack of an outside shot will cost the Spurs games, he can increase space for Tim, Antonio or Tiago. If we will all recall Bruce Bowen yes, had a corner 3 point shot that progressively got better(he even developed a short mid-range shot) by working with the shooting coach and Bruce actually improved his free throw shooting-so DeJuan just needs to live at the gym dribbling and shooting . If he doesn’t it will be to see if the Spurs make some player moves to get height and offensive stretching other than Bonner(Yuch!).

  • Ismo

    Bonner huh? Look at the past 3 years. Bonner has done nothing but abandon Tim, standing outside the 3 point line. You want to talk about spacing? If Bonner could hit a shot that matters in the playoffs, maybe that concept would be true. Bonner is an over-sized 2 guard that can’t play defense. The help will come from Tiago, Blair, and McDyess clogging the paint.

  • rob


    “However, I’m not sure we need a true “starter” other than TD in the front court.”

    I agree with your other points besides this. If the Spurs can’t develop/hope/or otherwise find another legit “starting” type of post player besides Duncan…you might as well reserve this team not going far in the playoffs.

    Duncan (though far from being done as a player) is no where near the post player anymore that can carry a team. This team needs at least 2 legit (including Duncan) starting type of post players to even have a glimpse of going far in the playoffs.

  • lvmainman

    Splitter should be the starter over Blair(after he gets in shape and acclimated to the team). Blair is just to short to play as a starter vs Griffin/Kaman. He matches better with Craig “Rhino” Smith, who got ejected, “Baby” Davis, “Birdman”, etc. off the bench. Blair is getting annihilated as a starter defensively.

  • annie

    Blair will be able to make the appropriate adjustments as the season progresses. Depending on who the Spurs face, he may be more effective against some teams while least effective against others.

    It’s only been 3 games into the season, and while observations are pertinent, I believe its important not to over analyze any one thing. Splitter will become an integral part of the rotation once he plays himself into shape and understands what is to be expected of him.

    Living in LA, I was really shocked that some pundits picked the Spurs to miss the playoffs with the Clips taking their place. As long as the coach has lost control of the ship and players sit out with suspect injuries, the Clips will always be the Clips.

    While Duncan didn’t have a great game yesterday, he did just enough for the Spurs to earn the victory.

    The Spurs will be just fine as the year goes along.

  • zack in the alamo

    remember people this is game 3 and let timmy get his body into shape now that hes older this is part of it but i think hell be fine he worked his ass off. relax hes not done! by game 13 well see what the spurs are

  • J2

    The way Neal is playing I’d be tempted to trade Hill, Blair, and Bonner to a rebuilding team for a player who is an upgrade on Blair at the starting 4 position.

    Then Splitter and McDyess are the backups.


  • Jim Henderson

    November 2nd, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    “Blair is just to short to play as a starter vs Griffin/Kaman.”

    Too early to give up on Blair as a starter at this time. Those guys (Griffin/Kaman) are simply tough covers. TD & Splitter cannot guard either of them very well either. Having an in game-shape Splitter for 20-plus minutes in the rotation may have helped though overall last night. Blair just needs to start doing a better job doing what he does best on the offensive end: getting rebounds & garbage points inside, using pump fakes & his body to clear space (he’s trying/worrying about incorporating too many different shots all at once, and looking for outside shots too frequently, and it’s hurting his confidence). On the defensive end he needs to focus on moving his feet & getting good positioning — maybe work on drawing offensive fouls, as well as on his strip’s down low.

  • N.B. Ballers

    At SA_RAY the people around you must not have a real good basketball IQ.

    Matt Bonner may not be an athletic person thats entertaining to watch but he can spread the floor on the offensive end and can play average to above average defense.

    He does not back down to anyone.


    Timmy had 4 blocks his first game. RJ is averaging 18 points a game. That’s good.
    Splitter’s 1st game bad. 2points, 2 rebounds 10 minutes.
    The Spurs Front Office has been very loyal $$$ to the Spurs big 3, not it’s time for them to produce. I don’t buy that they’re too old. What about Phoenix, Dallas, and even L.A. Grant Hill’s 38 and he still has his jump shot. Think he put up 20 a couple of games ago. Look at Nash and Kidd. Just googled this stat. Kobe Bryant 198 playoff games vs. T.D.’S 170. No excuses.
    I know the Spurs also have trouble when they play younger more athletic teams. But to me there is no excuse. The big 3 need to stop playing like there old and settling for jump shots. T.P., no jump shots take the ball to the rim more and draw fouls and get to the F.T. line; get some high pick in rolls with T.D. at the top of the key like old times. Same with Ginobli. More driving to the rim and drawing fouls and less jump shots. No more 11 3 pointers shot a game . Timmy no more rushed jump shots outta your range. C’mon guys let’s get it together. Let’s play someD-fense. Buy into Pop’s system. D-fense wins games and championships.

  • rj

    if blair is better suited as a 4, shouldnt he be able to post up and shoot mid range? blair is too short to have an effe2ctive nba post game ans his shot will take years to develop. he is more of a carl landry, chuck hayes enegery frront court player who will make a living off of his tenacity off the bench. bonner still suits as a starter because he would be our only spot up shooter to start the game. he would obviously play role players minutes. dice is our insurance policy. our best hope is tiago and duncan meshing. we will need their seize come playoff time should wteams like portland or dallas or those purple and yellow guys from los angelees

  • grego

    Blair needs to come off the bench. You can hide a guy easier from unfavorable matchups when he’s up against 2nd units.

    His game should show improvement as he’s facing the 2nd unit guys. This is probably part of the reason why he did well in the preseason. He’s probably pressing too much which is the other part of the reason.

  • rob

    For kicks I did a trade situation involving the Hawks and Spurs because of the rumors of Atlanta looking to once again trade Josh Smith.

    How many would be in favor of this?

  • Jim Henderson

    November 2nd, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    “if blair is better suited as a 4, shouldnt he be able to post up and shoot mid range? blair is too short to have an effe2ctive nba post game ans his shot will take years to develop. he is more of a carl landry, chuck hayes enegery frront court player who will make a living off of his tenacity off the bench. bonner still suits as a starter because he would be our only spot up shooter to start the game.”

    Blair has the potential to be a very good starting four in this league. Blair has the raw talent to be one of those very unique undersized fours for a variety of reasons (body girth, large hands, enormous wing span, pretty good quickness & hops, etc.). Whether he can adequately handle the role of starting PF on this team this year it’s too early to tell.

    Look, I’m a firm believer that talented young players coming into the league mature much faster as an NBA caliber player if they’re given sufficient minutes and responsibility. First of all, Blair is just 21 years old. He’s not even close to his peak. He did not need to develop a dependable mid-range jumper in college to be very valuable to his team as their center, namely because he was an awesome rebounder, and very good scorer near the rim. Even at 6’6″, in college he could be successful in the paint with a fairly limited game. However, since many NBA centers are 6’11” to over 7′ tall, for Blair to reach his potential in the NBA he would eventually have to develop the skills of a PF. Obviously, he came into the NBA with some undeveloped skills as a four. One of those skills is a mid-range jumper. There was some evidence during the preseason that his jumper had improved some from last year. It also appears obvious that it still needs more work.

    There’s a few things (other than fine-tuning the mechanics) that are critical to coming up with a dependable jumper in the NBA: (1) learning how to get to spots on the floor where you feel the most comfortable, (2) getting a good feel for proper shot selection, and (3) developing a “shooting confidence”. Blair is in the early stages of working on all three of these (and probably his mechanics as well), but it will not do us or him any good by not giving him sufficient opportunity to develop these skills in plenty of game time at the four.

    TD is now too slow to best be used at the four in most match-ups, and this will become more apparent from this point forward. In fact, speed at the four was never Timmy’s strength, even when he was 25 years old. But he was fast enough to allow a very skilled 6’11” guy to cause havoc in match-ups with guys 2 or 3 inches shorter. TD should be matched up mainly against the tallest, and usually the slowest 4/5 opponent, which typically is the center.

    Also, Manu is multi-talented. He can do some spot-up shooting on our starting unit (RJ can spot up some as well). We don’t need Bonner to start for spot-up shooting. Besides, the first unit should get us off to an aggressive start by focusing on pick & rolls, penetrating to the rim, getting on the offensive boards, pulling up for mid-range jumpers, etc. The second unit can be more of a movement offense, looking to score in transition, and spotting-up from three. It looks like we have some pretty good guys to fill these roles: Hill, Neal, Anderson, Temple, Bonner, McDyess.

    But of course Pop is in the early stages of settling on rotations. Certainly the 4/5’s rotation is still a work in progress, but I see no need to worry about our starting line-up as yet. All five 4/5’s are probably going to get a decent amount of playing time, and there’s a variety of ways you could go with it. In my view, finding the right substitution pattern is more important that messing with the starting line-up at this stage. And I think it’s key to do whatever it takes to bolster Blair’s confidence at this point as long as we’re winning games at a decent rate.

  • MJ

    Pop is hoping Blair will be like Malik Rose back in the day when Malik played good for the spurs. Duncan isn’t as quick as he use to be so he’s playing more of a pure center. The number one question is, can Blair guard the 4s who play on the perimeter like Malik Rose did, especially against Dallas. Blair can surely rebound, he’s young, and he doesn’t mind banging around with the physical players. Bonner is important for spreading the floor but he is a huge liability on defense. If he ain’t making his threes then we get down big time. If Blair can keep up (move his feet) with the quick fours defensively, he’ll be fine. He doesn’t have to guard the centers – that’s Duncan’s job. Until Tiago splitter understands the system, which will probably take a whole season, Blair is the best starter for the spurs. But in all reality, Tiago splitter is the talent the spurs need to be the starter. He just needs to learn the system and get comfortable playing in it. The spurs’ system is best with two 7 footers starting because on defense they like to force the other team’s perimeter players into our shot blockers on the baseline. But we don’t have any shot blockers outside of Duncan and he doesn’t jump as high anymore cause of his knees.

  • Jim Henderson

    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    “His game should show improvement as he’s facing the 2nd unit guys. This is probably part of the reason why he did well in the preseason.”

    But he went up against starting units in the preseason and put up pretty good numbers.

    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    I’m okay with it on our end because I really like Josh Smith, and think he’d be a good fit for us, but who’s going to start at the forward positions for Atlanta after this deal?

  • andy

    “In my view, finding the right substitution pattern is more important that messing with the starting line-up at this stage. And I think it’s key to do whatever it takes to bolster Blair’s confidence at this point as long as we’re winning games at a decent rate.”

    agreed on both points. it’s only 3 games in, as many have mentioned, and we’re still getting a feel for what works best. also, i think people are underestimating both blair and duncan. duncan is still light years better as a post scorer than even dwight howard. he’s just that much more advanced in his moves and options, not to mention passing. it would be a waste to have him spot up only half of his possessions. defensively, i think blair and duncan can be ok, as long as blair learns to move his feet, take better angles, and strip the ball (all of which it looks like he’s doing a better job this year).

    main point? give it time, people. bonner will be back and probably get his 15. love the humor though

  • Tim in Surrey


    Sorry folks, this is going to be a long post. But I have to help bduran and Jim Henderson inject a little sanity into this discussion.

    First of all, the season is three games old. As John Cusack once put it: “You… must… chill!”

    Second, Blair will be fine on defense, given some time. He isn’t as small as some of you are making him out to be. How big is he? Let’s examine that. The NBA draft combine provides a couple of different height measurements–with shoes and without. Just as it is in baseball, with the slow gun and the fast gun, people use the bad measurement to criticize and the good one to praise. I’d rather pick one and stick with it. So, Viper160, if you refer to DeJuan Blair as 6’5″ then you should refer to Blake Griffin as 6’8″, Carmelo Anthony as 6’6″, and Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki as 6’10”. (BTW, Yao Ming without shoes? Still 7’5″!) However, the NBA typically uses the higher measurement (with shoes) and rounds up fractions of .5″ or larger, which is why they list Blair as 6’7″, Griffin as 6’10”, Carmelo as 6’8″, and Duncan and Nowitzki as 7’0″. On this board, we tend to use the NBA listing, so can we all agree to refer to DeJuan Blair’s height as 6’7″, rather than 6’5″?

    Additionally, while it is useful to have your head above the crowd, it’s even more useful to have your hands there. That’s why the NBA also measures how high a player can reach with his feet flat on the floor. In Blair’s case, his standing reach is 8’10.5″, which compares favorably with Blake Griffin’s 8’9″. In other words, Blair can reach higher than Griffin unless they have enough time and space to jump from a running start. The NBA also combines standing reach with a player’s maximum vertical leap to see just how high their hands can go, even under those ideal conditions. In Blair’s case the measurement was 11’7.5″, which is only an inch below Griffin’s. That’s fine, but standing reach and wingspan are the best measurements of the barrier you pose as a defender. That’s why players, coaches, and GMs like to talk about “length” rather than “height”. DeJuan Blair has more than enough length to guard the interior in the NBA.

    (If you’d like to see the measurements for yourself, follow this link: Note that by far the largest measurements that year went to Hasheem Thabeet. I believe we all remember how that matchup went.)

    Besides, quick feet and long arms cause far more problems for offensive players than height. That’s why Dennis Rodman, Kevin McHale, and Bruce Bowen were such amazing defenders. Strength helps, too, but only if you can move it quickly. Blair has surprisingly quick feet for such a large and strong guy. However, players with his kind of build tend to take a longer time to learn how to use their strength without fouling. Blair is still figuring it out. For my money, the best example of the kind of defender that DeJuan will become in a year or two–if he wants it badly enough–is Anthony Mason, who made the All-NBA defensive second team.

    Third, Tim Duncan is not a bad defender of the pick and roll! Can we stop with this already? The persistence of this comment reminds me of a few years ago when a critic accused Jamiroquai of ripping off Stevie Wonder. Within a few weeks every critic was saying the same thing. I’m a musicologist who wrote my dissertation on Stevie Wonder’s music but nobody believed me when I disagreed. Why? Because they had read it in the newspaper, so it MUST be true.

    I think all of this excessive bashing of Duncan’s pick and roll defense is the same kind of thing. People’s use of this “wisdom” has been growing ever since John Hollinger wrote about it. But I don’t believe he said that Duncan couldn’t defend the pick and roll, but rather that he couldn’t defend it as well as he used to, when he was perhaps the best defender of the pick and roll EVER TO PLAY THE GAME.

    Against the pick and roll, an effective big man needs enough strength and size to defend the opposing big man and fight against too deep of a position for the pick, as well as enough quickness and length to switch to the opposing guard and prevent an easy drive or close-range shot. But even with such an interior defender, when the opposing guard is a dangerous scorer who can thread the needle with a quick pass (e.g. John Stockton, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, etc.) you still end up with your guard defending their big man in the paint–which is a disaster. At that point the only thing you can really do is bring help from another player, which causes a whole series of defensive rotations. In the long run, especially over a playoff series, a patient team with that kind of point guard will make you pay.

    But Duncan was so good that he could defend the big man, fight the position of the pick, switch to the opposing point guard and make him pass, and still switch back to the big man AFTER the pass, make him miss, and grab the rebound. Very few players have ever been able to do that on a consistent basis, especially in the playoffs when teams have plenty of time to look for weaknesses. That’s a big part of why Duncan was by far the best defensive player in the league for years. And Pop is smart enough to recognize gold when it falls into his hands, so he built the Spurs defense in part to take advantage of Duncan’s remarkable defensive ability.

    Key word in that paragraph? “Was.” Tim can’t guard the pick and roll like that anymore. Phoenix proved that in the 2010 playoffs. Given that the Spurs’ defensive system was originally built for the combination of Duncan’s great interior defense and Bruce Bowen’s great perimeter defense, which were no longer available, the Spurs had quietly developed a weakness that Phoenix really exposed. However, Tim Duncan is still one of the best defensive big men in the league and is still an effective defender against the pick and roll. He’s just not historically great any more.

    The Spurs are adjusting to this. But for the time being, when we play teams that have quick, penetrating guards who can really pass and score (like, say, Darren Collinson, Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon?) as well as an effective big man who can catch a hot pass and score in a variety of ways (e.g. Roy Hibbert, David West, and Chris Kaman?), we will be vulnerable to the pick and roll… just like every other team in the league.

    And let’s not assume that Tiago Splitter will fix this problem, because he won’t. He’ll never be able to do what Tim Duncan did five years ago. The only other players I’ve seen do it consistently were a pre-’78 Bill Walton, a young David Robinson, and maybe Kareem, especially when he was in Milwaukee (I was pretty young, though, so I’m really fuzzy on that). I’ve been told by people who know such things that Russell was as good at it as Duncan. And that’s it. Those are the five greatest interior defenders of all time, folks. Tim might have been the best of them all but he’s certainly not at that level anymore. However, he is still one of the best interior defenders in the league right now.

    So after that really long, self-indulgent ramble, let me summarize:
    1. We’ve only played three games, so please chill.
    2. Blair is big enough to defend the interior but he’s still learning how to do it.
    3. Tim Duncan is a very good pick and roll defender but he’s not the GOAT any more, so he will need the other players to learn their rotations and provide some help. The same goes for Tiago.

    So let’s look forward to seeing tonight’s game against Phoenix. Steve Nash will be there, but this time without his trusty dive man Amare. Please remember, though, it’s still an early season road game against a playoff contender with a hall-of-fame point guard. If the Spurs lose, it’s not an omen of the end of all days.

  • Tyler

    3 games in and people are already overreacting in regards to Blair. If you bothered to watch the game, it’s obvious he’s rushing and simply trying too hard. It’s just nerves. Once he settles down, he’ll be fine.

    And who cares who starts next to TD? The only thing that matters is who finishes. So what if Bonner starts, but only plays 15 minutes per game? How does that change anything?

  • rob


    “So what if Bonner starts, but only plays 15 minutes per game? How does that change anything?”

    Different skill sets by individual players determines how the team is going to implement a style of play.

    I think what the Spurs are wanting to implement as far as starters are concerned is a consistency and unity to establishing a rythym.

    It does matter who starts in games since it is the foundation of the rythym the team is trying to establish.

    I agree that who finishes is important. But who starts and the rythym that’s trying to be accomplished is just as important as in who finishes.

    Bonner is not a starter in terms of what I think the Spurs are wanting to establish at the start of games. But is more important than people realize to the success of the team during the course of a game.

  • Tyler

    @ Rob

    I think we actually agree. Getting off to a good start is important. My point was if it’s in fact Bonner that could help us get off to that good start on a consistent basis, so be it. If it’s a good rhythm you want, and if Pop finds he gets that with Bonner more so than the other guys, then Pop should start him.

    Just because he’s a role player used for 15 minutes per game, doesn’t mean he can’t start the game with the first unit.

    “Bonner is not a starter in terms of what I think the Spurs are wanting to establish at the start of games. But is more important than people realize to the success of the team during the course of a game.”

    I think the Spurs have made a committed effort to push the ball, especially to start the game with TP and Manu both on the floor. I think Bonner could find a pretty nice role as the trail man on our secondary break with the starting unit. I envision him getting a lot of open looks after TP and Manu’s initial push.

  • SPURS all day

    SA FO please bring in Ryan Richards the second round draft pick of this year. hes at least 6’10 and looks to be athletic.

    let go of simmons and KEEP Alonzo Gee and Ryan Richards.

    we need more athletes.

    Throw Richards into the fire. I think it would only make him better or for him to work harder.

  • rob


    “I think the Spurs have made a committed effort to push the ball, especially to start the game with TP and Manu both on the floor. I think Bonner could find a pretty nice role as the trail man on our secondary break with the starting unit. I envision him getting a lot of open looks after TP and Manu’s initial push.”

    Which I’m sure he could.

    And I think we do agree on the importance of Bonner. Just not the premise he should start. And though you may be correct in the open look assesment…I think the team is looking to push even faster by having Blair as the starter.

    Duncan will start but cannot run at that pace. Well neither can Bonner. If the team is looking to establish (and this just may be an early experiment we’re witnessing to see if it works) a rythym to pushing the ball early in the game…Blair or Splitter would be your likely candidates to help make that succesful.

    That plus the fact that Bonner’s defense is suspect at best wouldn’t help to what has appeared to be (in it’s early stages) a glitch in the front court tandem of Duncan and Blair to effectively defend the p-n-r.

    But you’ve got to realize that having Duncan and Bonner on the court at the same time would nulify the fast paced effort to being less effective than having a quicker/faster post player getting down the court for easy layups.

    Which is what I think the Spurs are trying to have happen. If this Blair/Duncan-faster paced-establish a rythym method doesn’t seem to be working after 10 to 12 games….I’m for seeing if your idea of Bonner starting while trying to implement a faster start to the game would work.

    But right now I’m willing to at least give it time as it stands to see if the current lineup can become effective.