Gary Neal’s appendix and James Anderson’s playing time
News came out late yesterday afternoon that Gary Neal had his appendix removed. Neal apparently began feeling pains on Sunday night and on Monday a decision was made to have his appendix removed. The pains were a result of his inflamed appendix, they didn’t make an arbitrary decision just to remove his appendix or anything like that. According to the team, Neal will be out of action for a week and then team doctors will decide his next course of action, or how much longer he’ll have to sit out.
Upon first thought, this isn’t great news. San Antonio’s first preseason game is Saturday night in Houston and the team has only been practicing since Friday. Any missed time in such a short training camp can hurt. Likewise if he misses any regular season time. Ideally you want a full squad for all of training camp and preseason to get a rhythm, in shape and off to a good start when the season begins.
But then again it may not be all bad, health issues aside. Neal was a mainstay in the rotation last year. He didn’t go through many of the rookie growing pains that a lot of Spurs do (See: Splitter, Tiago). He had a good grasp of the system and never fell into Pop’s doghouse of guys who didn’t know what they were doing. And he hit big shots. Boy, did he hit big shots. If any role player had a set spot in the lineup, it was Gary Neal.
James Anderson, on the other hand, is in a precarious situation. Through the first handful of games last season, he looked like he was going to have a solid foot in the rotation. He was playing well for the Spurs, especially for a rookie. Then he broke his foot and the wheels fell off of last season for James. He had surgery on his foot and sat for several months. When he finally returned in the new year, he played a handful of D-League games in Austin to get back in shape and never found a consistent spot on the floor back with the Spurs. By the time he was fully healthy, the season’s ship had sailed for Anderson and he didn’t have sufficient time to earn Pop’s trust.
Coming into this season, with the shortened training camp and compressed season, I had some concern that Anderson might not be a preferred member in the rotation. I would guess he was third on the depth chart at the shooting guard position, behind Neal and Manu Ginobili, and possibly third at the small forward spot behind Richard Jefferson and Kawhi Leonard. One of my fears this season is that Pop doesn’t feel this season is adequately long enough for him to develop a rotation and players he trusts. That instead he’ll fall back on last season and prefer generally the same rotation. This season kicks off, after all, just a few weeks before Pop normally has his rotation and preferences in mind during a full 82 game slate.
James Anderson needed every chance he could get to shine. With Neal out for at least a week, Anderson temporarily slides up the depth chart right behind Manu. Junction James will have plenty of reps with the second team in training camp and in Saturday’s game against the Rockets to convince Pop he’s a worthy member of this year’s rotation, and not simply a player for future consideration.