“It’s only the preseason,” they say: Houston Rockets 101, San Antonio Spurs 87

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I know what you want to talk about. Kawhi Leonard didn’t look bad, and he certainly outplayed Richard Jefferson. James Anderson shot terribly (1-9), but that was easy to forgive because he got the shots he wanted and played with relentless confidence. Good marks for Anderson. And then there was the Cory Joseph preseason surprise.  Cory Joseph looked like a basketball player. A real one. NBA style. All positives from tonight’s loss. Those are the things we didn’t know.

This game, on the whole, was about the stuff we already knew.

The Spurs are deep in the backcourt. Parker, Ford, Ginobili, Neal, Anderson, and (perhaps) even Cory Joseph will form a solid rotation. The Spurs are green on the wing, but they have enough talent to compete, especially considering James Anderson and Danny Green can fill minutes behind Jefferson and Leonard. That’s not our biggest problem, anymore. The Spurs front court, on the other hand? That is a problem. It was all messy and sideways and embarrassing tonight, especially the interior defense.

Gregg Popovich started Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair together. We learned what most of us already expected. That isn’t going to work. Pop’s major halftime adjustment was starting Matt Bonner in the second half. Splitter and Blair did not play a single minute together in the second half.

DeJuan Blair led the team in points and rebounds, with 16 and 7 respectively. Which would be nice, but he also posted the team’s worst plus/minus (-19) and most turnovers (5). The Spurs were more competitive in the second half, and that’s when Blair gave his best minutes.

Splitter finished with 13 points and 3 rebounds. He posted a negative 2 plus/minus, but played very well in the second half. So both Blair and Splitter played well in the second half, but—as we just said—never together.

A quick glance at the Game Flows shows that the Spurs had three runs in this game, a 14-2 in the first quarter and third and forth quarter bursts of 17-4 and 9-1. Blair and Splitter only shared the court for a couple minutes of the first run. Otherwise, the most positive action of this game saw Blair or Splitter paired with either Bonner or Novak.

Why is it such a problem to pair they Blair and Splitter together? In short, neither can shoot anything outside the paint. Paired with a shooting big, both Blair and Splitter are each capable of hurting teams inside. But when they’re together, they’re constantly creeping into the space the other needs to be effective.

The front court issues are compounded by the fact that, outside of Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ interior defense is abysmal. The Spurs’ front court gave up 37 points and 18 rebounds to Luis Scola and Jordan Hill. Tiago Splitter is a competent defender, but it’s hard to pair him with Blair because of the all offense-centric reasons I’ve outlined above. Blair’s plus/minus in this game had everything to do with his defense. As part of his preseason preview, John Hollinger summarized Blair’s defensive abilities in this way:

Blair’s defensive stats are scary, and not in a good way. According to 82games.com, opposing power forwards lit him up for a 21.3 PER; at center, where he played more than a third of his minutes, it was 24.3. The Spurs gave up 3.06 points per 100 possessions more with Blair on the court, according to basketballvalue.com, and Synergy Stats weren’t too keen on his play either. Oddly, he led all power forwards in steals per minute, but that may have been part of the problem — too much reaching and not enough fundamental defense.

I haven’t calculated the one-game PERs of Hill or Scola tonight, but I bet those numbers are perfectly consistent with Hollinger’s synopsis.

Let me put this differently. Matt Bonner is a below average defensive player, but Bonner is a much better defender than Blair. Tim Duncan obviously improves the Spurs’ defense considerably. But what we saw tonight wasn’t any different than what we saw in the Spurs series against Memphis, it was just 7 months later and without our best defender. The Spurs’ interior defense is soft, porous, and utterly incapable of defending talented front courts. This isn’t going to change unless the Spurs make some sort of personnel change.

I know that’s a lot to extrapolate from one preseason game, but that’s not really what I’ve done. What I’m saying is this game showcased all the things we learned about last year’s Spurs. The personnel is the same, minus McDyess, who didn’t play very well last year anyway. Kawhi Leonard, James Anderson, and Cory Joseph are all fine young players. We suspected that before, and this game supported our suspicions.

But none of that matters unless the Spurs find a way to improve their interior defense. And we’re not there yet.

  • Bushka

    I’ve been round here for a few years now, and I dont remember us being in a position to get a top notch big for quiet some time. Brandon wright? The guys a project bouncing from team to team. We have not had the cap space or assets. The kind of big we need is a defensively talented monster with some kind of a high post game who is good at both guarding the rim and hedging on the pick and roll.

    I know some people were high on amundsen last year, others on Haywood, the truth is the kind of big we need is way out of our price range without trading away so much that it’s not worth getting them anyway. I don’t remember a single big last year that we really had a genuine shot at.

    I see this as the last hurrah, come the cap space next year I think it will be rebuild city. Barring a miracle trade, or Dejuan growing six inches and learning good defensive fundamentals overnight we are first round and out again.

  • Bushka

    The front office has done an excellent job… Next year we have a heap of cap space coming in, with tp and Manu both still under contract along with Leonard Anderson Blair bonner and splitter. Assuming amnesty on rj we can work the trade lines and actually go after people.

    I am A O K with just middling it out this year and working toward rebuilding without dying. I can’t see Timmy coming back again….

    If you think the front office blows go and look at la’s roster. In 2015 they will be on the hook for 65 million with Kobe metaworldwanker pau and Steve Blake.

  • spursfanbayarea

    Apparently your basketball knowledge is even lower than mine. Run and gun all year? What team that has run and gun has won a title? No team that runs and guns wins a title. Maybe you are a closet suns fan who believes running and gunning wins. Jefferson isn’t as bad as most people think. He was our top 3 pt shooting wing. (only bonner was higher) and is actually a decent wing defender. We have parker who is a top 10 pg, also ginobilli who is a top 10 guard/wing player. Not to mention the ugprade we will see with anderson this year. Also I  mention another high pick player as kawhi leaonard. The spurs got hammered last year in the playoffs due to a lack of big players on defense. Duncan can not guard the paint all by himself. The spurs were already one of the top scoring teams last year. Before you go about disparaging people about their basketball knowledge, make sure you actually know something. I don’t know if you have actually watched any spurs championships, but none have been comprised of run and gun wins. 

  • spursfanbayarea

    Trading the number all number two pick to then take on jefferson and drop him in amnesty? We would have to give up a lot more than just jefferson to get the number two pick in the draft. Would have to throw in anderson, neal, blair, at a minimum. Sorry, that trade only works out in video games. Realistically if they were to trade, maybe one headache for another, jefferson for darko and some other garbage. Would take a flier on him just for his size. No dreams of him being a star. 

  • spursfanbayarea

    Dream trade. Parker for tyson chandler. Works out money wise. And shores up a lot of our defensive deficiencies. 

  • sam

    splitter has a good basketball iq. ,   he is a better version of fab. oberto,  .  we all remember that fab. wasn’t rodman on the glass either,  but both guys box out and prevent the other team from getting the rebounds.  what he offers differently from blair and bonner is that oppossing centers and pfs  can’t overpower him or shoot on top of him ,   simply blair and bonner are not big enough when playing against 7 footers. 
    in order to play for a title this year,  the spurs need  to play like the 2004 pistons .   we don’t have a superstar anymore (the big three r not like 4 or 5 years ago)  however duncan can still post 14 pts , 9 rebs.  ,   manu  can still get  15 pts /5 assist           ,  parker  18 pts   .        what we need is a small forward who can defend and shoot the open 3 consistantly  ( in the playoffs last year our 3 pt shooters chooked  namely  rj, bonner, hill)   and a decent big who can defend and shoot a decent jumper.    outside of tiago and duncan  no one is servicable.   bonner and blair allow pts more than they score.    to me blair should go to d-league  till he improves his def. and develops a jumper.   In my opinion,  his game is not complete ,  he is undersized and offensively  when he play against 7 footers like against memphis   he becomes useless.   untill he develops a jumper he is a liability  ,  this is his 3rd year and he is not a rookie, even his free shooting is horrible ,    other teams are not affraid to foul him.  As for bonner,  i think  pop  thinks of him  as a robert  horrey   ,  however bonner is the opposite of clutch  on top of his def.  liability.  

    (I think our 3pt  shooting problem is a problem that is overlooked greatly)  last 2 playoffs  we struggled because we didn’t have good spacing on the floor.  maybe  neal, anderson   will have greater roles this year.

  • Anonymous

    And for a one year contract! And for the minimum! There would have been nothing to lose with such a signing. There have been several similar signings around the league, meanwhile our FO guys just don’t seem to get it AT ALL!

  • TD BestEVER

    To Bushka and others who have never seen Brandan Wright play….. please watch the

    following

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EykyuxQnEmsNow what you see here is EXACTLY what SA needs………He can make a 12-15 ft jumper, can finish in traffic ABOVE THE RIM……The last time we had a big that could do both of those was 5 years ago when TD was the best basketball player ALIVE.    And did I mention that he makes less than Blair and has WAYYYYYYYYYYYYY more upside than Splitter.  And he is only 24 Yes ladies and gentlemen – Dallas just signed all of that for 1 year – 1million dollars. 

  • Tim in Surrey

    Amen, Bushka. If the complaint is soft interior D, then putting in Brandon Wright would be gas on a fire.

  • Tim in Surrey

    City size doesn’t matter, when it comes to revenue. It’s the size of the metropolitan area that does. Most of San Antonio’s suburbs are within its city limits, so its population is deceptive. The city of Seattle has half the population of the city of San Antonio, but the metropolitan area (which includes Seattle, Tacoma, and all the other cities within reach of its TV stations and commuting distance of its downtown area) is more than twice as big. San Antonio may be the 7th largest municipality in the U.S., but it’s the 37th largest television market, just behind Greenville, SC. The Spurs have been able to expand their market by appealing to the rest of south Texas and courting international fans (not surprisingly, they’re very popular in France and Argentina), but they’re still very small potatoes compared to the other basketball markets. It’s extraordinary that such a consistently excellent franchise could be based in such a small market–really I think the Green Bay Packers are the only remote equivalent (and they’re different because they’re actually owned by the city).

  • Anonymous

    Jim Henderson is still with us. Milder of manner and almost incognito.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Please… There’s nothing embarrassing about it. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.

    Personally, I love this blog. I’ve been a basketball player and fan for a very long time and am a pretty literate guy. I’ve found this site to be consistently among the best basketball blogs on the internet. It’s just my luck that it happens to be about the Spurs. Is it always on the money? Of course not. But all the guys who contribute to this site know the topic very well, write clearly and creatively, maintain a relatively useful level of objectivity, and yet manage to entertain while they’re doing it. That’s what good commentary is–and it’s a lot harder to do than it appears. (This is spoken from considerable experience. I’ve done a lot of writing and have taught many students to improve their writing, albeit in a different subject area.)

    Besides, one of the great things about blogs is that, if you’re drawn to one and yet you don’t feel that it has everything you want, you can do something about it: Contribute.

  • Anonymous

    NTM, Martel Webster, Wes Johnson, and eventually Derrick W (especially if they manage to hold onto Love) are ALL actually SFs… Bease can be had, maybe Johnson, probably Randolph, but you’ll have to part with Anderson, or at least Neal. Doesn’t look like a vet like RJ is valued by Kahn, as Ridnour is on the block.

  • Anonymous

    I proposed several Tyson Chandler trades two summers ago, but found no agreement. I was willing to give up TP in one scenario, and nobody considered it a dream trade then.

  • http://twitter.com/DallasDailyNews Dallas Daily News

    Cant wait for season to begin. San Antonio schedule http://bit.ly/uCzSlL

  • http://twitter.com/SpursDailyNews SanAntonioDailyNews

    Cant wait for season to begin. San Antonio schedule http://bit.ly/uCzSlL

  • Anonymous

    Not sure why Knicks give up Chandler in that scenario being the reason they got him was to sure up their post defense deficiencies only to obtain yet another perimeter scoring threat when they already have plenty of viable options to score but if the Spurs could pull that one off…I’d be all in for it.  Especially since the Spurs have acquired a true PG in Ford and what appears to be a PG of the future in Joseph.

    Wouldn’t see it happening without a 3 team trade so the Knicks could get in the least a quality defensive post player to negate the loss of Chandler.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I’m sure the Wolves would want more than just Jefferson.  And Anderson, Leonard or Neal would probably be who they would want.  To which I would not happily part with but if it would provide the Spurs a more balanced team both in the perimeter and post…I would do it.

    Your correct…fantasy fodder on my part.  But with no real viable options to filter with, fantasy is all I have to offer at this time.

  • Tyler

    He’s entering his 4th year and has not progressed at all. He’s still the same skinny kid he was an UNC. That youtube clip you posted could have been shot in college. He couldn’t get on the court playing for a pretty bad Golden State team the last few years. What more do you really need to know?

  • Caleb

    Exactly – you have to consider the surrounding area when comparing the size of cities/markets.
     
    The San Antonio MSA actually moved up to 25th overall, per the last census (2010), however, with a total population of roughly $2.1MM, SA is roughly 1/3 the size of DFW, for instance.
     
    Even if you include the Austin MSA, that only yields a population of 3.8MM, good enough for 15th overall, and nearly 2MM short of the real #7 (Washington D.C.).
     
    So the 7th largest city argument is tired and irrelevant.
     
    A little research goes a long way…
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_United_States_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas
     

  • Anonymous

    “ESPN.com reports that the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in China are strongly considering releasing Kenyon Martin from his contract.”  from http://blog.mysanantonio.com/spursnation/2011/12/19/could-k-mart-be-answer-to-spurs-inside-questions/K-Mart?  Really?  Hmmm

  • Colinrigney

    Yes on Thompson!

  • Colinrigney

    “Dallas just signed all of that for 1 year – 1million dollars” ….There’s a reason for that.  Players like Wright are a dime a dozen in the NBA.  And yes, I’ve seen him play many times.  Everyone in the league can perform, but can they perform consistently well.  That makes the difference between productive players and just players “with upside.”

  • Marques_higgins

    I STILL LOVE JEFFERSON, BUT I BELIEVE THEY SHOULD FISH FOR JOSH SMITH, TRADE JEFFERSON SOMEONE ELSE & SOME MONEY OR A DRAFT PICK

  • Lvmainman

    Spurs will start the season 0-3. Probably 4-6 after 10 games.

    Will there be 30 pt blow out losses to playoff teams again like the Lakers, Heat, and Magic during the season?

  • TD BestEVER

    He has MORE UPSIDE THAN ANYONE on our ROSTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And you
    say a dime a dozen…..Than why don’t we have any…..LMAO……..

  • TD BestEVER

    MATT BONNER gets significant minutes on OUR team every year and including in the playoffs…….. I Promise you he wouldn’t get those minutes with any other team…..SO this should tell you that certain coaches fall in love with players, and certain coaches put players in the dog house and never let them out

  • TD BestEVER

    He can’t rebound any worse than Bonner and can block shots better than Splitter……so how is this a Negative……..And he can post up and score inside to take the pressure of TD………… Some people just don’t understand basketball at all. 

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  • Thomasholdren

    rotation in help defense is not who helps fault. It is who fails to help. It would be like a player in a zone not covering his area. You dont blame the other defenders for not telling him to “cover your area” 

  • Thomasholdren

    There lies the problem. 1. You need to be able to get a bucket when you need it in the playoffs. Which is why you need a big that can score on time at certain times. 

  • Thomasholdren

    My IQ is well beyond yours. 
    1. It doesnt matter how many teams run and gun and win. It matters that we tried to change something that was highly effective by subbing and changing tempo. How did that work out for the Spurs? 
    2. Just because RJ and Bonner can shoot 3s does that qualify them as “good?” NO. 
    3. Parker has proven he cant score consistently (not to mention TOS) to lead the team. 

    Disparaging..?? Here you go son.. In the regular season the spurs scored 103 ppg (6th in the league) and gave up 98 (14th in the league) In the playoffs they lost to the grizzlies 4 games to 2. 

    The spurs scored more than 100 1 time. Which, coincidentally, was their ONLY PLAYOFF WIN. They scored 110 that game. 

    The Spurs gave up an average of 97.5 ppg (hmmmmmmmm looks similar doesnt it?) 

    YET THEY ONLY SCORED 94 ppg (almost 10 less than their reg season stats)  

    Why? 

    Starting lineup changed, tempo changed. So, genius, these disparaging comments are really the truth. The spurs were only equipped to run the ball due to their 3 pt shooting and creating off the dribble/penetration. Pop tried to have Tim/McDyess save the day. What happened? We couldnt score. Our defense actually played better (giving up less ppg statistically) SO maybe it is you whom need to revisit the game plan. 

  • mrlikster

    can we trade jefferson for mo williams? the clippers could use some depth at the sf position, we could use a better pg back up or starter, maybe TP can come off the bench. we can give time at the 3 to leonard and James Anderson (one is a GREAT defender and the other a shooter who defends better than jefferson.) The clippers already have bledsoe as a backup and jefferson plays better uptempo which is what the clippers will probably do. they can even slide butler to the 2 and put jefferson at the 3 at times.  THIS IS A WIN WIN FOR EVERYONE!!!! AND MO’S CONTRACT ENDS NEXT YEAR!!

  • DorieStreet

    Last year was the last hurrah; this year is the farewell tour/new beginning.

  • DorieStreet

    Atlanta has a city limit population of 500,000; but its metro area covers 28 counties–practically all of North Georgia–5.3 million people (the state as a whole is just over 10 million). It’s media market is ranked seventh or eightth in the country.

  • spursfanbayarea

    Maybe it is that you just need to get checked for some glasses. The spurs got killed on the defensive end of the playoffs. We could not get any stops on the bigs and of memphis and when the guards penetrated we did not have a shot blocker along side duncan. And when duncan was out it was even worse. And you go on contradicting yourself on the run and gun. You state that we need to run and gun all year. But you gave no proof on what teams actually win in the playoffs with that formula. Your lack of basketball knowledge is quite hilarious. Just because you give up less points per game does not mean you are a better team. Less possession’s in the playoffs will obviously allow for lower scoring by both teams. Every possession in the playoffs is more important than in the regular season. Go back to reading basketball for dummies. 

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  • Thomasholdren

    I never said that McDyess wasnt better than Quinn, I said they were both nice guys but not legit ballers. If he (Antonio) were, we would have contended during his tenure. He was a role player, but like Bonner played too many minutes and was called upon to do too many things. Face it McDyess was a 5/5 guy for us. He was worse than Blair or Splitter. 
    Bonner is worth the risk in small doses 10-15 min MAX. Not 20+ like he has been playing for us. You’re right. In the real world, with a “real smart coach” he would be in for a ROLE shoot a couple of threes, stay in if he hit, come out if he didnt. WE DONT USE HIM LIKE THAT. Which makes Pop an idiot. Much like it makes him an idiot for playing McDyess over Blair and Splitter. 

    Coach of the month for Nov/Dec… WHO CARES? Do they give banners for that? He was outcoached when it counted by trying to “pretend” McDyess had game left. McDyess is the only big I know that is worse from the block than Lebron. 

    McDyess = 1 move = pick n pop elbow. 

    I didnt want a mediocre big. I wanted us to play the same style that won us 60 games in the regular season and played Blair. I wanted Splitter to play instead of McDyess. You can say all you want, but the fact is, McDyess did more harm to the team than helped. He took minutes from our younger bigs, he took a roster spot from a younger player, he failed defensively, ultimate fail offensively, and disrupted a 60 win team chemistry and confidence to first round bounce…. 

    Enough with the McDyess BS. He was a decent player in his prime at Denver, and his shortcomings were masked in Detroit with all the length, athleticism, and physical play. UNFORTUNATELY he came into our system as a 5/5 and was playing more than half a game in the playoffs…. Maybe if we used him less and had better players around him. 

    Another interesting fact: 

    Blair has better defensive rating AND defensive win share than McDyess..

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