San Antonio Spurs 116, Cleveland Cavaliers 92: Where the Spurs frontline is deeper than yours
Â AT&T CENTER–A year ago, the fourth quarter of a blowout win presented ample opportunity for a post on the long term potential of Ian Mahinmi or DeJuan Blair. Tonight, as the San Antonio Spurs inched ever closer to garbage time, a sudden realization hit: Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter are currently the fourth and fifth bigs in the Spurs’ frontline rotation.
Granted, the Cleveland Cavaliers are a recently fallen team, but their end-of-the-bench counterparts in Ryan Hollins, Jawad Williams, and Leon Powe are pretty standard fare for most NBA teams. And while there is something to be said about quality and quantity–the Los Angeles Lakers offering a better but top heavy frontline–how many teams can claim their last two options on the frontline are both NBA quality rotation players?
Earlier in the week we established the possibility that the San Antonio Spurs might have the top backcourt in the league with a three-guard rotation of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and George Hill, with Parker again doing much of the heavy lifting tonight (19 points, 9 assist on 7 -11 shooting). On the receiving end of many of Parker’s passes, rookie center Tiago Splitter may have made a case for the Spurs also employing the NBA’s deepest frontline.Â
Having registered DNP-CD’s in the past two games, Splitter stepped in and put up 18 points (7-10 shooting) in 26 minutes (b0th NBA career highs) on the back end of a back-to-back, allowing Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to play Tim Duncan under 20 minutes. Again,Â the greatest skill on display for Splitter was length combined with an acute awareness of spacing and movement.Â
Defensively it allows Splitter to keep proper spacing between ball, man, and basket in order to deter both anÂ immediate drive and/or quick pass to a rolling big man, all the while keeping his hands vertical, making use of his height.Â
“Tiago did a real fine job, he’s very fundamentally sound and he’s efficient,” Popovich said. “He’s always in the right place either defensively or offensively, he knows where he’s supposed to be.”Â
Offensively, it means while tonight’s performance should not be the expectation moving forward, it certainly is something that can be replicated on any given night. Because a dominant offensive game from Tiago Splitter has little to do with his matchup or how well he’s shooting. Setting screens, finding seams in the defense, and making proper reads are something that can be controlled night in and night out, with the only variable the quality of play from the guards setting him up.Â
Thus far, Tony Parker has proven to be as consistent as any point guard in the NBA. As deep as the frontline is, the offense no longer runs through the talents of Tim Duncan. Instead, each of the Spurs big men function as tools for Parker and his longtime running mate Manu Ginobili. While the Cavaliers were able to keep pace for a while, hitting half of their three-point shots (some reasonably contested), the Spurs frontline (Richard Jefferson included) quietly worked the baseline, presenting options to play off the dribble penetration of Parker and the passing exploits of Ginobili.Â
In all, 32 assists on 43 field goals while shooting 53% as a team, with six players in double figures and a career night for the Spurs rookie big man. Next up, the Orlando Magic, who present the Spurs biggest test to date, as well as an interesting case study: the Spurs and their deep frontline against the Dwight Howard, arguably the best center in the game today.