San Antonio Spurs 118, Phoenix Suns 110: Gary Neal is more than just a shooter, poster

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AT&T CENTER — Only 27 games into an NBA career whose origins are so obscure it could only play out in San Antonio, Gary Neal is primarily known for two things — getting dunked on by the Nuggets J.R. Smith, and shooting 3-pointers.

The first point is just a testament to how Neal buys into the San Antonio Spurs system, putting himself at risk of embarrassment in the name of playing good help defense. The second point Neal accomplishes to the tune of 37.6% from behind the 3-point line as a rookie.

When Gary Neal signed with the San Antonio Spurs over the summer, the scouting report on him screamed Roger Mason jr., a combo guard whose primary threat was as a spot-up shooter, but with just enough handle to be utilized in pick-and-roll situations in a pinch. The early returns show Neal to be much more than that, showing just enough creativity to score an NBA career-high 22 points in the Spurs 118-110 victory on a night when his outside shot (1-6 on three-pointers) abandoned him.

While a great box score from players like Tim Duncan (20 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks) are to be expected — especially against a frontcourt whose porous defense does more wonders for an aging body than the Phoenix Suns vaunted training staff — Neal is just another in a long line of Spurs role players to come from nowhere and make valuable contributions.

“We don’t win this game without Gary Neal playing for us,” San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Timmy being as solid as he was in the third quarter, and Gary playing the way he was, I thought was really important.”

Neal struggled to hit open looks from behind the 3-point line tonight, but made up for it by getting to the free throw line for eight attempts (making seven). More than just the typical Popovich system spot-up shooter, Gary Neal displays just enough change of pace/direction creativity off the bounce to generate his own shot — which typically are released in the form of Tony Parker or Steve Nash-like floaters and flip shots once in the paint.

While this skill set makes him an ideal pairing with backup point guard George Hill — who for all his strengths has yet to show that level of creativity — last night Neal showed he can help carry the bench in place of an injured Hill, providing offense in a variety of ways:

  • In the closing minutes of the first quarter Neal reads a Steve Nash pick-and-pop with Channing Frye, shooting through the passing lane from the weak side for a steal and fast break layup.
  • Early in the second quarter with the defense closing out hard on Gary Neal in the corner, scrambling to recover from a Ginobili-led pick-and-roll, Neal shows a simple ball fake and drives baseline for a floater.
  • Neal curls off a screen near the free throw line, receiving the pass and taking one dribble before pulling up for a half-jumper/floater over the help defender.
  • Isolated on a quality defender in Jared Dudley, Neal drives right at him going to his right from near the top of the key for a layup and foul, converting the three-point play.
  • In the third quarter Neal steps behind a Tim Duncan pick and misses a midrange jumper off the dribble, but Duncan rebounds and Neal has the presence of mind to step behind that baseline three-point line to present himself for his lone 3-point make on the night.
  • Shortly after hitting the three, Neal runs to the baseline corner with the Suns inexplicably switching on an off-ball McDyess screen for him, leaving Robin Lopez on Neal in the corner. After a Quinn-McDyess pick-and-roll, Neal receives a pass and drives past a scrambling Lopez, side-stepping the help defense (Dragic) for a layup and converted free throw attempt.
  • Neal is gifted an errant Nash pass trying to hit a cutting Childress on a pick and roll, Neal is fouled with the Suns in the penalty, hits both free throws.
  • Fouled by Grant Hill as he secures a defensive rebound, makes 2-2 from the line.
  • Gary Neal receives a pass from Tim Duncan on a drive and kick from the post, drives past a hard closeout on the wing for a floater near the elbow.
  • Neal hits one of two free throws in the last minute to help ice the game.

An underrated part of the Spurs improvement this season has been the additions/improvements at the end of the Spurs rotation. After a season getting less than stellar contributions from rotation mainstays Keith Bogans and Roger Mason jr., replacing their production from last  year with just replacement level players would have improved the Spurs quite a bit. Gary Neal, obviously, appears to be going above and beyond that.

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  • SG

    Spurs have the best backcourt in the NBA now. TP, Manu, Neal and Hill….wow!

    Can’t wait to get JA back…he can solidify the back-up 2/3…then we’re set.

  • Nick

    What a great story he is. I love that he took 14 shots, too.

    Great game from TD, too. He’s 7th in the league in blocks right now and has the best block/personal foul ratio of anyone in the league. Only saw the highlights but that steal off the imbounds pass was very Horry-esque.

  • DorieStreet

    This is what I like–allowing our new additions significant playing time when a teammate is injured. Even when George Hill comes back, Gary Neal’s minutes need to remain between 15-20. A true basketball squad is being developed for this season. If the roster is only going to be 13 (once James Anderson returns) then everyone should be a solid contributor, be he a starter or reserve. Udoka is not getting on the floor- will he be a causalty, and then we pick up someone else?

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  • Mike T

    Neal is also a great rebounder for his position. Hollinger has him listed as a point guard and he is 1st in both defensive rebounding rate and total rebounding rate. Even if he was listed as a shooting guard, he’d still be in the top 12 in both categories.

  • Daniel T

    “While this skill set makes him an ideal pairing with backup point guard George Hill — who for all his strengths has yet to show that level of creativity”

    Last night anyways, it looked like a more ideal pairing might be with Chris Quinn.

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  • agutierrez

    In terms of running the offense, next to TP and Manu, I’m liking Quinn more than George or Neal. I’ve thought for some time now that we should never be on the court without either Tony or Manu in, and that’s still the ideal, but if we have to be, I’d prefer Quinn running things over GH and GN, not taking anything away from them, but I don’t think they’re that good at running things.
    On another note: I don’t begrudge Tony anything, he’s been playing great, but didn’t anyone else think that Manu should have won Player of the Week? Two game winning shots and a taking a game winning charge to boot. And he wasn’t exactly shabby the rest of the week either.

  • Hobson13

    In spite of our disagreements regarding our front court, our situation regarding the 1-3 positions couldn’t be much better. Manu and Tony backed up by Hill and Neal is turning out to be a nasty combination. My god, Pop’s backcourt moves have worked out so well that even Chris Quinn is playing a valuable piece. Our only blemish so far has been the backup SF spot that is now being manned by the stiff formerly known as Ime Udoka. However, even this wouldn’t be an issue if Anderson were healthy.

    In short, our backcourt looks to be championship caliber at both the starting and reserve positions. Now if only we could see more improvement/consistency from Blair and Splitter in the front court.

    Here is an interesting blurb from David Thorpe’s chat today:

    VW (NYC)
    Which coach could get something out of Anthony Randolph?

    David Thorpe (12:51 PM)
    Pop. With TD helping a ton.

    If all we would have to give up is a pick or two, Randolph would be a worthwhile gamble. No way this move would mess with our team chemistry and it would give us another young, athletic big. Sure wish the FO would pull the trigger on a trade like this.

  • ITGuy

    @agutierrez
    If it wasn’t for TP, both games would’ve been out of reach for Manu to take over in the last quarter.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • LPspursFan

    I agree that Quinn certainly seems like a “true” point guard and when he is TP’s backup things continue to look smooth on the floor. Using the term true point guard is not meant as a slight at any of our guards; I merely use the term to describe Quinn’s assets – solid ball handling and passing skills.

  • Bankshot21

    Manu shot HORRIBLY last week. Not sure if I’m the only one that noticed but he’s been in a bit of a slump, but because of his ability to get to the line he’s still very productive. Gary Neal is a beast. He’s solid on D and an absolute stud on offense. He’s knows how to score. As much as I hate Sean Elliot as a broadcaster he made a good ,yet premature comparison. Gary Neal is much live The Microwave. I think he can give us that shot of O off the bench if we get in a drought. But George Hill is also capable of this. I never feel like we’re going to lose. Duncan is going to make it hard for coaches to leave him off the All-Star team.

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  • mybloodissilverandblack

    The J.R. Smith dunk may be nasty, but certainly it wasn’t that much of a posterization of anyone. I mean, Neal stepped in; he didn’t jump with.

    Manu with the “Night at the Hilton,” as Sean Elliott put it… now THAT was a poster.

  • titletown99030507

    All around offensive weapon for us, but if he can on some instances when the shot is not there and he’s trying to take an ill advised shot if he can learn to dump it off to the open big in the paint would be even better. That would be scary for the opposing team. Again its not often that happens but on occasion.

  • doggydogworld

    I’ve liked Neal since the first game of summer league, but if he doesn’t stop jumping forward 3-4 feet on almost every 3 point shot attempt he will quickly lose his reputation as a sniper. I don’t know why the Spurs staff hasn’t corrected this yet, it’s been going on a few games and it’s so blatantly obvious with a shooter who normally has such a pure and natural stroke.

  • Scott

    The whole roster is coming together nicely. Bravo to the coaching staff for changing the offence enough to take advantage of the personnel. Bravo to the players for stepping up and getting the job done. Bravo to the front office for finding the diamonds in the rough.

    I used to worry about the future of the franchise, I neednt have.