On the uncertainty and flexibility of the Spurs big man rotation

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Andrew’s note: Folks, this is the first post from new 48MoH staff writer Trevor Zickgraf. You may be familiar with Trevor from his work with our friends at both Project Spurs and Pounding the Rock. He will be contributing throughout the season. You can follow him on Twitter @yowhatupT. Please be nice and give Trevor a hearty welcome.

It’s a beginning of the season ritual at this point. While many around the league ask whether the San Antonio Spurs are done, others question whether the big man rotation behind Tim Duncan is good enough to win a championship. If there’s one thing last summer proved, it’s that the Spurs bigs are capable of winning a title. Questions still remain about the bigs not named Duncan, but unlike past years they present some flexibility that should give fans reasons to feel optimistic.

Despite being mostly really good during the postseason, the last image of Tiago Splitter in the Finals will be this great play by LeBron James. It’s an unfair representation of Splitter’s performance last season and there aren’t a ton of big man that can look great against the Heat’s helter skelter style of play. Many fans would like Splitter to look like a tougher player, but when it comes down to it he was really good last year, especially on defense. As Zach Lowe mentioned recently, he was part of a Spurs starting unit that allowed fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions, which is insanely good defense. Splitter’s fine. He’s great in the pick-and-roll, and finishes well around the basket thanks to some brilliant footwork and up-and-unders. So what if he doesn’t dunk on dudes?

After Splitter, the rotation will likely start out looking much as it did last season, but will it end that way? Both Jeff Ayres and Aron Baynes are coming off strong summers and bring skill sets that Diaw and Bonner do not possess.

Baynes’ physical attributes suggest he can be a bull on the low block on both ends of the court. Offensively, he could provide some easy baskets or free throws for the second unit, which is something the Spurs struggled with at times last season. Defensively, he could prove valuable against teams like the Grizzlies and Rockets, where there’s a big man (or men) he can bang around with. That alone would help keep Splitter and Duncan fresh and reduce any chance of foul trouble. Being able to defend Dwight Howard straight up is going to be key considering the amount of shooters Kevin McHale is going to put around him.

Ayres is even more of a wild card. His energy and hustle reminded of what DeJuan Blair brought to the team, except Ayres looks like he’ll be able to defend either position based alone on the fact that he’s taller than 6’7″. Past the hustle, energy and raw athleticism, he’s a question mark. That’s not a bad thing considering we know exactly what we’re getting from Diaw and Bonner.

There’s only so many minutes to go around and if both Ayres and Baynes prove to be useful bench players, that means there could be some moves to be made. Both men might prove good enough to be trade chips themselves, they make so little there’s not a ton you can get back for them. Meanwhile, either could make Bonner or Diaw expendable. Both veteran forwards are expiring contracts that combined make about $8.6 million. That’s a decent chunk of change that could come off San Antonio’s — or any team’s — books. Would the Bonner/Diaw contracts plus a draft pick or the draft rights to one the Euro players be enough to convince a tanking team to part with someone like Thaddeus Young or Jeff Green (two guys that can play both forward positions)?

Trades aside, Baynes and Ayres’ development will be key for the Spurs both this season and moving forward both on the court and in the trade market. They’re the two intriguing question marks on a team where you pretty much know what you’re getting.

  • Colin

    Jeff Green would be a coup for the Spurs and put them immediately in the front runner category

  • Tristan Eugene

    lets no forget how good diaw guarded lebron in the finals. i think we should keep diaw and bonner, i dont see anything we can get back for there important piece to the spurs- floor space. there both good shooters. i want to upgrade, but the chemistry with these two r great. i say again, to me the spurs r champions. they played the heat so well and they won a few games. and they shut down lebron. i mean he was good but not great, so here we go again. lets go spurs, give them 48 mins of hell!!

  • Graham

    Diaw really is invaluable to the team, I agree. He is incredibly useful as a smaller 4 that can play defense when the other team goes small and still take advantage on the other end. Not to mention his playmaking is going to be huge for the 2nd unit to give Manu some help on that end.

    There’s no player out there we could realistically get that I’d rather have than Diaw. He’s basically built for the way this team operates.

  • Steve

    But why would a rebuilding Celtics team want Bonner or Diaw? I get the expiring contracts but Green is still pretty young and locked up for a few years so Ainge and the Celtics would probably want to build around him

  • Tyler

    In regards to expiring contracts, with the exception of the recent Bogut/Okafor deal, expiring contracts haven’t had too much value lately (and Washington had to give up a 1st as well). Maybe that changes come this year’s trade deadline, but I wouldn’t expect a Bonner/Diaw package to fetch much value. And given Diaw’s fit with this team, I doubt you are getting a player that will make a larger impact.

  • lvmainman

    The notion that Ayres and/or Baynes could be trade bait is too optomistic. But, I’d be willing to part with Diaw and Bonner to get a good player. Green is too soft for my taste. I’d prefer a Shawn Marion, who I was hoping the Spurs would’ve traded Jackson for last year. The Spurs need a versatile player to play the small ball 4. (Diaw/Bonner isn’t going to cut it.)

    Will Danny Ferry treat us nicely and trade Bonner/Diaw for Paul Millsap?

  • td4life

    They wouldn’t, but they might want Livio Jean Charles, or our first round pick next summer and better odds in the lottery.

  • td4life

    Ferry is a competitive negotiator, he won’t be nice unless it’s to his clear advantage. After your comment about trades that are too optimistic, I take it that you were joking. Agree about Green versus Marion, but I’m not itching to move Diaw. Diaw is a 2-way player and I like the idea of bench play anchored by the combined wizardry of Manu-Marco-Boris (which should be a ton of fun to watch).