Spurs defense just breaking ground
AT&T CENTER — Everyone on the Spurs knows it, everyone acknowledges it, and no one seems that concerned about it. Yet. The Spurs’ defense isn’t very good right now. San Antonio allowed the Houston Rockets to shoot 48.7% from the field (over 50% for the better part of three quarters) and gave up more than 100 points in their 111-103 win in the Spurs’ final preseason game on Thursday night.
The Spurs’ interior defense looked to be the main culprit in allowing points. The Rockets had 38 points in the paint, 22 of those in the first half.
“Too many easy buckets, too many layups, fouled shooters a few times, so we still need a lot of work in that regard,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said after the game.
The problem for San Antonio lies in the lack of at-the-rim defense. Duncan can still block shots, but he has to be in ready position for help defense. At this point in his career, if he’s a half-step late there’s no point in him wasting his energy.
His partner in the starting lineup, DeJuan Blair, is a solid defender for San Antonio. But while explosive, Blair’s lack of height negates much of his impact when defending at or near the rim.
“We still got a long way to go, especially defensively,” Manu Ginobili said. “We are not gonna be in playoff shape in the first month.”
Manu’s words are especially true if Tiago Splitter continues to wear his best business casual during games. Splitter has yet to appear in a game for San Antonio, and before Thursday’s game Coach Pop affirmed that it’ll be even longer before we see the big man.
“I’m not planning on Tiago for the opening night,” Pop said. “If he’s gonna be ready he’ll have to change my mind.”
Splitter isn’t known for his shot blocking internationally, but he has the mobility to protect the basket in a positioning battle — mobility that has escaped Duncan over the past couple of seasons.
At one point against Houston, DeJuan Blair tried to take a charge on Houston’s Jordan Hill and the ball ended up in Luis Scola’s hands in the middle of the lane. Scola, guarded by Duncan, made a quick scoop pass under Duncan’s arm to Hill. Duncan barely rose out of his stance in an effort to rotate over to Hill, and the Rockets got an easy basket.
Perhaps more emphasis should be placed on keeping players from getting to the lane in the first place; staying in front of opponents on the perimeter. But with the hand-checking rules the NBA has, Coach Popovich probably knows that task is nearly impossible.
Instead, the Spurs will simply have to be almost perfect in their rotations. If a guard is beat off the dribble on the perimeter, the help defense will have to rotate quick enough that the ball handler doesn’t get to the rim. Again, Splitter should be an upgrade in this area for the big men, once he suits up.
San Antonio knows that defense is the key to their postseason hopes. It always has been, and, without elite scorers, always will be. And while everyone is privy to the fact that the defense is lackluster right now, the preseason just ended and the slow grind to get better every day really begins. The Spurs aren’t concerned with their defensive performance quite yet, but one early season weakness is showing up that could be even more pronounced later.