Spurs defense just breaking ground

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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.

  • Jacob

    I would really like to have an official update from the Spurs about Tiago’s injury. This small setback is seeming to become worse, and I’m getting suspicious.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    @Jacob

    They’re just being overly cautious with Splitter. He’s back on the court running and shooting, but he hasn’t returned to 5-on-5 action yet. He’ll have to do that for a few days before he can return to the lineup.

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  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Andrew, I completely agree that the interior D will improve once Splitter gets some time on the floor, adjusts to the pace of the NBA level of competition and receives the appropriate OJT while working with Timmy and Dice! I just wonder if the Spurs do finally subscribe to the point of view that losing TP may actually become a harsh reality, if they can find a team with talent to pick him up as a rental for a decent return? The biggest question mark in my mind is what will become of TP? I feel like this team is built soundly and will contend but I would be sick to my stomach if another team signs TP and the Spurs get zilch for him.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Also, I forgot to incorporate this into my post, but I thought Garrett Temple did a good job defensively last night. He put good pressure on the ball and the Rockets had some trouble getting into their sets last night when he was on the floor. He can cover a lot of ground with his size and wingspan.

  • bduran

    Giving up almost 1.1 point per possession is certainly not good, although I try not to read to much into the preseason.

    Over at pounding the rock they have an article and link showing that we were top 5 in Opp fg% at the Rim last year. That really surprised me. Combine that with our great rebounding and it seems like we actually had pretty good interior D last year. Looking at our roster this year makes it seem like we should be even better.

    Also, since we were only 8th or 9th overall last year in point per possesion allowed, it makes me thing that our big problem last year was perimeter D.

    All this means is I can’t wait to watch the Spurs play a real game because i’m tired of talking about the preseason and last season :)

  • zainn

    once duncan gets more minutes during the regular season, our defense should be fine, but i do agree with everything stated about our defense this season.

  • ribanez

    TD doesn’t have the lateral movement he once had thus defensively he can be exploited in the pick and roll although he can still block a few shots. The weight loss will help but will not negate the lateral movement regression. Tiago’ insertion into the line up and progress will be key to the Spurs post season success. Without his skill set our chances to contend and play for another championship are severely diminished. Duncan has needed help in the post for quite sometime. Blair although a great player lacks the height to bother the true bigs.

  • quincyscott

    The rockets made a lot of lay-ups, but I did not think the main issue last night was “at the rim” defense, as much as break downs in perimeter defense, especially in pick and roll or pick and pop situations, and back door cuts from up high. Certainly we no longer have twin towers down low that we can funnel to, but the Spurs have to take better care of business on the perimeter.

    Having said that, Matt Bonner is a very bad defender in the paint. I really want to see Splitter on the floor, and to see Bonner used less and less as a big.

  • quincyscott

    @ Alix Babaie

    I think it’s natural to feel some concern over the future of Parker. But in retrospect, the Spurs were in a much more dire situation when Duncan was into his first free agency. That would have really gutted the Spurs future, in a way that losing Parker would not. I am on record as hoping we keep Parker, but I don’t think it would bother me if he chose to take his career elsewhere. The Spurs are doing a good job of continually adding young talent, despite having poor draft position every season for the past twelve years. I am not saying Parker is easily replaceable, only that there is a core of good players other than Parker in the Spurs organization.

    Again, I hope Parker stays. I remember having a sinking feeling that Duncan would leave that year he was courted by the Magic. I think Spurs fans have a little bit of an inferiority complex regarding how attractive the city of San Antonio is compared to other, larger markets. We’ll see about Parker. I think Robinson was instrumental in convincing Duncan to stay a Spur, and perhaps Ginobilli and Duncan will have a lot of pull on Parker. On the other hand, the Spurs once upon a time openly went after a big name point guard to replace Parker, so turnabout is fair play. This is a business, and Parker has to make the best decision for the rest of his career. And on the other other hand, Parker’s wife is a Texan, and I think they are sincere about wanting to live here.

    I’m sure it will be a tough call for Parker, and for the Spurs. But I know Tony won’t make an ass of himself the way Lebron James did. And I know that even if he moves elsewhere, the Spurs cupboard will not be bare, and I will wish him the best.

  • Greyberger

    Well, a lot of Spurs fans are going to be disappointed this year if they expect Splitter’s arrival means Bonner’s disappearance. Bonner will play, and ‘as a big’; he never has and probably never will get time at SF.

    For a veteran Bonner’s defense is bad, and for a rookie Splitter’s will likely be good – but the advantage in that area might not be enough to make up for the lost offense. Nobody here wants to hear this but Bonner may still be our first big off the bench and our fourth quarter guy for the first part of the season.

  • grego

    Temple is a longer version of Hill. It’s nice to have two of those types of guys on the wings.

  • viper160

    The Spurs historically have never been a team that has come out and won a lot of early season games. Last season the Spurs poor performance really hurt them in the playoff standings. Team defense takes time to gel, but lets face it Tim and Antonio are not 20 something’s anymore and DeJuan is not going to grow 6 inches and Matt Bonner has never been known as banger inside the paint(he is more of a Matador). So, will Splitter’s presence help – yes it will 7 feet is still 7 feet and players coming int0 the paint will think twice when Tim, Antonio and Splitter are there waiting on them to cross into the paint. I would have kept Marcus Cousins(6 foot 11 inches) he is young and athletic and will lay out a player coming into the paint. This season the paint will be the test for how well Tim,McDyess, Splitter and Blair can defend. Everyone in San Antonio should break out their rosary beads and start praying for Splitter’s muscle strain to heal and stay healed, and for the paint defense to vastly improve. Oye Vey

  • rob

    I wouldn’t worry about the defense (or lack there of) at this moment.

    If there is one thing that Pop can suddenly instill in his players is defense. What I think they are focusing on now is the new fast break offense they are trying to implement for the season.

    It was even mentioned how this “new” style of offensive philosophy could help spell Duncan from wear and tear. I’m all for that if they can perfect the rythym and execution.

    I forgot which article it was…but I was looking forward to the team exerting a faster paced offense and using the youth this team has acquired to help in that implementation.

    And I wouldn’t worry about going astray from a half court set. They are so accustomed to that set that at any given moment if it seems better to use…the team has it’s go to guys that could still execute that style of play effectively.

    This is exciting Spurs fans. New faces with adverse talent along with trued and tried vets.

    The season is upon us. Hopefully anticipation will be upheld by positive results and we see our team march it’s way into the finals.

  • J2

    Regarding Tony Parker… the Spurs need to decide if they want to rebuild around Parker after this year, or move in another direction. Parker’s strength is when he runs the offense. He can be the franchise player of the future, surrounded by shooters and post-defenders, and be a top-five NBA scorer easily. If the Spurs don’t want to rebuild around Parker, they should trade him– he’s grossly under-utilized if his job is just to bring the ball up the court and pass to the guy who will actually start the offense from a half court set.

  • Easy B

    Forget all the Tony speculation…he is primed for a big season and thats all that matters. If he kills it, we will offer him the right contract extension for him to stay. He has won a ton here with the spurs, and all the talk about him wanting to build profile is overblown…He is the king of Basketball in France for one, and that won’t change while he is carving it up as the spurs starting PG. Moving on to the regular season…we were all excited about the team last year, but I think most of us will concede that it was a more speculative hype last year. This year we are starting Blair. Splitter isn’t in the conversation yet…that is encouraging. Maybe he has to pay his dues for the first 3/4 of the season before Pop starts trusting him for big minutes. Thats not entirely bad. I wouldn’t mind a 6’11 guy who plays solid D and is adept on the pick and roll being our #7 off the bench….yes, this is a much more positivie start to the season than last year without a doubt.

  • mac

    There is no way whatsoever that the Spurs could let Tony walk for nothing. But, Pop has said, that “the time will come when we will have to trade and All-Star for an All-Star.” Anyone of our Big 3 could put another contender over, especially Tim (no way that happens, thank God) but what would we get back in return? We should have made a play for DeMarcus Cousins in the draft. Tony is most likely to be traded because he is young enough to help a team on the rise. The thought of him in Portland would be frightening. I would do it for Oden. Or Batum and Miller. The thing is, we could live w/o Tony if our our other guards develop well, and if Manu is healtier in his new contract.

    Luckily, this year is the test. There will be no trades this season. And Tony will excel this season.

    Next summer could be scary, but probably won’t be, with management erring on the side of prudence, and securing both playoff revenue and no more titles.

    Will Tiago proves to be 50% better than Scola, Blair twice as good as Landry, and Temple as good as George Hill, and Anderson 80% of Ray Allen in his prime, while being above average on defense? Then some trades could but us back in the mix for a long time.