Spurs’ Mild Concerns and Needs for 2014
The San Antonio Spurs lost to the New York Knicks Thursday night in what ended up being a bizarre night in the NBA. Outside of Marco Belinelli and Manu Ginobili, each member of the Spurs roster played a mediocre game at best. Iman Shumpert had a career game for the Knicks, scoring 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Generally “meh” play from the Spurs and Shumpert’s scoring barrage aren’t the reason the Spurs lost to the lowly Knicks, however, it was the combination of Carmelo Anthony’s stellar all-around game and the lack of a plan B when Kawhi Leonard is out for long stretches.
Anthony finished Thursday night’s game with 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, a stat line that was pretty much sums up the ideal game for Anthony supporters to point to his greatness and a nightmare game for anyone trying to defend Melo. There are a handful of guys in the league that can do what Anthony did Thursday night. When the Spurs have run up against players like Anthony, they’ve mostly been able to combat those players with a single defender, typically Kawhi Leonard. Last night, Anthony, with a little help from one or two iffy calls, managed to get Leonard in foul trouble. The Knicks were already leading, but Leonard heading to the bench allowed New York to set up their preferred offense. Belinelli, Ginobili or Danny Green were tasked with defending Anthony, forcing the Spurs to bring help when Melo posted up. That allowed the Knicks to start moving the ball and get open looks, mostly for perimeter looks for Shumpert or a cutting Amar’e Stoudemire.
Essentially, the Spurs perimeter defense can get a little loose without Leonard on the floor. Those cracks get looser when a guy with Anthony’s skill level is on the other side. Smaller guys get caught guarding bigger ones, double teams have to come and if rotations aren’t quick enough, someone’s getting an open look. We saw this problem recently when the Spurs lost to Oklahoma City without Leonard. Kawhi’s absence forced Danny Green to switch over to Kevin Durant, opening up scoring opportunities for other players, most notably Russell Westbrook, who usually has Green draped all over him.
The Spurs have gotten by by either having Ginobili or Green fill in for Leonard. On occasion, Boris Diaw will switch on to a smaller player and use his surprisingly quick feet and smart positioning. That works in spurts, but what happens when Leonard gets in foul trouble? Admittedly, it doesn’t happen often, he only averages 2.1 fouls per game. Still, the Spurs would be better suited in the long run with a back up capable of defending larger wings. Players like Jeff Green or Trevor Ariza are ideal, Marvin Williams would be adequate, but someone like Keith Bogans wouldn’t really be an upgrade over anyone in the Green/Ginobili/Belinelli triad. Is Charlotte ready to give up on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for some polished shooters? Probably not.
The question of back up small forward doesn’t have an easy answer at the moment. It’s not completely necessary, every team in the West has holes, but Thursday’s Knicks game showed the Spurs are walking a tight rope defensively if Leonard gets in foul trouble against the wrong opponent.