The Spurs bench slow out of the gate


The Spurs’ depth has been touted as one of the reasons San Antonio is expected to win the Southwest Division and battle for the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It’s possible that the Spurs rotation could go 12 players deep if Gregg Popovich was so inclined and the 13th, Nando De Colo, might be a rotation player on any other team in the league. Even Cory Joseph, likely bound for Austin once the D-League season starts, could be a backup point guard on a lot of NBA teams.

The Spurs bench, though, is struggling in this early season. San Antonio absolutely has the personnel for an incredibly deep team, but like the Spurs’ offense, which is currently 11th in the NBA in efficiency (it was 1st last season), the bench has yet to shake off the rust and break out this season. The second unit consisting of Matt Bonner, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter is scoring only an 86 OffRtg this season while allowing 120.8 DefRtg in two games for a -34.8 Net. The DeJuan Blair, Bonner, Jackson, Neal and Danny Green group is giving up a 121.2 DefRtg in two games and a -14.2 Net.

Admittedly, yes, just like Danny Green moving without the ball, we’re looking at a very small sample size in this early season. But what can I do? I have to look at the trends as I see them. In the Spurs loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, we saw more of the bad from the Spurs bench. With 7:45 left in the ball game, the Spurs had cut Los Angeles’ lead to 11 points at 84-73 after a Blair layup. Then things fell apart.

7:45 – Blake Griffin posts up with Bonner defending. Manu doubles down, forcing Griffin to pass out. The Clippers move the ball well around the perimeter and the Spurs are disciplined in their close-outs. The Clippers, however, play it perfectly and Jamal Crawford ends up sinking a 3-pointer. It was a real rainbow of a shot. 87-73

7:29 – Manu attacks on a pick-and-roll with Blair. Ginobili’s pass is deflected by Matt Barnes, though Manu thought he was fouled, and the Clippers go the other way for a 2-on-1. Barnes lobs it up to Griffin for an easy alley-oop, made especially easier because Bonner was the only Spur back and he wasn’t going up to get the ball. 89-73

7:08 – Ginobili runs a pick-and-roll with Blair again and gets to the middle. Manu finds Patty Mills on the wing for an open 3-pointer. Clang. Blair rebounds the rebound and knocks the ball out of DeAndre Jordan’s hands, but Blair’s layup attempt is swatted by Jordan.

6:53 – Chris Paul goes the other way and drives on Ginobili, getting fouled, flopping and starting that annoying incident where everyone acts tough and nothing really happens. A technical foul is called on Jordan and Patty Mills sinks the technical free throw. 89-74

6:47 – Paul hits both his free throws. 91-74

6:46 – DeJuan Blair gets the ball near the elbow, drives and gets stripped by Barnes. The Clippers go the other way on a 3-on-1.5, Bonner being the 1, and Griffin converts another alley-oop. 93-74

6:23 – Jack and Bonner run a pick-and-pop and the Clippers send a third player to help on Bonner popping out behind the 3-point line. Mills, recognizing his man has left him, slides away from the play to create more distance to his man to recover to. Jackson finds Mills open on the wing for a 3-point attempt. Clang.

6:05 – Paul and Jordan run a pick-and-roll. Paul gets into the lane and draws the defense in, he finds Griffin open for a 20-footer near the free throw line extended. Griff sinks it. 95-74

5:54 – Mills drives and kicks the ball out to Nando De Colo in the corner for an open 3. Griffin blocks the 3-pointer.

5:32 – A Paul-Jordan pick-and-roll leads to a post-up for Jordan. The Clippers big man turns over his left shoulder and sinks a jump hook over Blair, who has nothing he can do to defend the play. 97-74

5:09 – De Colo drives after getting a cross-court pass from Mills and dumps it off to Splitter. Tiago draws the foul and misses both free throws.

4:54 – Griffin sets a pick for Paul at the top of the key and then fakes going to set a screen for Crawford in the corner, cuts backdoor and gets a lob from Paul. Needless to say, Griff converts the alley-oop. 99-74

4:47 – De Colo drives to the hoop after a pick-and-roll with Splitter, finds Neal open for 3 on the opposite wing. Clang.

4:23 – Lamar Odom runs a pick-and-pop with Eric Bledsoe. Odom airballs the open 3-pointer from the top of the key.

4:08 – Patty Mills runs a pick-and-roll with Blair, drives and kicks out to the opposite wing. Mills then scurries out to the corner where he gets the ball back for a 3. Barnes closes out hard on Mills and Patty puts the ball on the floor, taking one dribble to his left and then sinks the long 2-pointer. 99-76

3:49 – Lamar Odom drives at the top of the key and kicks the ball out to Crawford on the wing. Though he’s covered, Crawford says “what the hell” and shoots the 3 anyway. It goes in. 102-76

3:28 – Nando De Colo runs a pick-and-roll with Blair. De Colo drives baseline and can’t find anyone open. He tries to force a pass to Mills out near the top of the key but Ronny Turiaf deflects it and Bledsoe steals it.

3:17 – Crawford isolates against De Colo at the top of the key (we’re probably going to see a lot of this if De Colo plays more) and settles for a long 2-pointer. Crawford misses the jumper.

2:54 – Mills runs a pick-and-roll with Splitter at the top of the key. Mills tries to throw a chest pass through the lane to Splitter, but it’s stolen by Turiaf.  The Clippers go the other way for a 2-on-1 and Bledsoe hits Barnes for an alley-oop. 104-76

After all that, the Clippers 11-point lead went to 28 and any thoughts of putting the Spurs starters back in the game had long since disappeared. Over that stretch the Clippers shot 8-10 and committed just one turnover, outscoring San Antonio 20-3. The Spurs shot 1-6 and had five turnovers. Yes, this was against Los Angeles’ core rotation, but if the Spurs are going to beat teams in the playoffs without Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker playing 40+ minutes, the bench is going to have to be good enough to play other teams’ starters.

This is early season basketball and is probably not how things will shake out over the next six months. Kudos to Vinny Del Negro. Whether it was intentional or not, he kept his starters in during a stretch where the Clippers were able to put the game away and not face a tight game down the stretch against the Spurs’ closing unit.

Statistics courtesy of Play-by-play video courtesy of Synergy Sports.

  • Ryan McShane

    It all depends on (a healthy) Manu that plays closer to 30 minutes than 18. If Manu can find his explosiveness, the bench will be great. They need him the same way the starters need Parker.