Spurs likely first round matchup holds an unlikely role model

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Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph has been many things throughout his NBA career. A Blazer, a Knick, a Grizzly. A Jail Blazer, a malcontent, and most recently an All-Star.

But a role model? From a player who can sleepwalk his way to 20 points and 10 rebounds and was still given away by a Portland team just on the slight chance he could give their then young core some wrong ideas. At the risk of making San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich cringe, young center DeJuan Blair has found a role model–and it’s not Malik Rose.

“[Randolph] is definitely a role model I look up to. Every time I get a chance I watch him,” Blair said. “He’s a double-double every night kind of guy. That’s what I want to be.”

But still, Zach Randolph?!

“He’s one of my favorite in the league. He’s not athletic but he works real hard to get what he needs to get,” Blair said. “I came to appreciate him after I saw him and played against him. He showed me a lot. I really didn’t look at him back then, but now I see him and watch a lot of his games.”

Behind Randolph, the Memphis Grizzlies have become a team deserving of a closer look, if only because Sunday’s home game might serve as a potential first round matchup for the San Antonio Spurs.

The  Grizzlies are currently tied for the eighth seed with a Utah Jazz team that lost both their head coach and franchise player over the past few weeks, having made a deadline trade sending the former no. 2 overall pick to Houston for Shane Battier to help the team stay afloat while Rudy Gay recovers from injury over the next month.

Still, the San Antonio Spurs are not expecting an easy victory in either of the next two games–a home and away series with the Grizzlies. Particularly with Gary Neal ruled out for Sunday and Tiago Splitter listed as day-to-day.

“They always give us a hard time,” Matt Bonner said. “On a personal level, having to play against Zach Randolph is not fun. He’s a beast down low. We’re going to have our hands full these next few games.”

From a distance, Blair can watch the play of Randolph and hope to someday illicit similar responses. For now he can settle for simply trying to be consistent, nearly averaging a double-double for the month of February with 12 points and nine rebounds.

And if he picks up a trick or two from Randolph over the next two games? You could do a lot worse than a walking double-double.

  • rob

    “Particularly with Gary Neal ruled out for Sunday”

    Hopefully this is just precautionery and not somethng serious with his head injury.

    Regarding Blair…yeah…it would do good for him and the Spurs to become a consistent player. This guy jumps all over the charts from being the next great post player to pine rider last on the depth chart of bigs to play the game.

    Sometimes I wonder if Blair takes this game serious as sometimes he mentally goes dormant and plays totally disinterested and haphazardly in performing at his best.

    He’ll be needed at his best come playoffs.

  • rob

    Also, I wouldn’t expect Memphis to have one of their best games playing the 2nd game of a b2b against a Spur team with one day rest at home.

    But sometimes the Spurs do tend to play “less exuberant” when the competition isn’t at it’s best.

  • andy

    randolph certainly seems to have cleaned up his act, although perhaps being in a relative nba backwater has helped? i still would imagine there’s a lot more trouble you could get up to in memphis than portland. blair could do worse than draw from his game, but a guy i always though he should watch is brand, pre-injury.

    what’s more intriguing to me as we play memphis, moreso because it’s gotten even less press than our spurs’ historic run, is the collective quality of the southwest division, which with houston currently closing out the nets, has gone 11-1 since the all-star break with 10 straight wins. to have this record in what has to be one of the toughest divisions in nba history is fantastic. sure, we played dallas without dirk, but with every team sporting a positive point differential, there’s never an easy out when we play in division. that’s something else to be proud of.

  • Easy B

    After reading through all the tirades in the comments section recently, particularly regarding trades, Tiago, our rebounding et al, I felt motivated to post a more thorough piece than my usual 2 cents worth.
    In order to make this comments section more enjoyable for everyone, I think its necessary for trigger-happy posters to challenge their own thinking a little bit more before leading fellow spurs fans on one-dimensional peregrinations through subjective arguments about ‘potential outcomes’. For example: Tiago will take 2 years to get it, and at 28 will be too old; ranting about our interior D and rebounding and subsequent trades we should make that don’t align with the spurs game plan; and tedious remarks about the spurs shortcomings after singular-game disappointments.
    I will try to make my view as simple and objective as possible:

    Tiago: He is a very good all-round player with limited flair offensively, but with a nose for drawing contact and fouls from his opponent. What that translates to in the NBA is subject to his ability to put in the necessary work to adapt, and the time in which he takes to accomplish this. But, overall, in the short time he has put in on the court for the spurs, he has done some good things, albeit not yet comfortable enough in the spurs system to be a major contributor. A recent poster noted the extra growth he will achieve in the offseason and I agree there. I respect the argument to give him more playing time, but also respect the time Blair, Dice and Bonner have put in to learn the system. We are starting to see a little bit of payoff with Blair in the last month or so.

    Trades: There is only a handful of players that would likely warrant sacrificing system knowledge at this stage of the season for pure talent. I could be wrong, but I couldn’t see anyone we could get through trades that wouldn’t take away from something else. Again, just an opinion…not fact.

    Front Office arguments: I appreciated reading someones’s critique of the FO, not being perfect and pointing out circumstances where they made mistakes, and overall misconceptions about them never missing a beat. That would be like saying a bank never makes a bad investment….being constructive in critque equals read-worthy.

    Playoff chances: There is obviously an argument about size, defense and rebounding stifling our chances of going all the way – that is a question for every team, big or small. My faith in the spurs having a real chance is based around the notion that as an elite TEAM they possess more gears in a playoff series than the other teams. Execution then is the key, and that is something Pop and Co. have tried to emphasise through a commitment to really developing players, and rewarding them for that commitment, and by focusing on their strengths, and not simply trying to follow some fly-by-night league trends.

    Regarding redundant posting sessions:

    Here are some things I think are under-analized as far as Spurs talk goes:

    Why has the team had so much success playing relatively “short” in the interior throughout the season? And, how do you think Pop will adjust when playing against “Tall/big” in the playoffs?

    Does anyone see similarity in Bonner’s overall game development to Bruce Bowen? Bonner has improved defensively and at attacking the rim, Bowen improved 3pt accuracy and drives to the rim.

    Although Tiago is not playing alot and fans are concerned about our lack of size to take on LA and Boston, is our record not a sign that Spurs finally have real depth in size and versatility?

    The big question for me:

    How are teams going to try to stop us in the playoffs, and what are the best ways to overcome this? Are the Lakers and Mavs going to try to stay home on the perimeter and make Tony and Tim and Manu Jumpshoot and drive into the bigs to win….I think this will definitely be a strategy. I think it will be important to have guys like Neal who can shoot a 3, and also a one-dribble 15-18 footer. And also important is mobile bigs like Dice and Blair to get offensive boards in half-court situations, and pose a threat on the pick and roll. Tiago doesn’t have this yet, and Blair is only scratching the surface…thats why Dice is so important.
    Thats my rant, I hope for all of you who made it through it that I added something- new conversation possibilities if nothing else.
    We had alot to critique about last year because there were alot less W’s…..this year, for me its all about strategy come finals time….if they play it right, they might just be the last team standing.

  • HASSAN

    Hi Easy B, I agree with you to some extent. The spurs don’t need much tinckering esp with their famous difficult system to learn..but I really thought they could get Nene & Gary Forbes from Denver for Splitter, McDyess (buyout & return to SA), James Anderson & 1st Round draft pick. This trade would increase SA Payroll above Tax so they did not try that although there where some rumors… Well Hope we can get # 5 with our current Front Line….

  • alamobro

    I serioulsy doubt Blair considers Randolph a role model. I think it was just a poor choice of words.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com notasgoodasoncewas

    If you listen to what Blair says its his game and how he works at it that Blair respects has nothing to do with anything else

  • rob

    @ Easy B

    Great post.

    “There is only a handful of players that would likely warrant sacrificing system knowledge at this stage of the season for pure talent.”

    According to what I’ve read, the Spurs were approached by several teams prior to the trade deadline only for the Spurs to negate the offers. It would be interesting to hear what some of those offers were. This leads to your next POV regarding FO decisions.

    “That would be like saying a bank never makes a bad investment….being constructive in critque equals read-worthy.”

    Best it’s kept under the mat because as we all know…nobody’s perfect. However no matter how distained some may be in past FO decisions…one can’t argue 4 championships and if not for a major bone head decision by a player (not a coach or exec.,) the Spurs probably have 5 championships.

    Finally, you are correct (i.m.o.) in that it’s not how the Spurs may match up against other teams but how other teams will be able to play against the Spurs. This year’s team has a chemistry and knack for snatching victory in the jaws of defeat where as last season it was quite the opposite. It seems that if any player may be having a bad game others are ready and productively step in to eliviate a bad individual performance.

    In the past I had been critical/concerned (rightfully so imo) of Bonner’s worth to this team. After seeing the vast improvement he has been able to produce over his once singletary role as a player, it should give hope ( or at least credence) that this team has the ability to eventually nurture a productive player no matter the limitations that exist on the surface. This if anything should give hope to Spurs fans that Blair and Tiago will someday become consistently good.

    It’s the desire, hope and uncertainty of success, (I think), of many Spur fans that fuels a lot of the displeasure, trade talks, and criticism even though they have the best record in the league thus far and look to be poised to make a viable championship run. Count me guilty as charged in some of those instances, but am loving this year’s results a lot more than last. Greatest fear…getting to the point where they have gotten so far only for them to somehow not make it to the finals. I tend to think that the players may have some of this fear in them as well since they are human after all but will use this fear to propel them to great rewards at the end of the season.

  • DorieStreet

    @ andy

    +10 re the NBA southwest; the northwest is almost as strong, with only the Twolves being down & out. (That team should have more than 13 wins.)

    @ Easy B

    Just because we all root for the Silver & Black, and are excited about this hell-of-a bounce back season, does not mean we have a single mindset about every aspect with the Spurs. Some examples: this article states the Grizz are a likely 1st round opponent –how so? They’re 8th now, but that could change in 3 days–Spurs win both games, MEM goes to 9th place; Spurs lose both games, MEM could go to the 6th spot, depending on what the other 5 teams do that are bunched together in the western conference standings. There’s no need to focus in on them. That also goes for you wondering how the Spurs will match up against the Lakers AND Mavs. Odds are they will finish 2nd and 3rd in the conference–that means one of them will knock off the other, so the Spurs will only have to play one of them (assuming the Spurs take care of business). I say it’s too early for any talk of playoff matchups.

    As for other Spurs topics that you feel are discussed ad nauseam—
    The trade deadline has passed, so that item should disappear from this point forward.
    Rebounding is a basic element of this sport; it gets more scoring chances for a team on one end, and limits the other team’s chances to score on the other.
    To think that not one fan would discuss at all a wide discrepancy in that statistic during a game (which kept the contest close) is not being realistic about what this forum is for.
    As for some fans’ near obsession with all things Tiago–to each his own. Since he hasn’t been part of the rotation on a consistent basis, and is currently injured, I don’t have him on my mind when the Spurs suit up and hit the court. If Splitter gets up to speed and becomes a solid contributor before season’s end, fine—but I’m not worrying about if or when it will happen.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Rob

    Yeah, it’s good to see Bonner doing more in other parts of the game besides the spot up 3’s. Despite limitations, he (and all players) should train and work to improve themselves. Bonner should have a zeal and purpose about it too—he was resigned with a very nice contract, and after the ‘Core 3′ (Tim, Tony & Manu) he has the longest tenure with the Spurs (and part of the last championship squad). He may not be a leader, but his place and role is essential to the bounce-back success of this team.

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  • betsyduncan

    Thanks, Easy B. This forum was getting rather tedious with all the kvetching going on. Nice analysis.

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