Jumping to conclusions on the rotation…already

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Photo credit: MattBritt00

AT&T CENTER — After watching Tiago Splitter spend the vast majority of his rookie season on the bench and James Anderson fail to regain his rotation spot after an early season injury, concerns were aplenty that many of the Spurs’ young players would fail to see any meaningful minutes this season, especially with the nature of this season’s compressed schedule.

And then Kawhi Leonard checked in for Richard Jefferson with 6:57 left in the first quarter of the Spurs’ 95-82 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on opening night. If Gregg Popovich could justify not playing a rookie any season, it was this one. With no offseason contact allowed, a shortened training camp and preseason, and a returning starting small forward, the odds could have easily been stacked against playing Kawhi Leonard this year.

Instead, the Spurs rotated three players at the small forward position on Monday night, starting richard Jefferson and bringing on Leonard as a substitute. In the second quarter, James Anderson entered the game for Jefferson. Coach Pop also played Jefferson alongside Leonard for stretches in the second half.

If anything, this gives the Spurs flexibility with their lineups. You have three players splitting time at the same position, who can all share the floor together if need be (Anderson at the 2, RJ at the 3 and Kawhi at the 4). Having all three players comfortable with a variety of situations safeguards the team in instances where foul trouble is an issue or, as should be the case this season, rest is needed for fatigue or injury. Playing Anderson at the 3 also allows for room when Gary Neal returns to the lineup.

The typical rotation last season saw Manu Ginobili as the first player to be subbed out of the game, primarily so he could re-enter the game in as the playmaker on the second unit. In the Spurs’ win over the Grizzlies Monday night, Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair were the first players to sub out of the game, mostly because of early foul trouble for both bigs. Instead, RJ appeared to be the first scheduled substitution for the Spurs. This put Jefferson in the Manu role of scorer with the second unit, where eventually, Jefferson found a comfort zone. He ran the pick-and-roll with Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner several times with decent results. Basically, it wasn’t a bad lineup. Jefferson had 10 points on 4-7 shooting in the second quarter.

While the Spurs started the game with a lineup of Manu, Parker, RJ, Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair, their crunch time group featured Tiago Splitter instead of Blair. There were suggestions during training camp that the Spurs would use this lineup because it’s a better defensive one than a group featuring Blair. Starting Blair is a design primarily to avoid having DeJuan in the game with Matt Bonner or Splitter. The more time Blair is paired with Tim Duncan, the better.

After a Manu steal and breakaway dunk boosted the Spurs’ lead to 16 in the fourth quarter, Pop inserted James Anderson for Manu, possibly to get Anderson some crunch time reps. The more experienced these young wings can get, and the quicker they get it, only increases the malleability of this Spurs team. If there’s was any way the post rotation could develop the same thing, this Spurs team could be something to behold.

  • Easy B

    If Memphis taught us anything last year that we can feed off, I believe it is these two points:
    If you have length, foot speed and tenacity on the wings you can upset teams offensively, and you only need one scorer to catch fire in the clutch to get you home. But Bruce Bowen and MJ have already proved those points before.
    I like the rangy aspect of te spurs this year. I love that they have a proper backup point. Tiago will have to have a break out season though, because Blair and Bonner have limitations defensively that give opponents more options than we want to provide.
    It’s early days, but it looks like we could have a decent regular season again. How our bigs measure in the playoffs is still a massive question mark. At least this year we have a smorgasbord of versatile wings to provide help d.
    One way to think of it…we substituted Hill’s combo guard play for the more physically imposing 2/3/4 play of Leonard and Anderson. That could be a sneaky upgrade of the spurs team that most pundits aren’t accounting for.
    Here’s hoping.
    Andrew’s comment about RJ’s usage in the 2nd quarter and his ability to take on the offensive duties is a positive. It’s probably time for the bleacher seats to give ot a rest with regards to criticizing his role…he does what he does and has shown improvement in the spurs system over time. Hopefully they can maintain his involvement at the business end.

  • Bob

    RJ was actually playing a little 2 with Leonard out there. I think Leonard and Anderson really give greater flexibility and energy on the wings. The Spurs finally have a backup PG and a backup SF. It’s going to save wear and tear on Manu because he doesn’t have to play backup 3. Tiago and Tim playing together will improve the defense. Ideally it would be nice to have a backup big to cut into Bonner/Blair minutes.

  • El Spur

    Everything is good, I just hope we will sign one more big guy these days…

  • MG20TD21

    Good win for the good guys. The youngins looked good, lots of energy and effort on the defensive end. A little too much excitement leading to bad shots and turnovers perhaps, but that should go away with more games under their belt. Tim, Manu,Tony, Matt, and RJ are known commodities. They will be fine, I’m part of the RJ is overpaid but not as bad as everyone would make him out to be. As long as Tim’s knee holds up and Manu doesn’t limp into the playoffs the boys can run with anyone in the West.

    Good article, it is nice to have a real backup PG. TJ is a vet and is smart so he should learn the system during the year. With helath and a little luck the boys have a shot, a long shot, but hope nonetheless. Manu is still magic and one of the 3 best 2’s in the league. 65 games to get right and bring it in the postseason.

    optomistic

  • Thomasholdren

    did you watch the game? Blair did fine defensively the time (limited) he was in. He picked up his fouls on help when other bigs got beat (TD/Bonner). He posted up and scored on Randolph… Bricked a wide open layup on a gift from Manu. That would be my only gripe with him, and his TO, in his action. 

    He is who we need with this group of players. Aggressive, physical, big who can run and hustle. You slow down the tempo with this particular squad we will get EATEN alive. 

    Running the ball makes everyone look better. We aren’t a 1/2 court team or a defensive team. We need the aggressive, ball-hawk players, who dive, push, bump, and foul. 

  • Thomasholdren

    RJ saved us in the first half whether anyone wants to admit or not. He was shooting, not as hesitant, and a little more aggressive than usual. 

    10pts in second qtr from RJ was the momentum changer (2 threes) 

    Good for him

  • sam

    iam still not convinced about blair,  dont forget that memphis had an off game  esp.  their bigs.    not taking anything away from how our team played.       untill the dude develops a reliable mid-range jumper and improve his def. , he shouldn’t get any crunch time minutes.  

    guys like him who  depend on speed and energy  have to be able to hit a jumper to draw their defenders away from the basket. 

    i hope splitter can play solid 30 minutes for us this season,  and our sfs  can improve quickly by playoffs  , esp.   3pt shooting and def. 

  • sam

    i agree about the importance of length in the nba,   during the last 2 years the spurs have been playing with small line ups .     we need length esp.  under the basket  , i hope we see more duncan , splitter  lineups  .  
    also , we shouldn’t use small line ups as much as last few years.    the fact duncan is older now and he is not the same  guy as in 2005 or 2007.  although he still plays solid def.  however, he is not fast enough to  keep up with fast guards  to block their shots.   
    also ,  our 3pt shooting has to be less streaky ,  last year we had alot of streaky 3 pt shooters   like hill , bonner ,  rj  couldnt make his shots  ,we need players who can stretch the floor,             and this doesn’t help our big 3  players because they are at  their best when they score in the paint.

  • Jjonathany82

    I don’t know if anyone doesn’t want to admit that he played well.  If you’ve watched the Spurs the last two years you’ve probably already put plenty of hope and expectation on RJ after performances like this one only to be sorely disappointed by him in the playoffs.

  • Thomasholdren

    No way Sam (crunch). He is what you need, energy. While I agree adding a j would be nice. HE DRAWS FOULS on the other bigs. That is what we were missing with McDyess. Antonio just created space since he couldnt make any moves on the block. 

    You need someone to commit AND draw fouls on the other bigs to take them out of the game. Blair did that last night and does that each time he plays. Again, this is something that doesnt come up in a box score other than PF but it is an important aspect of the game that “fans” do not understand. Confidence is everything in basketball.

    Getting Randolph or Gasol out of sorts and frustrated is WAY more important than getting 4-6 points from elbow J’s. Much rather have Dejuan give and pick up fouls.  

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  • DorieStreet

    Blair needs that close-in to short jumper that (ex-Celtic) Magic F/C Glen Davis has. The energy level and hustle are similar; Davis has a little more savvy (he gets away with too man flops IMO but hey, it’s the refs’ call).

  • DorieStreet

    I echo your opinions. RJ’s salary makes his struggles as a Spur hard to digest. But for the most part he has been a professional about the situation.  Maybe he (and definitely we fans) don’t know what the FO/coaching staff have in mind for him this season, but he realizes he’s with a team that competes with the best in the league. I liked how he got up during a timeout and gave enthusiastic support to Kawhi for his play. Those moments help build chemistry and a single-minded purpose to do their best each game.

    All teams will play 9 games in the first 2 weeks (Xmas Day thru Jan. 7th). Let’s see how this group of vets and newcommers gel in this compacted season.

  • Bob

    Good point. Taking an outside jumper lets the defender of the hook. It makes sense in the flow of the offense but the defender would prefer that than forcing him to defend and not foul.

  • grego

    The key to RJ is giving him opportunities to make him stay involved. If the team keeps him in plays, then he should be fine. If they go away from him like they did by the end of the season, then fault doesn’t all lay with just him. 

  • andy

    i didn’t get to see the game (in oz for xmas), but saw that splitter had 2 blocks. for all those that said he didn’t seem like a shotblocker from his time in europe, this must seem heartening, right? for those who saw the game, in what manner did he make those blocks?

  • Thomasholdren

    Again, the coach chose to go with McDyess and Duncan rather than what was working = fail

  • Thomasholdren

    so quietly I didnt realize he had blocks. 

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

    Both blocks came from the weak side. The Grizzly player made a move in the post and Splitter rotated over and swatted the shot away.

  • Bob

    Agree. With that second unit and TJ Ford not dominating the ball he felt very aggressive.

  • Bob

    I like the dynamic it gives the defense. Now the perimeter guys can dig in and send guys toward the shotblockers in TD and Splitter. The perimeter defense was pretty bad last season. With the young wings in JA and Leonard and the twin towers I don’t think that should be an issue.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t necessarily think a major shake up will be had in the starting core of Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, Blair and Jefferson.  But it certainly looks as though the Spurs have better options than they had last year regarding rotational players if Anderson, Leonard and Splitter can play as they did in the first game.

    Blair (it appears) is going to continue to be a foul magnet.  Throw him in the starting mix to see what you are going to get in a game.  It could be a double/double Blair…it could be a 4 fouls in 10 minutes type of  game from Blair.  None the less…Tiago must remain first option off the bench to best utilize not only Splitters minutes, but more importantly Duncan’s.  Crunch time…Splitter and Duncan.

    This team appears to be set with both quantified youth and experienced vets to compete for a title if the correct blend of players can be used during the course of an entire game.

    The Achilles though will still be the lack of another big who can score a minimal of 6 to 8 points a game while being able to solidly defend the post with either garnishing rebounds or preventing other team’s post players from easily scoring.

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  • Vin

    a LOT of guys were saying get rid of RJ.. i don’t see you guys now!