Spurs vs. Spurs, Training Camp Scrimmage

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San Antonio Spurs fans were treated to a deliciously entertaining intersquad scrimmage this afternoon.  A note of caution before proceeding to a list of takeaways: this was merely a practice.  Don’t read too deeply into the tea leaves. It was helpful to see the Spurs play, but far from definitive. My thoughts:

  • The Spurs are deep. That’s a bullet. Noted.
  • Gregg Popovich already has every excuse in the world to sit his older players one night of each of the Spurs’ 17 back-to-backs. Popovich hasn’t tipped his hat in either direction, but I hope he debuts a sit-a-veteran policy as early the opening couplet of vs. New Orleans and at Chicago on October 28 and 29. Four out of the first five contests situate themselves on one side of a back-to-back equation, and there is no reason to delay a program that provides rest for his older players. Seeing the policy through from–quite literally–opening night is also Pop’s best PR move. If resting veterans is part of an obvious season-long policy, the fans won’t be taken off guard if they attend one of the games in which Tim Duncan is resting. They still might not like it, but they would have been notified of the possibility well in advance.
  • Speaking of resting veterans: Friday’s scrimmage saw all Spurs players over the age of 31 sitting on the sidelines. It was the over 31 crowd (Finley, McDyess, Ratliff, Duncan, Ginobili) and Tony Parker, to be precise. There is no reason for any of the aforementioned group to play both sides of back-to-backs this season. The Spurs are plenty deep, with injury concerns, and no shortage of young players that need minutes and an opportunity at live action.
  • LJ Ellis offered up this succinct take on Tim Duncan’s play in today’s scrimmage:  “Tim Duncan didn’t play much basketball in the offseason — and it was obvious during the scrimmage. He didn’t have much success when calling his own number. However, to be fair, Duncan seemed to concentrate mostly on trying to get Richard Jefferson involved.”
  • Adjusted Plus/Minus expert Steve Ilardi surprised me a few weeks back. According to Ilardi’s 6 year defensive APM averages, Manu Ginobili is the third best perimeter defender in the league. He trails only Ron Artest and Shane Battier in that department. Striking, right? Well Manu Ginobili looked every bit the offensive and defensive stud during today’s scrimmage. When he’s healthy, only Kobe Bryant and Dywane Wade are better options at shooting guard. Look out, league!
  • The Spurs often feature offensive sets with Tim Duncan flanked on all sides by shooters. The Spurs love to shoot the three-ball, and to pin their opponents into one of two disadvantageous commitments: either single team Tim Duncan or double him by leaving a sniper all alone and spotted up. It’s a season of change in San Antonio, and it isn’t. The Spurs ran quite a few 4-shooter clear outs for–wait for it–Tony Parker this afternoon.  It makes sense, right? Who can guard Tony Parker? He always puts up big man field goal percentages, and his Hot Spot shot chart is not terribly dissimilar to a dominate big. That is, he does most of his damage at the rim.  It’s Gregg Popovich’s mission for the Spurs to guard like hell this season, but they’ll also be hell to guard.  Tony Parker is an elite player.
  • Will any rookie outperform DeJuan Blair on a per minute basis? I doubt it. He looks sensational.  He’s the exact same rebounder we saw at Pitt, plus he has soft hands, can finish around the basket, is an efficient passer and, surprise, surprise, has a little bit of a spot up game. Clippers fans, don’t kill me. DeJuan Blair is Blake Griffin’s biggest obstacle on his path toward the ROY. Don’t get me wrong. The total minutes thing will remove Blair from the conversation, but per minute…
  • Although, having said that, it’s not all “jeepers ma” with DeJuan Blair. 48MoH reader and Spurs season ticket holder Rick Ashford sat behind the bench for today’s practice:  “Blair does have a lot to learn on defense. He bit on a shot fake by Bonner (I mean, really, Bonner’s not going hard to the hole, you know?), and fouled him on a triple. Matt drained it, and the free throw for a four-pointer. Ouch.”
  • As low minute situational substitutions, Mike Finley and Matt Bonner are invaluable.
  • The story of today’s scrimmage was Parker, Ginobili, Blair, and in that order.  After those three, I’d argue that Malik Hairston was the most impressive Spur. Quoting Rick Ashford, yet again: “RC [Buford] pointed out Marcus Williams and Malik Hairston as players they were excited about coming over from the Toros. He specifically mentioned Hairston as being the most improved player they’d ever seen coming from the D-League.” Hairston is a cagey defender with a deceptively effective ability to score. It’s not unthinkable that Hairston and Marcus Haislip earn the lionshare of minutes behind Richard Jefferson. And yes, I realize I’m excluding Mike Finley and Keith Bogans.  Go Toros!
  • George Hill’s numbers weren’t great (does anyone have stats from this scrimmage?), but he’s showing good stuff. It says here that he is one the best back-up point guards in the Association. Big things from him this season.
  • Ian Mahinmi continues his routine of flash a little here, fizzle a little there. I’ve watched him as closely as anyone over the past three years, and he looks like a monster in waiting when he slips into a rhythm. But when he doesn’t, he’s simply a clumsy, low energy big. At this point, I’d like to see the Spurs take a sink or swim approach with Mahinmi. Give him big minutes, relative to his role as back-up center, in preseason and throughout, say, the first third of the regular season. My suspicion is that he is in fact a rhythm player who works his way into games by playing up to competition.  But there is really only one way to find out.
  • I can’t resist another note about Ian Mahinmi. His entire game is best described as budding. Nothing has really blossomed yet. Having said that, he’s nothing if not a bunch of fresh green shoots.  One example from this game: Ian Mahinmi can hit shots from 16 or 17 feet.  Good mechanics. Nice fluid motion. No reason to think he couldn’t earn a living simply knocking down screen and pops. But, again, he could be so much more. Of all the guys in camp, he’s the most mysterious. I expect Tony Parker will force feed him the ball throughout the preseason in an effort to crack the Mahinmi mystery.
  • Marcus Haislip played reasonably well today. The jury is still out, but the early indications suggest he’s a useful player as perimeter power forward or long three. His defense was lacking on a few possessions, but he has the the physical tools of a competent defender. On offense he can put the ball on the floor, hit spot up Js, and, in general, create space for either Duncan or Parker in 1-4 sets.
  • Curtis Jerrells outperformed Marcus Williams in their quest to land third point guard duties. Marcus Williams’ transition to point is still a work in progress. Jerrells was not only more comfortable at the point, he had a few impressive possessions. But this was only one practice. And besides, unless the Spurs are willing to part with Keith Bogans, the 15th roster spot is Malik Hairston’s to lose. Strangely, Malik Hairston is fighting for a contract as the Spurs’ 15th man, but if he wins it he’ll immediately become their 8th or 9th man in terms of minutes played.
  • The hodgepodge bullet: everyone else looked like themselves, which is actually great news. McDyess, Jefferson and Ratliff snapped into place as snug system fits.
  • The Spurs finished practice with a 3-point shootout, which, as you might have guessed, Michael Finley Tim Duncan won. Highlights of Duncan’s shooting at the  tail end of this video:

  • Kevin

    Would like to see the Spurs package Bonner and Finley and their expiring contracts for some future second round picks and cash. Personally, and this isn’t going off today’s scrimmage, Jerrells would be an ideal 3rd option at the point. This kid is going to be the real deal in a few years and is a natural at the pg position with great speed, nice range and he attacks the rim. He’s a pure point and has a ridiculous work ethic and is exceptionally competitive. Bonner and Finley just don’t fit in with this squad. RC and Pop sent a loud message this offseason-bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic and younger. If Spurs are dependent on Bonner or Finley’s production they aren’t going to win a championship anyway. Jerrells and Malik need to make this team. I’d like to see:
    Starting 5: Parker, Mason, Jefferson, Duncan, McDyess
    Second Unit: Hill, Ginobili, Boguns, Ratliff, Blair
    11-12-Haislip, Hairston
    13-14: Jerrells, Mahinmi

    Depending on match ups and need to rest older players, Haislip, Hairston, Jerrells and Mahinmi could get plenty of playing time.

    We have all the veteran leadership we need with Parker, Mason, Jefferson, McDyess, Duncan, Ginobili, Ratliff and Boguns. That’s 8 guys who have a lot of experience.

    Finley’s legs are shot and he can’t defend
    Bonner’s shot disappeared when the pressure went up and he doesn’t rebound or block shots.

    I say: We have an incredible core of veterans (see above). We have solid younger role players (Hill, Haislip). We have some youngins that can be developed into legitimate players (Hairston, Jerrells and of course, my man, Blair)-and a mystery man who looks the part that we have to learn more about (Ian) Great blend of experience, developing talent and great potential. As such-cut ties with two guys who aren’t as good as other vets and will slow development of younger players-get what you can for the future and dump some salary.

    Spurs will be making a big mistake if both Jerrells and Hairston don’t make this squad. These kids are going to be players.

  • Tydus

    When the spurs spread four shooters out and let Parker go to work are they gonna have Duncan spotted at one of the elbow spots?

    His stroke looked pretty good in that video.

  • Rick Ashford

    I think Bonner is still useful, as long as he’s running with the second team. He was our starting “center” last year, and that was a bit much. But bring him off the bench 4 who has the all-important corporate knowledge…? There’s some value in that.

  • Rick Ashford

    That should say, “bring him off the bench as a stretch 4…”.

    That’s what I get for writing this on my phone.

  • http://myspurslink.blogspot.com Robby

    Nice post! the Spurs will be tough to beat and I agree with Rick, Bonner is a useful player in the Spurs system. This year he is not a starter and 10-15 minutes of productive minutes from him is reasonable…. Blair, Hill and Hairston looked good.

  • NL

    Thanks for posting this is great. This may be included in a separate post but this was interesting from The Express:

    George Hill has been the most exciting part of training camp thus far,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich declared. “He has really welcomed the responsibility we’ve given him to be the backup point; to not only play defense, but to be explosive offensively and show additional leadership at the point.

    “He’s doing all those things. The summertime really helped him, and he has been the most impressive of anybody in camp to this point.”

    Exciting stuff.

  • SA_Ray

    I attended the open practice also.
    I was just watching as a fan as opposed to an analyst but here were my thoughts during the game.
    -When Manu was on the court I watched him carefully. He didn’t seem to be favoring any ankle, wasn’t afraid to drive or shoot and even had a beautiful behind the back pass. I wish he took every summer off.
    -Blair looks like he could provide instant impact of the bench. Rebounding, running for lose balls and abusing poor Bonner on offense. His D still needs some work but the Spurs isn’t an easy system to learn. I hope Pop gives him minutes.
    -McDyess looked like he had been playing with the Spurs for years.
    -RJ looked a little out of sync in the offensive set but he can still create his own shot at will.
    -Marcus Williams likes to dribble the ball, a lot.
    -Hill just strikes me as more confident. Hard to describe really.
    -The idea of Finley and Bonner coming of the bench, instead of starting, really adds to our depth.

  • Crow

    Bonner’s often under-rated. How much Pop sticks with him will be interesting to see. His Adjusted +/- last season suggested he fit the role he was given quite well, at least regular season.

  • http://fundamentally-sound.blogspot.com Jaceman

    I find Bonner’s +/- to be somewhat inflated given who he always plays next to. I’m inclined to lean towards major big man minutes to go somewhere between Haislip and Blair.

  • DoesAnyoneRememberLaughter

    Of all the Spur’s preseason scrimmages I’ve attended this was the most fun and interesting due to HALF the team not having been there last season. Big part of me is very thankful we did not have to trade any of the big three for such a big overhaul. I know of many other teams in the league in which this has been a reality (Orlando).

    The game had some really fun notes as well, such as all the long, skinny big men San Antonio has (new-look Duncan, Ratliff, Bonner, and Mahinmi) and then short, stout, Blair. He’s the same height as Jefferson, and he plays small forward on the wing. This will make his victories that much sweeter. He was humiliating Bonner out there.

    As for the sit-a-veteran policy, it’s going to create quite the scandal if they’ll be more nights like last year’s Denver game. Many fans who have paid money for the Spurs expirience expect to see the teams stars at least do something in the game, and will be greatly disappointed. Myself included. I am aware of the reality of the championship window depending on such unorthodox practices (I cannot think of another team that does this, aside from the last few games of the season), but there is also the reality of people feeling ripped off when they see healthy players on the bench and treated only to the Spurs*. No amount of warning will justify that to the fans, especially those not living in San Antonio who only have a few opportunities to see their favorite players when they come to town.

    *May not include face of the franchise and greatest power forward of all time Tim Duncan, all-star French point guard Tony Parker, or the greatest Argentine to ever play the game, Manu Ginobili.

  • Crow

    His raw +/- is inflated by playing next to Duncan and his Adjusted +/- comes from a lot of time in that favorable shadow but Adjusted does try to account for how good Duncan is. It is saying Bonner is performing well above what an average player does in any context or a similar one. But contexts are different and Adjusted’s ability to level them all to the same playing field is not certain.

  • Rye

    No reason to play all of the veterans in back-t0-backs at all this year? How about to build chemistry and to set a playoff rotation? I’m all for resting these guys, particularly the more significant ones when it absolutely makes sense (during a 4 games in 5 day stretch or even a back-t0-back in which an inferior or 2 opponent is mixed in), but not all the time.

    This team could potentially push the Lakers for the number 1 seed in the West. They shouldn’t push at all costs, but they also shouldn’t just concede either.

    As for the depth, sure a guy like Haislip looks impressive now, but he’s not a proven NBA player and guys like Ratliff and Bogans are merely defensive specialists.

    Haiston the 8th or 9th man? I’m willing to admit I may have missed the boat about Williams having the “inside track” to the 15th roster spot, but I’d be absolutely stunned if Hairston were even regularly on the active roster. If he makes it, I think he’ll primarily be with the Toros.

  • H-Town Up SA Town Down

    The Rockets will dominate the Spurs on Tuesday. The Spurs were once a team to be reckoned with, but now the Spurs are nothing more than washed up scrubs. Duncan needs to retire, Manu will get hurt as usual, and Tony will struggle to carry the team. Give up Spurs fan.

  • Tydus

    H-Town Up SA Town Down
    October 5th, 2009 at 7:43 pm The Rockets will dominate the Spurs on Tuesday. The Spurs were once a team to be reckoned with, but now the Spurs are nothing more than washed up scrubs. Duncan needs to retire, Manu will get hurt as usual, and Tony will struggle to carry the team. Give up Spurs fan.

    -This coming from Houston where the stars never stay healthy.

    Anyways, I watched the scrimmage on Spurs.com and for the most part I like what I saw.
    McDyess, Ratliff, and Jefferson all played well and seemed to fit in very well with what the team was doing.

    I am nowhere near convinced that Marcus Williams deserves a roster spot. I firmly believe that this guy is case of “should have stayed in college a little longer”. That said, I’m not in love with Jerrells. I liked what I saw from him more than Williams but he still didn’t seem function as well as he could have.

    Malik Hairston is ridiculous. He just sent a message to Williams, Jerrells, and Dwayne Jones that the last roster spot is his and they all need to send thier resumes elsewhere.

    I think R.C. Buford can now rest easier knowing that he officially has an ass-kicking forward in the line up with Blair. And I agree with the line above. If Dejuan gets enough minutes he will contend for ROY. He wont win on account of not being named Blake Griffin, but he will definitly produce. (god willing he’ll throw Thabeet over his shoulder again when the Spurs play the Grizzlies)

    As for everyone else they pretty much played as they were expected to. Even Tim Duncan. I know he might as well have just kept his warm ups on, but after a summer of not playing I didn’t expect to come out and go for 20-15.

  • yoyo

    Hairston is explosive and will make the team and contribute. better on the wing with 3s, D, taking it to the hole than others. I think he has starting potential and better potential than mason. more athletic and stronger.

    williams good and great potential and would rather trade finley and his expiring contract and keep williams. will make good point foward.

    PG: parker, hill, ??? we need a 3rd PG
    SG: manu, mason, hairston
    SF: jefferson, finley, bogans
    PF: duncan, blair, bonner
    C: mcD, ratliff, mahinmi

    haslip vs williams? haslip contract likely guaranteed. I say keep williams as point foward and trade finley!!!

    We need perimeter D and hopefully it’ll work out