The Spurs’ wing situation, training camp predictions
The Wing Situation. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?
Gregg Popovich echoed Buford this week, saying he is on the hunt for someone who will approximate Bruce Bowen’s defensive effort.
Early in camp, Popovich has made it clear to the various candidates for the job â€” a list that includes eight-year NBA veteran Bobby Simmons, last season’s Development League Rookie of the Year Alonzo Gee and former second-round pick James Gist â€” that the route to a roster spot begins on the defensive end.
â€œThat’s the No. 1 thing on the wish list for a substitute â€˜3,’â€ Popovich said. â€œ(Offensively), you’d also like for them to at least be able to hit the wall with the ball, too. But (a defender) is what I’d like to have.â€
These are twoÂ storylines — the quest for a wing defender and improved shooting — to follow throughout the Spurs’ training camp. Here is short primer on each of the Spurs’ perimeter campers. Who has the advantage?
The Spurs will go into camp with Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, James Anderson, Alonzo Gee, Gary Neal, Garrett Temple,Â Bobby Simmons, Thomas Gardner and Kirk Penney at the wings. Many believe the Spurs also see James Gist as a combo forward. The Spurs have nineteen players in camp, eleven of whom could demand wing minutes. Finding Bruce Bowen’s replacement is a seemingly impossible task.
The Spurs’ Current Wings, Minutes
Some of the players listed above (Hill and Temple) are obviously combo guards, but Gregg Popovich likes three guard lineups and, in general, perimeter players who can slide between three positions. In this sense, some of the Spurs’ reserve “small forward” minutes will be given to Hill or, less often, Temple.
It’s reasonable to expect Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and George Hill to command most of the minutes at guard, and that all three players will regularly share the floor together. In fact, I suspect the Spurs will close most games with Parker, Ginobili, Hill, Duncan and Splitter.
Richard Jefferson is a lock for steady minutes at the wing. Jefferson averaged 31 minutes per game last season and should soak up similar time this season. In a perfect world, Jefferson would emerge from Spurs camp as the team’s best wing defender. But no one is holding their breath; it has been years since Jefferson commanded respect as a tough defender.
It’s important to remember that Jefferson moonlighted as a small-ball power forward for much of last season. Â It’s impossible to know how the Spurs will allocate his floor time this season, but I’m assuming — based on his poor performance as a combo forward and the Spurs’ current personnel — that those days are over. Â If Jefferson plays most of his 30 minutes at small forward, and the Spurs maintain their dalliance with three guard lineups, San Antonio should only have 8-12 minutes of reserve minutes left over for thatÂ aforementioned laundryÂ list of wing hopefuls.
Handicapping Spurs Training Camp: The Wing Race
James Anderson is a player who might have been drafted in the teens or late lottery if not for a draft season hamstring injury. The Spurs are also committed to Anderson and his guaranteed contact — or as committed as any NBA team is to a rookie. Unfortunately, James Anderson spent the entire offseason rehabbing his hamstring and is coming to camp out-of-shape. Not his fault, but those are the breaks.
Best Guess: Anderson will need an incredibly good camp (anÂ unusuallyÂ good one for a rookie) in order to find immediate minutes in the rotation. In fact, the Spurs might be tempted to send James Anderson to Austin as part of an extended rehab program, getting him back into game shape and playing heavy minutes after a few months on the sideline. Anderson’s immediate future, in all likelihood, is somewhere in between those options. Anderson can shoot, play either wing position, and get to the foul line. If he shows a willingness to defend, Popovich will find opportunities to play him. Eventually.
Alzono Gee can get to the foul line. He’s a menace in transition. Of all the Spurs’ wing hopefuls, Gee might have the highest ceiling. Â But can he defend? Can he develop a competent jump shot? The two major question marks in Gee’s game are the skills San Antonio desires most from their cast of might-runs.
Best Guess: Gee has too much potential to pass up. But he’s not what the Spurs are looking for at the wing. His game is much more Corey Maggette than Bruce Bowen. Gee makes the team, but spends the year in Austin trying to develop the skills the Spurs want from a player right now.
Bobby Simmons’ game went missing last season — 23 games for the horrendous Nets. As a reserve Simmons is an attractive option: .401 career three point percentage. Durable. Nice size and a good wingspan. At 30, he’s old enough to know his way around pick and roll defense, but maybe too old to represent a long term solution for the Spurs. Â But why is Simmons having so much trouble finding a contract? He’s in San Antonio on a make good invitation. Something is missing.
Best Guess: Simmons makes the team, but San Antonio keeps a younger wing in case Simmons is a repeat performance of Ime Udoka and Keith Bogans.
Gary Neal is at Spurs camp on a low dollar, guaranteed deal. Â In one sense, he’s already made the team. But Neal is owed a mere 525,000 this season, meaning his contract is easy to swallow. In this sense, Neal has to approach camp as if his roster spot hangs in the balance. Neal is not known as a wing defender, but the Spurs tout Gary Neal as one of the best shooters ever to set foot in their gym. The wind is at his back and he’s running downhill.
Best Guess: Neal keeps his spot. His challenge is to earn minutes. If he can slide his feet and carry a sniper’s rifle all at once, the Spurs will use him as a floor spacing specialist.
Thomas Gardner has bounced around the NBA and Europe. At 25, he’s yet to find a lasting job in professional basketball. His odds of making the team are even less inspiring when one considers his career 3-point percentage of .200.
Best Guess: Unless Gardner is Bruce Bowen come again, he’ll be one of the first two camp invites to hear Popovich’s candid “thanks, but no.”
Kirk Penney is a great shooter, and one might be tempted to think his primary obstacle to making the team is Gary Neal. But there is no reason the Spurs couldn’t keep both players. The Spurs could, in fact, keep Penney, Neal, Simmons and Gee. In all liklihood, the Spurs’ final roster spot will come down toÂ Â Penney, point guard Curtis Jerrells, and James Gist. No one is likely to mistake Penney for a lockdown defender, but if he’d be holding trump back, that’s it.
Best Guess: The issue of D-League eligibility will play a big role in the Spurs selection process. If the Spurs can only dress 13, why not put players 14 and 15 in Toros uniforms? In previous seasons, this would seem to favor, say, Gist and Gee (both players are D-League eligible) as the Spurs’ bench-enders. Â Not this season. The D-League recently adjusted its rules to allow teams to allocate three camp cuts to their D-League affiliate, if said players are seeking D-League jobs. Â So, for example, if James Gist plays well in camp, but not overwhelmingly well, the Spurs could cut him and sign him to the Toros. They can still develop Gist, but don’t have to lose Penney. In this scenario, the Spurs could still lose Gist if he were called up by another team, but at worst, they’d have a few more months to work and evaluate him. I think Penney will make the team.
James Gist is hoping to make the team as a high energy,Â defensive-minded combo forward. He’s long, athletic, and has shown — albeit inconsistently — some range on his shot. He’s not Robert Horry. He’s not even close to Robert Horry. But he could develop into a Robert Horry-esque role for the Spurs. In time. Maybe.
Best Guess: Gist and and Curtis Jerrells are the last two players to receive their pink slips. Both players join the Austin Toros, along with an allocated Alonzo Gee, and an also-cut Marcus Cousin. If Gist plays well for Austin, the Spurs will find a way to add him to their roster on a guaranteed contract that extends through next summer.
Spurs 2010 Training Camp: Final Roster Predictions
PG: Tony Parker, George Hill, Garrett Temple
SG: Manu Ginobili, James Anderson, Gary Neal
SF: Richard Jefferson, Bobby Simmons, Kirk Penney, Alonzo Gee (assigned to Austin)
PF: Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess
C: Â Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter
Austin Toros Starting Lineup: Curtis Jerrells, James Anderson (short term), Alonzo Gee, James Gist, Marcus Cousin