The defensive stylings of Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair

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AT&T Center — For the second game in a row this preseason, DeJuan Blair and Tim Duncan started together. And also for the second straight game, the Spurs got off to a quick start in the first quarter, this time in their 90-73 win over the Miami Heat.

The pairing of Duncan and Blair has almost everything the Spurs need, especially on the defensive end. Whether Duncan is listed at power forward and Blair at center — or vice versa — the two can easily switch players and positions at will.

Against Houston on Thursday, one time down the court Blair matched up with Luis Scola and Duncan with Yao Ming. The next time down the floor Duncan was late getting down to the defensive end and the two switched on the fly with no negative consequences.

Blair has the quickness and an underrated knowledge of how to defend the pick-and-roll. He seems to know when to pick his spots and hedge hard on the ball handler coming off the pick, or when to hang back and stick with the roll man.

“Tim and I have good chemistry,” Blair said after Saturday’s win over the Heat. “During the season, it will be pretty fun.”

In the first quarter Saturday night against Miami, the only quarter the two played together, the pair held Heat power forward Chris Bosh to two points on 1-6 shooting and one rebound, with one of his shots blocked by Duncan. Heat starting center Joel Anthony managed a single rebound in his three-and-a-half minutes in the first quarter.

Juwan Howard entered for Anthony and got two points and five rebounds in the first period. Even LeBron James shot 3 of 8 in the first quarter (though he did shoot six free throws), with several of his attempts coming at or near the rim. Part of it could have been early season rust for the Heat, but the Blair-Duncan combo did a fairly decent job protecting the bucket, despite the lack of above-the-rim game between the two.

Where the pairing of Duncan and Blair really excels is on the boards. Duncan is one of the most accomplished rebounders in NBA history. Blair has an “innate feel” for rebounds as Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich put if after the Rockets game on Thursday. Together, the two can finish off defensive possessions for the Spurs unlike many teams the Spurs ran out on the floor in previous years.

The two combined for 15 rebounds in Thursday night’s game against Houston, to just eight for the Yao Ming / Scola combo. Against the Heat, they were outrebounded by the Howard-Anthony-Bosh triumvirate 9-7, but all seven rebounds came from Blair.

“It’s a lot of battling with me and Tim getting on the boards,” Blair said. “It’s just a process that’s going to get there and we have to just keep rolling.”

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  • Jacques

    Duncan only played for 7 minutes

  • rob

    Not to mention when Splitter gets to be on the court.

    McDyess looks very comfortable playing a back seat/bench role. And in being comfortable I mean it looks as though he will still be very effective and may even play better being him feeling comfortable in that role.

    And Cousin…though he isn’t the polished player that many of us would like to have…he’s shown some good indications and promise.

    All in all…I feel more comfortable at this point 2 games into pre-season than I did prior to the season starting regarding our post presense.

  • quincyscott

    Not a lot of conclusions or predictions to be taken from these games. Preseason is preseason. Still, Blair looks really good. He is a lot more fit than the start of last season, not that he was a round mound to begin with. He has also added to his bag of tricks on offense. In all the excitement over Splitter, which I think is justified, I think Spurs fans will be pleasantly surprised by how much more Blair will contribute to the team’s success this season. I think the Spurs have a very good four man rotation at the 4/5 position. And that doesn’t take Cousin into account. I don’t know what the Spurs plans are for him this season, but he looks good for a wiry rookie. There are plenty of nights he could contribute minutes against teams that lack a dominant big man. Hell, I’d rather see him banging on the inside than Bonner any day. He certainly has better instincts around the basket, both on offense and defense.

    At the 2/3, I am feeling a lot more confident as well. I think that Jefferson is going to have a better season, and that Anderson is going to be good fast. He’s shown me in these first two games that he has a commitment to defense. He has the body to guard that 3 position. I like that kid. Perhaps Jefferson and Anderson can give us a kind of platoon Bowen.

    We didn’t shoot all that well last night, but that doesn’t bother me so much. I do think our 3 point shooting has to be more efficient. But what I am looking for most is whether the Spurs are defending well. Are they keeping the opponent’s shooting percentage low? Are they keeping dribble penetration to a minimum? Are they getting timely stops? Are they able to stifle the other team’s offense for stretches, allowing the Spurs to make a run? None of those things were happening last year. If they start happening again this year, which I think is entirely possible with an infusion of health, depth and youth, then I will start to believe again.

    It is very, very early, but there are good signs.

  • Gary

    Man…Blair and Splitter are just too good of a backup plan :P

  • td4life

    To really compete as an elite team we need not rock-solid contributions from RJ and Blair (and Splitter), which I think is reasonably possible. Blair doesn’t worry me at all, you can’t teach confidence, and after Manu, Blair might be the most confident player we’ve had in recent memory. His brain, attitude, and hands are HOF-worthy.

    Obviously, we are also gonna need extraordinary health… I wouldn’t worry too much about All-Star appearances… we need to spread the minutes Hubie Brown style, resting TD, TP, and MG heavily and give Splitter, Blair, Hill, and our 4th and 5th guards every possible chance to shine. I’ll gladly sacrifice all-star hype for a feared bench mob, and the best 2-way 10-man rotation in the league… we already know the top 8: TD, Manu, TP, RJ, Hill, Blair, Splitter, McD…

  • td4life

    A LOT of questions remain around Neal, Temple, Jerrels, Simmons, Gee, Penny…
    Which are the best defenders?

    Unless Simmons REALLY comes alive (I give him a couple 10-day contracts to start the season, just to take a better look), expect to see Hill grab some minutes there. Also, considering our backcourt depth, Anderson is looking destined to start his career picking up some time as an SF.

    But againwho are the best defenders from this group, as well as being able to hit the 3?

    I think we may see:
    1. TP-Neal
    2. Manu-Hill-Temple
    3. RJ-Simmons-Anderson
    4. Blair-McD-Bonner
    5. TD-Splitter
    that leaves us without an old-school PG, and perhaps Penny edges out Temple?

    Assuming Simmons sticks, practically speaking, who is gonna get Hill’s rookie year minutes as the fourth guard? Neal or Anderson? Temple? Gee?

    Idk if these guys are Toros eligible, but perhaps we could see Jerrels, Gist, and Cousin in Austin. I do hope we can send Cousin to Austin. McD has announced his retirement plans for next summer, so we would be well-served to develop Cousin and bring him and Richards in behind TD-Blair-Splitter.

    I think Neal, Temple, Gee, and Jerrels all can add value to an NBA team… sadly, a few of those guys will drift away from SA without getting anything back for them. Elsewhere, one or two will take up space and be unnappreciated, and at least one will surprise people. It sure would be nice if we had less talent among combo gurads in exchange for some a bonafide 2-way SF.

  • Jim Henderson

    I’d be shocked if Jerrells made the team over Temple. We simply don’t need any more “short” PG’s, especially if we think TP might re-sign with us.

    So far Simmons is blowing his opportunity. He needs to start stepping it up, playing with intensity & confidence, otherwise we may feel that Anderson could play some minutes at the 3-spot. And Gist still has a remote shot.

    I don’t see both Neal & Penney making the team. Right now the edge is to Neal, but I don’t see the competition closed yet.

    I see Cousin getting a contract to start down in Austin. After all, we lost Dwayne Jones.

    Here’s a guess so far at a top 13:

    TP, Hill, Temple
    Manu, Anderson, Neal
    RJ, Simmons
    Blair, McDyess, Bonner
    TD, Splitter

    Cut or in Austin:

    Penney, Gist, Jerrells, Cousin, Gee

  • Hobson13

    Jim Henderson
    October 10th, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    “TP, Hill, Temple
    Manu, Anderson, Neal
    RJ, Simmons
    Blair, McDyess, Bonner
    TD, Splitter”

    That looks about right to me. Anderson looks like he may be a real nice player. He had a very solid all-around game last night and there is NO WAY he is even in game shape after taking off virtually the entire summer to rehap his hammy. Personally, I’ve rooted for Simmons to win the backup SF job, but so far, he has underwhelmed. Perhaps he’s doing a great job in camp and in practices, but he has to assert himself in games more so than what he’s currently done. We don’t need another timid or lost SF on the floor. I could see Anderson picking up a few minutes at the SF spot even though I think he’s a better SG.

    I think you’re probably right about Temple and Neal. I believe they will both make the team at least for the start of the season. I’m not sure Temple has gotten back into game shape after his injury in summer league and I don’t think Neal has fully adapted to the NBA game. The team has a great deal of potential and we haven’t even seen Splitter yet.

    P.S. What do you think about our boy Dejaun? He looks like he’s competing for the starting PF job already. That’s ahead of where I would have placed him this year.

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

    Guys, I tweeted this last night, but I believe Penney got word he was being cut after the Heat game. He came into the Spurs locker room and exchanged “goodbyes” and “good lucks” with the rest of the guys. It’s not official yet, but I’m pretty sure it will be soon.

  • SG20

    Well, they have Neal, so I don’t think they need Penney too. Either would be good, but I think Neal is the all-around, better player. He has more potential too. I whish Penney the best of luck, and that he finds a job somewhere in the NBA, just for another team.

  • idahospur

    Good to see Blair finding a good role with the team, and to know he can be on the court with Duncan. I still think it best to have either Splitter or Duncan (and not both) always on the court, except for the end of the game. This keeps a better balance. Dice knows he is old and probably just wants to play a part in (hopefully) a championship team. Great start to hopefully a great season. This guys look like they took the off-season seriously and are ready to play.

  • td4life

    i expected that Penny would not make it

    @JimH and Hobson13
    Looks like your 13 matched my 13 exactly…
    Simmons is the question mark to back up RJ, but Anderson is roughly the same size so I wouldn’t be surprised to see plenty of 3 guard lineups… opening a spot at the end of the bench for Gee or Gist, and giving more minutes for Anderson/Neal/Temple.
    I still mantain that Jerrels is a dark horse, Pop likes to have depth at PG, and he’s always performed admirably. Still, I’d rather see any minutes he would get go to further developing Hill, Temple, and Neal as PGs.

    As I have said elsewhere, RJ will will likely lead all players in MPG a la Ray Allen for Boston. The question is how big a role will Anderson and Neal or Temple get and hopefully truly earn. Meanwhile, through no fault of their own, one of those guys is gonna do a lot of towel-waving… Barring injury it will probably be either Temple or Neal, but I can’t say that Anderson is neccessarily superior to either.

    So, Andrew and company:
    How do we rank those 3 and Simmons, talent-wise? With George Hill as the standard?

  • BankShot21

    I haven’t had the opportunity to watch either game. I will however be able to see the game on Tuesday with it being televised on NBATV. I know most of you may disagree with what I’m about to say but I feel Pop needs to play TD a little more than 7 minutes in the 1st Quarter. I know its the preseason and you don’t want to risk possible injury but it is imperative to see how he plays with the 2nd unit and how they play along side him. The players that are fortunate enough to make the squad will have to play with him during the season, especially the shooters being that he is the player that best opens the floor for the shooters. I’d like to see a larger sample size of TD an DB playing along side one another. Of course the regular season will give us that but why not go into the season knowing how its going to work opposed to learning on the fly.

  • mac

    @td4life

    You are right, it comes down to Simmons. Something tells me Pop will give him too much opportunity (see: Bogans, K and Finely, M), but if so, hopefully it will pay off. In the end the Spurs don’t need to develop both Temple and Neal, long-term it’s one or the other. But until Tony’s FA summer is decided, Spurs should hold onto both.

    If Simmons gets cut. Then Neal and Temple both easily have a spot on the squad next to Anderson, as you suggested. But only one will get enough tick to offer real value.

    To answer your question…

    I see Hill as marginally above average for a playoff starter, taken night in and night out… If I rank Hill at 7 in a starting role (current perenial all-stars are a 10, legit all-star caliber guys are a 9)…

    Anderson will eventually rank an 8, hopefully even a 9, in a starting role, but more like a 5-6 this year as a backup showing promise and a some impressive showings. His per-minute contributions may look like more of 6-7 if things go well.

    After that it’s a question mark. Best playoff case scenario Simmons is 6 on some nights, a 5 on average (meaning totally average, not a liability), his real playoff value would be against the likes of Dallas, Miami, Boston, and LA on the defensive end… so maybe his best case night in/night out is a 6 (considering defense).

    We need shooting and we need defense, the last two guys can’t help us much against the big 2s and 3s of the NBA’s best.

    Temple is nice defending PGs, but then we already have George Hill. Neal’s not bad either, and is the more experienced shooter. Both guys are essentially stuck behind George Hill on this team, are they not? Are they good enough to consider trading Hill next summer for somone like Terrance Williams?

    So I rank best case Neal this year at a 7 offensively, and solid defensively, and straight up lights it up a few times like Mason Jr in 08-09.

    Temple who I like as much as Pop does, is not likely to ever be more than a 3rd stringer, is he? Good defensively, can score well enough, about a wash, doesn’t really hurt you. Best case? Call him a 5.5 and a fan favorite?

  • td4life

    @bankshot21

    relax, timmy will get extended minutes once or twice this preseason as much as for conditioning as anything else. And as far as chemistry, there are always those Golden State, Toronto, Cleveland, and Detroit games to put on a clinic in the 1st 3 quarters, and still rest timmy in the fourth.

  • tradetp

    Its preseason, but all the things are still the same from last year. TD and Blair should have played together more. We still need to get rid of Mc Doosh and Boner

  • Jim Henderson

    Hobson13
    October 10th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “P.S. What do you think about our boy Dejaun? He looks like he’s competing for the starting PF job already. That’s ahead of where I would have placed him this year.”

    Well, it’s still early, but the preliminary signs are very good. I would like to actually see him in a game before I get too excited (Tuesday, NBA TV). Blair was always one of the major keys for how far we could go this year. If he plays 25-30 mpg. & puts up a double-double, and we have a few other things go well, we could have a legitimate shot at getting to the WCF’s (watch out for Houston though – they could be scary). Also, after reading McDyess’ recent comments, saying that this would be his last year, and that he’s feeling “old”, I’m thinking about changing my “start of the season” starting line-up to Blair at PF & TD at center, in place of McDyess. Splitter & McDyess in off the Bench at center & PF respectively (then Bonner depending on match-ups).

    Many think Hill should start at SG, but I’m still sticking with starting Manu. At this point, my opening day starting line-up would be as follows:

    TP
    Manu
    RJ
    Blair
    Duncan

    That’s the line-up that gives us the best shot at winning.

    Top guys off the bench:

    Hill
    Splitter
    McDyess
    Simmons/Anderson?
    Bonner
    Temple/Neal?

    A couple of miscellaneous comments:

    Star veteran players will see more extended minutes toward the end of preseason. No need to worry about Duncan’s limited minutes now.

    I don’t see Neal & Temple as similar players. Neal is a flat out scorer — Temple is a jack-of-all-trades. Both can be valuable filling a need within their own niche. Temple is much more of a PG than Neal — Neal is more of a high-volume scorer at the SG. At this point I would not rank either ahead of the other, and it’s still too hard to tell who has the most potential long-term.

  • zack in the alamo

    @tradetp

    are you serious? trade mcdyess!!! thats tells me you are not a serious spurs fan!! yes he said he feels old im sure 99% of players his age+history of major injuries is not helping. basically hes being honest and not bullshitting like k.garnett, anyhow mcdyess was probably the main reason we beat dallas and he even outplayed bowens defense on dirk! even dice at his age could definitely be starting hes got a deadly jumpshot inside the arc & super consistent!! if we only had him sooner. i agree with the bonner statement i think everyone does haha

  • andy

    @jim

    “I don’t see Neal & Temple as similar players. Neal is a flat out scorer — Temple is a jack-of-all-trades. Both can be valuable filling a need within their own niche. Temple is much more of a PG than Neal — Neal is more of a high-volume scorer at the SG. At this point I would not rank either ahead of the other, and it’s still too hard to tell who has the most potential long-term.”

    agreed on their dissimilarity, but i see temple as more of a d guy who can do some of everything on offense, whereas neal is the opposite. the scouting report on neal (and the few clips i’ve seen of him) say that his primary ability is scoring, but he can be a playmaker of sorts.

    with the two preseason games under our belt, i think we can project a bigger role for blair and bigger things from our bench as a whole. looking at our first 10 games, i don’t see 8-2 as that much of a stretch, and 6-4 as the likely floor. i like what i’m seeing, and with health and a little luck, home court for at least a round in the playoffs is in the cards.

  • td4life

    @andy

    I agree that an 8-2 start is very much within reason. And while once again the West is just about flush with playoff contenders, I project a healthy Spurs club to finish 2nd or 3rd in the West.

  • Jim Henderson

    7-3 start, and 4th in west is probably more reasonable.

  • DieHardSpur

    Please look at this picture from the Spurs photos..

    Does Marcus Cousin look like Obama from this angle? haha

    http://www.poundingtherock.com/photos/get-to-know-your-new-spurs-6-marcus-cousin/1137633

  • bduran

    “7-3 start, and 4th in west is probably more reasonable”

    I think we can do better tan 7-3. I think it’ll take 10+ games for Phoenix and Houston to really get going. I agree about 4th overall. Unfortunately, a 2nd or 3rd place finish probably means we played TD and Manu too much.

  • http://yahoo.com Oz

    Spurs are not going anywhere. They need another center and a 3 points shooter.

  • td4life

    I don’t argue the 7-3 start, but 4th in the west?

    I can buy that with the strong possibilites that injuries are gonna weaken us, but who do you think is gonna come in at 2 and 3 ahead of us?

    After last season’s exit, Dallas is gonna be highly motivated and looking for blood. Their wizards are gonna be gelling and their little frenchman is gonna play a bigger role, dirk’s window is closing and they will be hungry, they have fewer changes than in summer’s past, and thus will have chemistry for a change.

    But I don’t see Houston as neccessarily superior to us. Portland and OKC still have a lot to prove. Utah probably dropped of a little. I think we match a little better versus Denver now, despite Carmelo. No one else can even make a case… IF we are healthy, and IF we get decent contribution from our perimeter depth, and IF Tiago plays well enough to make a strong case for close-out fourth quarter minutes (not that Pop would do that, but a a strong case anyway).

    Sure those are some big ifs, I’ll give you that. But I’m just curious who you think will force us into a possible 2nd round visit versus the lakers (not that that would be a bad thing).

    We are bound to be MUCH better than last year. I think we are moving away from RJ/Finley Power Forward and will at least have better rebounding and better hustle on defense. I am also more confident in our perimeter depth than in last year’s group. And the Spurs are definitely looking more inclined to go out there and take what they want. That said if we can’t hit shots, we are gonna have to rely even more on exceptional defensive effort.

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

    Great read, nice post Andrew. A quick question I have is how does Blair’s outlet passing look? This goes back to the old post about defense and steals and all that. It’s great that Blair can limit opposition’s offensive possessions through rebounding and hopefully translate that to offensive possessions for us, how are his handles and/or passing skills though? We can be much more optimistic if Blair can grab a long rebound and take it all the way, or make the long pass to Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili leaking out on the open court. Might be a little harder for Blair as he can’t see over the other players as well.

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

    @Jaceman

    Funny you mention outlet passing. Right now, it’s passable. Nothing bad, nothing spectacular either.

    There was one moment on Saturday night against the Heat where Blair got a rebound and Manu was breaking down court. Blair looked for Manu and brought the ball over his head to make a long outlet pass for a layup but decided against it and dumped it off to TP. I started to rise up out of my seat when he brought it over his head, but alas, it was not to be.

  • Jim Henderson

    td4life
    October 11th, 2010 at 8:36 am

    “I can buy that with the strong possibilites that injuries are gonna weaken us, but who do you think is gonna come in at 2 and 3 ahead of us?”

    Besides LA, Portland, OKC, Dallas, & Houston all have a decent shot at finishing ahead of us.

    “We are bound to be MUCH better than last year.”

    No argument there. What I can’t seem to get through to people is that several other teams are bound to be “much” better too. They’re not all standing still.

  • td4life

    I can buy that…
    When it comes to Portland, Houston, and San Antonio, it may come down to “May the healthiest team win.”
    I don’t really fear Houston, though. But, then I didn’t fear Phoenix last year.

  • Jimbo

    I think if there is a “reverse” dark horse out West, it is Dallas. While the Spurs are often painted as a team that has had a remarkable run and must now decline gracefully, I think it would be more apt to characterize the Mavs that way. They have some real problems with their roster and I think they could undergo a rapid decline very soon. I think they will make the playoffs, but nothing would surprise me with that team.

    As things stand now, I’d say the regular season will shake out as:

    1. Lakers
    2. OKC
    3. Rockets (if Yao doesn’t get injured)
    4. Spurs
    5. Blazers
    6. Mavs
    7. Clippers
    8. Jazz/Nuggets (depending on what happens to Anthony)

  • Jim Henderson

    Jimbo
    October 11th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    A reasonable ranking, although the Clippers would be a big upset.

  • Jimbo

    Yes, I went back and forth on that. I am a firm believer in the Donald Sterling hex, but they are a very talented, if young, team. I think Blake Griffin will be having his way on the court by the end of the year. As long as Baron Davis’s carcass can give them some decent minutes, I like their chances of sneaking in. The Suns, Jazz, and soon the Nuggets have all taken a pretty big step back this year IMO.

  • bduran

    Jimbo,

    I doubt that the Rockets finish third. It’s possible that they are the third best team by the end of the season, but I think that Yao (and the rockets) will have a somewhat slow start and that Yao will miss a bunch of games at some point. However, I could definitely see them coming together at the end of the season. Other than that I agree on your top 6, although I think 2-6 could finish in almost any order.

  • Bankshot21

    Oh ye of little faith. The Lakers are without Bynum and are transitioning new players into the rotation. There’s no reason why they can’t stumble out of the gates. Odom is going to be super exhausted, Kobe is on a bum leg and their starting pg is 50yrs old. Spurs have a shot at the top seed.

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  • Marcus Swayne

    HEY EVERY LAKER HATER WOULD’NT U GUYS LOVE TO HAVE A 50yr OLD PG ON YOUR TEAM HE WILL GET YOU 2 OUT OF 3 RINGS THATS NOT TO BAD AND SO HAPPY TO NURSE THOSE LAKER INJURIES NOW THEN LATER OMG! WHATS THAT SMELL 3 PEAT FISHER FOR THREEEEEEEEEEE SWISH NOTHEN BUT NET

    THE DIFFRENCE PAKER for 3 SWISH CHEESE THATS ABOUT IT LETS GO SPURS GET HEALTHY YOY GUYS HAVE THE #1 PF IN THE LEAGUE TELL HIM TO ACT LIKE IT CAUSE 2nd BEST hATE TO ADMIT IS POW WOW HE SHOULD BE FIRST BUT ANYONE WHO MADE SHAQ LOOK LIKE A FOOL WHEN HE WAS IN HIS PRIME AND CAN STILL DO IT TODAY GETS MY PROPS ANY DAY.

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