The Splitter-Duncan pairing that never happens
AT&T CENTER — One of the perks of having press credentials to the Spurs games is being able to sit with other bloggers while the game is going on and bounce ideas off each other. Last night, when the Spurs beat the Grizzlies 107-97, the topic again came up between myself, Matthew Tynan of Pounding the Rock and Paul Garcia from Project Spurs of Coach Pop’s aversion to playing Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter together.
It’s been mentioned time and again that starting Splitter and Duncan would give the second unit a big man combo including two of Matt Bonner / Boris Diaw / DeJuan Blair. I still believe that second group would be a defensive liability for the Spurs.
But why don’t Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter play together late in games?
From what I’ve noticed, Pop wants Duncan running the pick-and-rolls with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili late in games. It’s hard to argue that someone else should be setting picks and rolling to the basketball because Tim Duncan is, well, Tim Duncan. You’re going to argue that the greatest power forward of all-time shouldn’t be the one in those situations?
The problem is that Tiago Splitter is a pick-and-roll guy. There’s not much else for him to do on offense if he’s not putting a body on an opposing guard and diving to the basket. Splitter’s not going to stretch the floor and float around anywhere near the perimeter, waiting to knock down a jumper. Posting up and pick-and-rolls are the extent of his offensive game.
That’s why you see a lot of Matt Bonner late in games. He does those things that Tiago Splitter doesn’t as a compliment to a Duncan pick-and-roll. Even if he hasn’t knocked down shots in that game, he’s still got a track record as a spot-up 3-point shooter and defenses have to respect that.
Where most people will understandably resist Splitter’s exclusion from the crunch time lineup is on the defensive end. Pairing Duncan and Splitter together will obviously give the Spurs their best defensive big man combo. The thing is, though, Matt Bonner’s not a terrible team defender. He knows how to play help defense and rarely misses a rotation. He runs out on shooters and blocks out his man on the rebounds (even if he rarely grabs a board himself).
Bonner’s even the sixth ranked post defender in the league, according to Synergy Sports. Bonner is giving up just .58 points per possession on 83 instances this season. Overall, Bonner’s giving up .78 PPP in 322 total possessions this year. I’m terrified if someone gets him in a one-on-one situation, but simply saying he’s a bad defender is misinformed and erroneous.
Basically, the take away on the defensive end with Bonner is less than the negative on the offensive end with Splitter. Would you rather score seven points in the last two minutes and allow six, or score 10 points in that time and give up seven? That’s essentially the game Pop is playing right now.
What will be interesting over the next week and a half or so is to see if Boris Diaw can eat up some of Bonner’s crunch time minutes. Diaw maybe able to provide some floor spreading capabilities similar to Bonner, with better passing, and he puts up comparable defensive numbers to Bonner with a slightly better total rebound percentage. Something to keep an eye on as we get into the playoffs.