What to expect from the Duncanless Spurs
Scott Sereday, as usual, has done a terrific job ofÂ accountingÂ for the statistical issues surrounding Tim Duncan’s injury. And there is also a good bit in his post about the value of role players vs. the value of home court advantage. Do read it.
My take on Duncan’s injury, providing it doesn’t extend beyond the start of the postseason, is that it’s not such a big deal. My biggest concern is Duncan’s condition, which could diminish over the next few weeks. Couple this with the expectation of more postseason minutes for Duncan, and he may spend the first round of the playoffs getting into game shape.
Otherwise, Duncan’s numbers are, more or less,Â replaceable. At this point in his career, Duncan’s system-smarts and floor leadership are his greatest contributions to the Spurs’ championship hopes. But, in the short term, the Spurs can deal without these attributes.
And they will.
Scott Sereday suspects Gregg Popovich will start Tiago Splitter in place of Duncan, and I agree with him. The Spurs’ postseason rotation will feature DeJuan Blair off the bench, and there is little reason to move away from that now. Besides, Splitter could use the burn.
If you had asked me about Tiago Splitter ten days ago, I would have told you he was of almost no value to the Spurs this season. Good player, yes. But he was a good player outside the Spurs’ playoff rotation. Â Now, I’m not so sure.
In the previous two gamesâ€”Duncan’s “Trop Vieux” DNP-CD and injury gameâ€”Splitter has played well. His Monday night double-double came against the Warriors, which is, as you know, a kind of omnipresent qualifier, but it was still an eye-opener. He’s shown flashes, but this was the first game since his arrival in San Antonio that his game was on full display.
Stand up. Take notice. The former Spanish League MVP is on parade.
But when you watch Splitter, notice how often the Spurs’ spacing goes to seed. And notice how quickly he loses his lungs. These are both byproducts of his lack of playing time this season. His activity and IQ are undeniable. Manifest, his toughness and ability to score off the PnR. But he’s still a puzzle piece without a home within the puzzle. Will Duncan’s injury provide Gregg Popovich an opportunity to snap Splitter into place?
If Splitter performs well over the next couple weeks, the Spurs suddenly have a different frontcourt rotation, or at least the possibility of a different rotation. This is a helpful development at this stage of the season. The Spurs could use Splitter’s length and defensive capabilities against the Lakers, should they meet in the WCF.
Beyond this, I’m especially interested if Steve Novak will continue to provide the Spurs with such a vital spark off the bench. (I know, I know. File that away with the other sentences I never thought I’d write.) Novak is a defensive liability, but he provides such dead-eye shooting on offense, he fits the Spurs like a glove.
Because of Duncan’s injury, the Spurs should run more small ball than usual and push the pace like they did over the first couple months of the season. Tim Duncan is the Spurs’ least effectiveÂ transitionalÂ bigâ€”DeJuan Blair is mobile, Splitter runs hard, Bonner is one of the league’s best trailing fours. Duncan’s role in the Spurs’ transition game are perfectly placed outlet passes and trailing the play to reverse the ball in the event the break opportunity goes dry.
Steve Novak suits the Spurs’ small ball and pace-pushing interests.
It’s strange. Prior to the All-Star break neither Tiago Splitter nor Steve Novak stood a strong chance to help the Spurs in the postseason. And now, suddenly, they’re both in the important piece mix. Let’s see what shakes out.
Should we then worry that about losing homecourt advantage? In a word, no. The Spurs are too far ahead the other teams for that to keep anyone up at night. In fact, I think the Spurs will play .700 basketball without Duncan and, when he returns, coast through the first two rounds without so much as a hiccup. His injury is not such a big deal.