“Why can’t __________ find itself a Gary Neal?”
Stepping into the starting lineup tonight for the Indiana Pacers, former college player of the year and lottery pick Tyler Hansbrough will likely face off with the similarly credentialed and comparatively productive (per 36 minutes) DeJuan Blair.
Both role players, one was heralded as a potential steal of the draft, the other as a probable reach.
And thatâ€™s the way perception skews in the favor of the San Antonio Spurs. While Pacers general manager Larry Bird has drawn ho-hum reviews for connecting on singles and doubles finding solid role players in the mid-to-late first round, the combination of Popovich and Buford have hit homeruns with similar players, seemingly from out of nowhere (otherwise known as IUPUI).
But Pacers fans should not be flummoxed, or at least the very least, they shouldnâ€™t feel alone. Thatâ€™s the way the Spurs roll, and there are many other fan bases wondering how the Spurs do it every. single. time. Just ask Royce Young of the Daily Thunder:
I was watching the game with a friend of mine and we were talking about why OKC canâ€™t find itself a Gary Neal. Or Matt Bonner. Why/how do the Spurs always find those guys? Is it like a Yankees mystique thing where when someone puts on the uniform their confidence goes up and they play better by osmosis or is San Antonio just that good at finding diamonds in the rough. Why canâ€™t the Thunder get one of those guys? WHY?
Setting aside the fact that Sam Presti and the Thunder have unearthed a gem of their own in Sergei Ibaka, from Jaren Jackson (how we miss your head shake) to Stephen Jackson, the Spurs are unique in their success rate of pulling viable rotation players from the scrap heap.
But how have they done it? First off, necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and with little cap spaceâ€”and even worse draft positioning to work withâ€”the Spurs have needed every bit of innovation they could muster.
But as innovative as they are, the rest of the NBA has caught up on the European market for some time. Yet the Spurs are the ones watching Gary Neal hit crucial three-pointers on their home court night in and night out. So why canâ€™t teams find a Gary Neal of their own?
Stating Pop and Buford are just better at it would be simplistic, and to a point correct, but truthfully the Spurs could probably plug in a few of these Pacers and they would shine just as brightly.
There are many superstars in the NBA, and even more secondary stars, but few can match the complete games the Spurs core boasts. Where a Dirk Nowitzki might need a Tyson Chandler to protect him defensively, or Carmelo Anthony a heady point guard to get his teammates involvedÂ (and a Tyson Chandler to protect him defensively would be nice too),Â Tim Duncan has no such needs.
Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili might be very different stylistically, but their skill sets are still grounded in all the fundamentals: defense, efficient scoring, and passing.
Guys like Gary Neal or Matt Bonner or DeJuan Blair are not asked to fill in some pressing hole in franchise playersâ€™ games. Those needs are already met, so everything they provide augments what the Spurs already do. Their cup runneth over.
From a personnel standpoint, this allows the Spurs a much larger talent pool.Â Affording them looks at talented, but limited players.
Neal might not have ideal athleticism, but he does not need to in a system that creates all the driving lanes he could want and makes him a capable defender solely off effort and intelligence.
Itâ€™s no coincidence that a year ago, with Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili never fully healthy, role players like Roger Mason were suddenly exposed.
So to answer Young’s question, it is a sort of mystique. But one that has more to do with the players they are playing with rather than the name on their jersey. All that needs to be known is when Popovich inserts a player that has fans scrambling for wikipedia or media guides into a clutch situation, you might not know his name, but you should already know the results.