Wednesday, October 27, 2010

San Antonio Spurs: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 50-32
2009-10 Playoffs: #7 seed; lost in Western Conference Semifinals to the Phoenix Suns in four games
Additions: Tiago Splitter, James Anderson, Bobby Simmons, Alonzo Gee, Gary Neal
Key Losses: Roger Mason, Keith Bogans, Ian Mahinmi
Projected Rotation Players: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Tiago Splitter, Antonio McDyess, Bobby Simmons

With DeJuan Blair starting in the middle and the likes of George Hill, Tiago Splitter, and James Anderson spearheading the second unit, look for the perpetually veteran-laden Spurs to establish a younger and more exciting persona.

Other than Blair, the Spurs’ starters have an average age of 31.3- 32.3 if we exclude Tony Parker, who’s shockingly only 28, but an old 28 . However, with the steal of the 2009 draft starting at center, and with second unit boasting more young impact players than at any time in recent years, the Spurs have quietly (would they do it any other way??) retooled their rotation.

A standout in college, Blair fell to the 37th pick of the 2009 draft because he doesn’t have an ACL in either knee- gotta admit, that does seem like a red flag. Coming off the bench as a rookie, he averaged 7.8 ppg and 6.4 rpg in 18 minutes per game (15.6- 12.8 in 36 minutes; forget ligaments!) and shot better than 55% from the floor. Given his lack of size (6’7”) and leaping ability (I guess ligaments do sometimes come in handy!), how effective he is on defense against other starting centers remains to be seen. However, he can be effective on the defensive end by using his 265-lb frame in the post (how many centers in today’s NBA are dominant post players?), crashing the boards and helping from the weak side. Plus, he’ll spend a good chunk of his minutes next to Tim Duncan, who will be forthcoming with pointers and defensive help.

Heading up the second unit, third-year PG George Hill is a great defender, efficient on offense, accurate on the “corner 3” (44.6% in 2009-10, according to Basketball Prospectus) and extremely familiar with coach Gregg Popovich, his system and the Spurs’ old guard. He will back up Tony Parker, but thanks to his length and defensive prowess, will share the backcourt at times with Parker.

Joining Hill in the “backup backcourt” is the 2009-10 Big 12 Player of the Year, James Anderson. As a Junior, he averaged 22.3 ppg (3rd in the nation). At 6’6”- 215, he’s got a solid NBA body. Anderson in an effective scorer off the dribble and can get to the free throw line. However, initially he'll be asked to be little more than a spot-up shooter, since he won’t spend much of his floor time as a top-three option offense.

Finally, we have Brazilian big man, Tiago Splitter, the 28th pick in the 2007 draft. A 26 year-old rookie, Splitter's got a well-rounded game and does almost everything (not a great rebounder) at least moderately well. He’s a smart player, effective on the pick-and-roll, can post-up (his left hand may need a bit of work, but I’m Splitter-ing hairs), can play on the perimeter and is a solid passer. An intelligent big man with well-rounded game? Yep, expect Splitter to complement Duncan, Parker and Ginobili perfectly.

Bottom line: The Spurs have their regular season win total decline each of the last fours (63 in 2005-06, to 58, 56, 54 and 50 in 2009-10). Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Spurs at 50.5. This number figures to be a bit low, considering the Spurs enter the 2010-11 season with their veterans healthy and rested, and with Tony Parker in a contract year (not that he isn’t ordinarily motivated- dude’s a champion). Also, this team features a solid corps of young impact players.

Look for the recent trend of declining win totals to be reversed in 2010-11. These Spurs should be good for 52-54 wins and a top-four seed in the postseason.

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