It’s getting to be late November and the NBA season is picking up pace. The Spurs sit at 4-6 right now, while the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers are 9-3 and their second-best player just returned to the lineup.
A sense of urgency is building around the Spurs, with many experts having picked them during the summer to be one of the top teams in the NBA. Some even went so far as to predict they’ll dethrone the Lakers.
What I see is a team inconsistent in every area. From game-to-game and quarter-to-quarter, the Spurs have yet to put it all together.
Maybe that’s good. They’re a competitive team in their current state, a few different breaks here and there and the Spurs are on the right side of .500.
On the other side of the coin, what if they’re unable to play a complete game?
Being just ten games into the season and having to fit in so many new parts, there’s going to be a period of adjustment. Some players are new to the team and must learn the system. Others are coming back from injury and trying to ease back into NBA shape.
The fear is not what the Spurs have been inconsistent at to this point, it’s what they haven’t shown the ability to do yet.
Interior defense and defensive rebounding are two things that come to mind. Gone are the days of the guards funneling their man into the twin towers with little chance of conceding a layup.
Tim Duncan is no longer the shot blocker he once was. He’s a smart defensive player who plays position defense and still provides a good number of blocks. But he’s not an athletic pivot who stops the ball at the rim anymore. (Was he every really athletic, in comparison to the rest of the NBA, that is?) Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner aren’t elite shot-blockers either.
And with the transition the league has taken to more perimeter-oriented offenses, many teams are playing “small ball” and using just one interior player. This scheme allows for more penetration against the Spurs defenses, leaving just one big to defend the rim.
From there, options are almost limitless. Teams can score points in the paint, draw fouls, and kick the ball out for uncontested 3-pointers. All three are crippling results for a team that banks on a stingy defense to win games.
The Spurs have to do something to remedy this. Duncan, McDyess and Bonner are proven commodities. We know the Spurs aren’t going to get any rim-stopping plays from them.
Theo Ratliff can still block some shots, (Just ask Carlos Boozer about that.) But at 36 years old, the game has passed him by. He’s not the physical beast the Kevin Willis was when Willis was in San Antonio. Ratliff’s body isn’t in shape to play more than 20 minutes in the NBA.
But towards the end of the bench and on the inactive list sit a pair of players with intrigue.
Ian Mahimni and Marcus Haislip have the athleticism to protect the rim and cover quicker big men. They have the young legs to play as many minutes as Pop feels like throwing at them. Unfortunately, to this point they haven’t shown the ability in other areas to get on the floor.
At some point soon, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford are going to have to make a decision. Play Haislip and/or Mahimni in hopes that they’ll be in position to contribute during the stretch run. If nothing else, the Spurs can afford to lose games right now. They’re doing it anyway.
If not, trade one or both of them and bring in someone who can shore up our weaknesses. The season depends on it. Already.