One of the most noteworthy problems that the team faces for a second straight year is too much depth at the point guard position and not enough playing time to allocate.
Some problem, huh?
Sure, an abundance of depth is always a good thing, but the presence of multiple talented point guards in the reserve pool has created an ongoing debate as to which competitor should emerge as Tony Parker's primary backup.
The trio of reserves features the talents of Patty Mills, Cory Joseph and Nando de Colo, and while the latter has seemingly fallen out of the rotation and the former has emerged as the favorite, the unpredictable nature of Gregg Popovich ensures that the backup point guard debate will never be put to rest.
So, with the NBA season upon us, it's time to revisit the highly discussed question and pinpoint which guard should lead the second unit.
Analyzing the 2012-13 Season
At some point or another during last year's campaign, Mills, Joseph and De Colo each commanded the lead reserve spot.
The season marked De Colo's first, and while he remained an intriguing prospect throughout its entirety due to his flashy distributing skills, it was evident that he was the odd man out of the group.
His production as an orchestrator earned him sporadic court time, but for the most part it was a two-sided competition between Mills and Joseph for the final spot.
Mills had the early advantage, which can be attributed to Joseph's initially raw talent as well as Mills' undeniable shooting prowess.
Joseph was juggled between San Antonio and Austin—where the Spurs' D-League affiliate dwells—before carving out an expanding role in the rotation.
When Parker was sidelined midway through the season, Pop gave the starting job to the Texas product, who showed why he deserved greater status in the point guard pecking order.
He showcased a balanced attack, but his defensive ability gave him the edge. Better than Parker at that end, Joseph could turn defense into offense while providing the team with a scoring threat and a legitimate floor leader.
When the playoffs came, Joseph became the feature backup, while Mills became an afterthought. Displaying the poise of a veteran, Joseph seemingly locked up the backup role through his postseason contributions.
Based on last year alone, Joseph was the team's second-best option at the 1, and for a while it seemed as though the debate was put to rest.
The 2013-14 Season
Despite the fact that Joseph emerged as the more refined option last year, the past is the past; the 2013-14 season presented each candidate with a clean slate.
Mills struck first without even touching a basketball, returning to camp lighter and in shape. Though his six-pack turned some heads, it was his preseason performance that opened the eyes of the organization and its fans.
He managed four separate double-digit scoring outings, including a 22-point outburst when he shot an outstanding 60 percent from the field.
Joseph had his fair share of bright moments, while De Colo fell out of the lineup after a series of disappointing showings.
After the preseason ended, however, Mills emerged as the best alternate to Parker. He was given the lead reserve role, as Joseph picked up Mills' celebratory towel to assume his teammate's place as a sideline fixture.
In the first week of the season, Mills has shown promise with the backup duties, shooting at a high rate and providing unparalleled energy.
But, as we all know, nothing is ever simple in the Alamo City. At any given moment, Pop could turn the tables. However, using the first few games as a sample, it would be unlikely that Mills relinquishes his duties anytime soon.
What Does the Team Need?
With bench players, a hierarchy doesn't always emerge based on raw ability. The biggest factor is team need, and while I'll defend my stance that Joseph is the most talented alternate to Parker, it is Mills who best fits the current mold.
Joseph's defense is invaluable, and while he has seemingly fallen out of the rotation, Pop shouldn't hesitate to turn to him when defense is needed. The former first-rounder has proved himself already and can carry the squad whenever he is handed the keys.
If anything should happen to Parker, I'd sooner put Joseph in the starting lineup, as he provides the most well-rounded alternative to the Spurs' MVP candidate.
But, when focusing on which player should be the primary backup, Mills' skill set makes him the obvious choice.
He is neither the defensive threat nor the all-around performer that Joseph is. However, Mills' ability to score—particularly from behind the three-point line—makes him the better fit for the second unit.
In the reserve pool lies a duo of shooting guards—Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli—who are capable of handling the ball and serving as the primary distributor.
When the 2 can effectively command the point, another shooter to create space can be an effective source of scoring. Mills' ability to excel without the ball makes him a nice fit beside either Ginobili or Belinelli—more so than Joseph, who would thrive alongside a shooter like Danny Green or, in last year's case, Gary Neal.
But Belinelli has replaced Neal in the rotation, and with an abundance of capable ball-handlers, a shooter like Mills is far more valuable to the second unit than an all-around point guard.
In addition, a top reserve is often relied upon as a bench spark—someone who can provide quick scoring that can change the game's pace.
Joseph is neither the best shooter nor the best scorer. Though he's the best all-around backup, it is Mills who would be the most effective bench spark.
He has proved it thus far into the season, and as long as he continues to score efficiently when given playing time, Mills should have no problem locking up the top reserve spot for the season's entirety.
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