Grading Every Key San Antonio Spurs Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
One could argue that the San Antonio Spurs' recent shortcomings should be a cause of worry, but common sense might suggest otherwise.
There's no denying that the team's recent play hasn't been on par with its usual consistent dominance; however, the issues have coincided with countless injuries, which should be targeted as the prime reason for this recent setback.
The silver (and black) lining to this hapless twist of luck, though, can be seen in the exposure that certain individual players have been given.
Whether it's the continued development of Patty Mills or the astonishing upward trend of Tim Duncan, the roster is overstocked with growing weapons from top to bottom. While the Spurs may have hit a bump in the road, the collective talent promises a strong return following the upcoming intermission.
Despite his troubled start, Jeff Ayres is starting to find his footing in San Antonio, using the injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter as an opportunity to gain a bigger role.
In that time, he contributed a handful of solid offensive performances, though he was mostly praised for his mobility as a defender.
However, there is still room for improvement—a lot of room for improvement.
While his stats may suggest that he is efficient and a solid talent for his role, a certain element of unreadiness in his game has led to missed opportunities on both ends—on multiple occasions.
He's an interesting prospect who will likely show improvements as he continues to acclimate to the Spurs' unique offense, but as for now, he has been nothing more than an average low-end rotation player.
Not only has Patty Mills exceeded every preseason expectation, but he continues to shatter the new ones as he carries on in this watershed campaign.
Proving on multiple occasions that he can handle the point guard duties without a problem, the former benchwarmer is now recognized as possibly the best offensive player in the second unit.
Whether it’s thriving from long distance or showing off his inner Tony Parker by maneuvering through several defenders en route to the basket, the only thing that Mills lacks is more playing time.
Unfortunately, the team’s deep backcourt makes it hard for him to get the minutes he deserves, though he does make each one count.
He’s a lethal shooter and constantly growing as a player. It becomes more and more evident that the Australian guard’s offseason transformation involved more than simply his weight.
After he was injured, the Danny Green appreciation meter skyrocketed.
In a league that often puts statistics on a pedestal, the inconsistent and offensively frustrating Green became the target of much criticism from the Spurs fanbase.
What too many people ignored, though, were his contributions on the defensive end. Once the team was left to fend for itself without the defensive stud, people soon began to understand how important he is to the team’s success.
Still, his multiple shortcomings on the offensive end cannot be ignored. He is just 11-of-33 from beyond the arc since returning, and that percentage is far lower if two games are omitted.
That said, credit must be given to Green for his aptitude as a defender, even if his offense could use refinement.
From the onset of the 2013-14 season, Boris Diaw made it perfectly clear that he was going to leave it all on the table during his contract year.
Known as the epitome of a well-rounded player, the French forward has become one of the team’s premier bench players and most consistent role players.
He has excelled on the shooting front, posting above averages from mid-range, down low and deep while also maintaining his status as one of the league’s most unique big men, given his ability to distribute.
On defense, he has made a jump, and while his frame and athleticism—or lack thereof, for that matter—may suggest otherwise, he is an above-average presence on the defensive end.
Especially given the team’s shallow frontcourt, Diaw has been one of the most valuable contributors this season.
He has been an X-factor thus far, and with Tiago Splitter’s health a perpetual concern, Diaw will continue to be invaluable in his service as a post presence and overall two-way spark.
What to make of Tiago Splitter?
I, like many other Spurs followers, have developed a strong, favorable opinion regarding the big man.
Defensively, he is statistically the team's best player, and his variety of offensive tools makes him a valuable asset as a post player and distributor. On the boards, he is one of the team's few capable rebounders, and his extended absence revealed San Antonio's reliance on his size and talent.
However, much of the fanbase is not nearly as enamored.
His "softness" has always been questioned—most recently by coach Gregg Popovich, who seemed disturbed by his big man's inability to play through injury, per San Antonio Express News' Jeff McDonald:
Pop not exactly thrilled to be w/o his starting C tonight: "Robert Parish would have played hurt, right? I think Larry Bird played hurt."— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) February 8, 2014
Admittedly, it can be touch watching Splitter throw away an easy two points by avoiding a dunk or failing to make an offensive rebound count.
Still, he is in the midst of refining his offensive game to complement his defensive ability, and once he returns to full health, he'll have the second half of the season as a canvas to further manifest his value.
As the season unfolds, it becomes clear as to why Gregg Popovich was so eager to declare Marco Belinelli the franchise’s most well-acclimated player in recent history, per ProjectSpurs.com.
He continues to impress with a well-rounded repertoire that fits the system so well. He can pass, drive and most importantly shoot. Despite any inconsistency questions that may have followed him in the past, he has quickly become the team’s most reliable deep threat, shooting nearly 45 percent from long range.
He also posts an impressive field-goal percentage; he's one of five guards who are hitting more than half of their attempts.
As he prepares to represent the team in the upcoming Three-Point Contest, Belinelli can look back at the first half of the season with a smile, having found a perfect fit.
Not having Kawhi Leonard to lead the defense has been frustrating...extremely frustrating.
Before being sidelined long term in January, the team's budding defensive ace was having a great defensive season, despite struggling somewhat offensively.
His effectiveness as a three-point shooter has diminished since last season, which has prevented him from unleashing his improved driving game since defenses sag off him.
Still, he was trending upward before his injury, having lifted his field-goal percentage above the 50 percent mark.
Overall, though, despite any criticisms, Leonard has shown through his absence how valuable he is. His tenacity along the perimeter has been missed beyond measure, and his impact on the boards can be seen now that the team is left without any consistent rebounders outside of Splitter and Tim Duncan.
Still, he hasn't reached the lofty expectations that were set for him prior to the season. Fortunately, he has plenty of time to further improve once he returns.
Manu Ginobili's consistency was quite uncharacteristic of his recent self, so it only makes sense that his flow was disrupted by the single most characteristic thing: an injury.
After a throwback season that followed 2012-13's tumultuous campaign, the veteran guard was derailed by a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined until after the All-Star break.
And yet, his injury has perhaps blown up his value.
Coinciding with a painful month of February, Ginobili's absence—along with those of several other key players—has given fans a glimpse of what life is like without a healthy roster—primarily, without the third member of the team's famed triumvirate.
The bench lacks a certain spark, and ball movement as a whole has suffered.
Prior to leaving, Ginobili was playing quality basketball, primarily as a distributor and scorer. Once he returns, Spurs fans will have their fingers crossed that he can pick up where he left off, providing the team with a legitimate third star and second-unit leader.
Was Tim Duncan snubbed from the All-Star Game?
Plenty of Spurs fans would maintain that their cherished power forward has been performing at a level worthy of a nomination. That much is true; nearly every leading basketball mind would agree.
Whether or not he deserved it over those who made it, though, is subject to debate.
Still, the depth of the Western Conference's frontcourt should in no way take away from another great year from the timeless veteran. His play has been on par with the league's best big men, both on offense and defense.
He is succeeding in his perpetual duel with Father Time and actually seems to be improving as the year goes on. His season averages of 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds are dwarfed by his production over the past 10 games, in which he has posted 19 points, 11-plus rebounds and a remarkable field-goal percentage of 57 percent—significantly higher than his season average that was skewed by a slow start.
He has anchored a defense that has recently been bedeviled by injuries.
On offense, he remains versatile and lethal from anywhere on the court. On the boards, he executes admirably. Even without a consistently healthy Splitter alongside him, Duncan has manned the post better than any 37-year-old ever should.
Somehow, he's still on the rise and will remain a driving force behind any Spurs success.
As expected, Tony Parker will represent the city of San Antonio during All-Star weekend as the team’s lone participant in the most high-profile event. There is no doubt that the veteran guard is in the midst of his prime, and with one dominant half of the season under his belt, he remains near the top—if not at the very apex—of the best point guard discussion.
From a production standpoint, he delivers with the best. His 17.7 points per game place him among the league's top 10 scoring guards, and his role in the passing game cannot be overlooked either. His 6.2 assists per game place him among the league's top 16 passers, while his seventh-best "hockey assist" total solidifies that notion.
However, although his totals are impressive, his efficiency truly sets him apart. Along with Goran Dragic, Parker is one of two point guards who can boast the unique achievement of having scored more than 50 percent of their attempts.
Not to mention, his relatively low playing time skews his totals. A look into his per-48-minute statistics reveal that he is among the top five scoring guards in the league.
However, he has fallen into a slump, delivering poorly—relatively speaking, or course—during the team's latest stretch. His totals and efficiency have dipped as a result.
Still, Parker is a unique talent, and as a whole, his season has been uplifting.