DEFENSE – Since the 1989-90 season the Spurs have always received a high defensive rating (per 100 possesions). There have only been three seasons the Spurs ranked 10th or worse defensively since David Robinson’s rookie debut. The first was in 1992-93 (ranked 10th), a season in which they went through three coaches. 1996-97(ranked 29th), a season full of injuries and a significant coaching change which enabled the Spurs to get “Timmy” the following season. And finally, last season 2010-11 (ranked 11th), although despite the low rank in defense per 100 possesions, they had the 2nd best record in the league, but then were beaten significantly in the first round.
Since the drafting of Tim Duncan the Spurs philosophy on defense was pretty simple, run perimeter players baseline to Duncan or the second big (Robinson/Mohammed/Oberto) and force them into a difficult pass or shot attempt or best-case scenario, block the attempt and start the break. That philosophy got even better as the Spurs upgraded perimeter defenders like Mario Elie and Sean Elliott for quicker, younger players like Bowen and Ginobili.
Today things have changed drastically. Bowen is retired, Ginobili is older and carries a heavy load on the offensive end. As for Duncan, he is still effective on the court. However, he must do much more on the defensive end than ever. Why? Because the Spurs have done away with that 2nd big that would help Duncan defend the paint and get the boards. That’s really where the Spurs have declined. In years past, Robinson or Mohammed would have grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots all while Duncan got his usual 20 and 10. Even Oberto would grab his share of rebounds, and while he didn’t block shots he drew just as many offensive fouls.
Players at both the 4/5 positions are shorter, quicker and more athletic these days. The Spurs have changed with the times to try to match and still keep their defensive identity, and that hasn’t worked well at all. However, take a look at the Lakers who haven’t changed their sizable frontcourt tandem in 3 years. Whats the result? Two finals appearances and 2 championships. Note that the team that knocked them off had two 7-footers of their own.
Quick trivia…we all remember the twin towers, but does anybody remember the triple towers? In the 1997-98 season the Spurs had many injuries at the small forward position so Coach Pop enlisted the Triple Towers: Will Perdue at Center, David Robinson at Power Forward, and a mobile rookie named Tim Duncan at Small Forward. The result? Spurs went 17-5 when they played that lineup and held most of their opponents to under 40% fg and outrebounded them significantly.
The point? Yes, size matters, but more importantly size and mobility matter. Andrew Bynum, like Duncan, has no chance of guarding many of today’s power forwards, while Gasol (his defensive partner) does. Granted, he is tall and will get burned sometimes by some of the smaller, quicker forwards, but on those occasions that’s where help defense comes into play. They also have the luxury of bringing Lamar Odom (a hybrid 3/4 player himself) off the bench.
For the Spurs, Duncan has the mobility of a Center, PERIOD. Finding a tall or decent sized Power forward ( at least 6’9″) that can play 30 minutes a game and grab his share of rebounds (say 7 or 8), keep his man in front of him, and give them something significant on offense will do the trick. While Tiago Splitter might be that guy for good portions of a game (when they wanna role out the twin tower look), some of his weaknesses on offense might hurt the Spurs overall if he plays too many minutes with Duncan.
On the Perimeter the Spurs could use a defensive stopper. Kawhi Leonard has been said to be a promising defensive player and a solid rebounder, but the Spurs could use someone that is a little smaller and a little more mobile out on the floor.
For the Spurs defense to return to where it was a few years ago, they’re going to need two players. 1 – a mobile 4 that can rebound, defend, and and hold his own on offense. 2 – a perimeter defender who is young and athletic and has the lateral quickness (something Leonard may not have) needed to defend the 2′s and 3′s in the leauge. Next week we’ll look at their offense.
Date: September 26, 2011