The Chandler Effect
If you were wondering why the Mavericks struggled offensively last season, look no further than how the Spurs were forced to defend pick-and-rolls involving Tyson Chandler last night. Gregg Popovich was so concerned with Chandler’s ability to dive to the rim for a lob that he asked his bigs to zone up (sag back) and stick tightly to the rolling Chandler while another guard — normally the one assigned to Kidd — filled the driving lane of the ball handler.
Just like in Dallas, shooters and drivers in New York are finding more space simply because big men normally tasked with containing penetration are too concerned with tracking back on Chandler. As we saw last night, this has a dynamic effect on team offense.
Felton vs Spurs Pick-and-Roll Coverage
The Knicks incendiary shooting from behind the arc stole the headlines, but make no mistake about it, Raymond Felton absolutely destroyed the Spurs in the halfcourt last night. It was difficult to ascertain what the Spurs plan was with Felton as Tony Parker seemed to alternate between going under screens and trying to force Felton away from them (And let’s face it, Pop isn’t going to fill anyone in on the San Antonio’s intent).
Neither tactic solved the Spurs problems. If Parker went under, Felton would use his quickness to try to beat Parker’s angle of recovery and then his power to muscle through Parker in the paint. If Parker was trying to force him away from the screen, his poor technique in combination with Felton’s quickness gave Felton the opportunity to blow over the top of the screen and attack the middle of the floor. It all added up to an impressive stat line for the Knicks point guard.
I’ve been a big Splitter fan since he first came into the league and last night was easily one of his best games as an NBA player despite being shut out on the glass. He was excellent finishing off pick-and-rolls and used his size well in positional defense, something that he hasn’t traditionally been good at.
Last season Splitter posted a 20.51 PER and at 27 years old, still has room to grow, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. If he can consistently put games like this together, Splitter — who is a free agent after this season — will either provide extremely valuable minutes in Duncan’s stead or be an attractive trade chip should the Spurs choose to upgrade their roster mid-season.
San Antonio One Piece Away
The Knicks illustrated that the Spurs are perhaps one player away from being a bulletproof title contender. The two areas that stuck out as problematic last night are the starting power forward spot and backup point guard position.
Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson provide solid production at the four but none overwhelms and each has a glaring flaw that hinders the team when on the floor. Gary Neal is capable of the occasional huge scoring night, but is incapable of providing much else in the way of directing an offense while Patty Mills — who did very little in 16 minutes last night — should be just an emergency reserve on an NBA contender.
With Jackson’s expiring deal and several solid trade chips — Splitter, Neal, Bonner and Blair could all be valuable on the right team — San Antonio is in a position to either acquire an explosive scoring guard to bring off the bench with the declining Ginobili or an athletic defensive force at the 4 (hello Josh Smith). By pulling the trigger on a major deal, the Spurs could rise to the top of a growing list of contenders.