Well we’re succumbing to last season’s nemesis, slow-start-itis, and we’re paying the price for it. Part of it is not catering fully to bubble style play, at the core of which is sound D and D to O transition.
The D was out of sync and out of sorts early, miscommunications leading to bad switches and late rotations. When we did rotate well, for the most part most of our contested well. But all it takes is one guy a bit late on an opponent’s first step, not fighting through a screen, or getting confused where to be after a switch and the chain reaction follows. And we left far too many open 3s that they took and made.
The transition aspect of the game is being slowed down by the two vets who prefer the half court setting. Just no other way around it. We managed 89 shots to their 93. Checking the league stats, I was shocked to discover that we actually lead the league at 94FGA’s but we’re all the way down at 23th in efficiency at 44.3%. That’s a big discrepancy, one whose gap we need to close, one we can when we play less in the half court and more in transition.
And from the arc we took 28 3s to their 39(!). Turns out we made 12 3s to their 14, so we had a better efficiency, but so what? We know we play our best when we play with pace – which is playing to the strengths of the young guys – and when we increase the number of 3s we take (within the context and flow of our game). We’ve improved the number of 3s we’ve taken from last season, but even at 30.8 taken per game we’re 25th in the league and we didn’t even match our baseline. In a close game which this one eventually was, every detail counts.
Last night I was watching 7’4” 290lb Boban run down the floor consistently like I haven’t seen LMA do this season. Check all LMA’s replay footage and it’s damning. He takes five or six burst steps and then slows down to a trot; he sometimes even WALKS up the court. We need a rim runner for when we push in transition; we need an O rebounder. At 4 rebounds per game this season, this is second lowest since his rookie season when he averaged 2.7 per game. And a 0.9 on O boards it is his lowest of his career. Sure part of it is how we’re using him as more of an outside shooter and far less as a post-up player so that he doesn’t get into the paint as much to follow his own shot.
But it’s not like he’s working to follow shots of others either. Except for his FT’s, all of his numbers be they rate or efficiency are lower across the board but we still play him 27.8 minutes per game (again, a career low second only to his rookie season, but even with this conservation we are not getting much pace out of him).
These hustle plays, ones where he doesn’t bother trying to run down the court in transition, where he picks his spots of when to get in among the players to rebound, where he hustles to contest within meaningful closeness to the shooter, where he contests down low rather than backing up, where he shows up well one game and disappears in the next are where I question his commitment.
It may be too small a thing or I maybe reading too much into it, but it bothered me that on Fiesta night every other Spur was wearing his Fiesta warm ups LMA was out there with a plain white Spurs T-shirt. And that’s what he wore throughout when he was on the bench. It’s not about group think, but there is a sense of not caring to be a part of it with everyone else. Like what are you trying to prove when you’re the only person on the entire bench wearing something white?
Also, watching streams is instructive because instead of commercials you often get camera work of benches during timeouts. Well often during ours, Pop was animated in his chair talking to our guys, and everyone was paying attention looking at him except for **** LMA who was off looking ahead and on the floor. Becky stood behind Pop watching LMA looking off to wherever. Interesting dynamics. I’m not saying it was in every single timeout, but it stood out in the ones that showed the benches.
This quote stood out, too:
Oh. It was just a good shot, eh? Well I guess it's all right, then I don’t like the acceptance of being beaten by a shot like there was nothing he could have done. Meanwhile his closeouts have left a lot to be desired for a lot of the season.
He’s doing his thing and picking his spots, but a lot of the time he’s very much going through the motions and not exerting himself for the team full out. His nonchalance and his slowing down our game bothers me even when he shoots well like he did tonight. When he does play with some effort it’s actually irritating because you can’t help but wonder where that is every game. I just really don’t like the little outlier details like he couldn’t be bothered with the togetherness of the rest of the team.
We got down 18 in the first half again, and it’s such a grind having to exert energy to climb up a steep, slippery hill time and again. It’s not that we shouldn’t ever use any half court sets. When we do, everyone’s doing their part. But we’re not fully committed to bubble play – at least not by everyone. As I said LMA badly stands out in not running the floor and getting O boards in transition. And DD tends to go hero ball mode more this season rather than how he was playing in bubble style of play. True he was Mr. Fourth Quarter in Bubble Play, but we need a better balance between that and what he gave, for example, late in this game.
That was the pattern that we need to address – ‘especially in the second half’ needs to to be ‘from start to end’. We were more desperate, more focused, and more locked into our game plan in the final 24 minutes. We picked up our pace – 42 FGA’s in the first half to 47 in the second half. We defended better with crisp rotations and closeouts forcing rushed shots, turnovers, and shot clock violations.
We put Keldon on KP and but for the height issues of the latter simply shooting over Keldon, Big Body forced him to stay outside. Their Luka is a great player and a pleasure to watch when he’s not destroying your team. We rotated bodies on him from DJ to Lonnie to Patty whose low center of gravity, wide stance, and physicality thwarted directed LD towards our help D quite well.
Patty played 37 minutes (second only to DeMar) and with DJ out was tasked with far more of the primary defending and ball handling duties that we spread around more when we have a full team. Patty held his own, but he was overtasked as a function of missing personnel. We missed his off-ball movement that gets defenses out of position and opens lanes. We also missed DJ’s defense, pushing the ball in transition, and scoring.
It’s tough when we’re without two of our best defenders and perimeter ones at that, but we picked up our collective intensity to try to seal up lanes and the arc. We rebounded better – 6 O boards and 27 in total (compared to the first half’s 3 and 22 respectively) in the second half, we drove more and with aggression and were rewarded for 30 FTAs. In a close game, a disappointing 23 made FT’s stands out. Details.
Keldon was wonderful again. His spirit is relentless and bottomless and I hope it’s the case that guys emulate him rather than let him be the guy time and again who brings up team energy. We have to reward him and ourselves with full game effort. His showed in the team-leading 14 rebounds (and team-leading 3 on O), in his efficient 7-14 scoring on drive after physical drive. He had five fouls and still played the same way.
We keep hoping that Keldon’s energy rubs off on Lonnie but that has yet to happen. He had a difficult D assignment going up against Luka, but overall on D he still gets lost on rotations, still gets caught in these in-between spaces where he neither commits to the ball handler nor the receiver of the pass, and still isn’t nowhere near good enough in protecting the rim.
On O he defers too much to DD. Perhaps it’s because their games overlap too much or perhaps he just needs to be more assertive. DD’s presence isn’t stopping Keldon from asserting his game. But there is something to what Phreak pointed out – playing alongside DD just isn’t bringing out Lonnie’s best game. I don’t think it’s either/or. Lonnie needs to both be more aggressive and not play alongside DD. In the last five games, Lonnie has gotten to the FT line in only ONE of them. He has taken ten or more FGA’s only once in those games. And he has shot poorly in efficiently in all five of them as well: 6-14, 2-8, 2-7, 1-6, 3-9. In three games his 3 wasn’t going in: 0-4, 1-5, 1-4 and he made 4-7 and 3-7 in the other two. He has scored in double figures just once in those five games.
I think the starting role is too big a task for him right now and he is overwhelmed and so is shirking on both ends. Too many missed bunnies and missed D assignments hint at too big a role for him right now. We’ve seen what he can do when he is more in control of his game, when he has the ball more and when his energy is up. Although his off ball movement has improved, he is better when there’s a better balance of him having the ball in his hands, too. So it’s a matter of both him developing his game more and being a better fit with the bench because he’ll go against second units and play alongside our more mobile transition bench guys as well. It’s been trial by fire, and after the first 16 games we have an idea as to how Lonnie has fared and where he needs to grow. Once Derrick returns, he’ll have a better chance of doing so in a more manageable, better suited bench role.
DD was inefficient but you couldn’t criticize his effort. He did keep pushing to get to the FT line, especially in the second half. DD was 5-6FT’s in the first half and finished the game 15-16FT’s. DD and Keldon were the only starters to get to the FT line so that’s something we need to address, but we can’t say we didn’t have our chances.
With DJ out of the game, DD went too far into trying to do it all himself. We were down 113-111 with just under a minute and a half left and DD decisions late were frankly poor. When he drove on Luka to get the foul (once AGAIN the ball was too low at the rim rather than going higher off glass), that was a solid choice because that’s the guy you want to attack. But DD made 1-2FT’s. He took a 3 when we needed a 2 and when we needed a 3 he drove to try to get it the traditional way. He also just kept bloody shooting when LMA was 3-3 in the 4TH Q, Rudy was 2-6 but 2-3 from 3 in the 4TH Q, Patty was 2-3 in the 4TH Q, and Keldon was 1-1 in the 4TH Q. Meanwhile DD was 2-7 in the 4TH Q. So the guy who was the least efficient got tunnel vision and didn’t give the ball up to any teammates, ALL who shot it better than him.
It’s just an infuriating aspect of his game. He led us with 29 points and 6 assists, but he left a lot of the latter on the floor with plenty of missed opportunities to pass it to others. That stubbornness also contributed to our losing the game. How does he not recognize that other guys have the hotter hands?! I hope that Rudy or Patty or DJ can and do remind DeMar that he doesn’t have to do it all himself and needs to get others chances late in games. Someone needs to get into his ear about that. It was glaring. Combine that with the fact that we can’t use his bigger body to defend Luka (part of it it not making him do everything on both ends, part of it is his spotty defense) and, well, it makes for a lot of would’ve, could’ve should’ve.
Rudy had a terrific game leading the bench with 16 points on 5-11, 3-5 from 3, 3-4FT’s to go along with 4 rebounds (2 on O), 2 assists and 2 blocks. He could have contributed even more had he been given the chance. Patty still had 13 points even as his role expanded a lot beyond scoring in this game. Devin had a rather forgettable game but that will happen fora rookie. I still think he’s one of our top four defenders overall and we need him in our regular rotation. He has shown more than enough that his defensive impact this season is central to what we hope will be an ever improving D and he’s terrific in transition, too. (Speaking of transition, we tend to forget how to spread out and run a fast break every other game. So weird. Can we just run a proper one more consistently, gents? Thanks!) I thought we cold have used Jakob more, especially on D. He once again had one of those butter fingers games where finishing at the rim was more missed bunnies than dunks, but he’s far more willing to run the floor and contests better all over the floor.
Our bench stepped up once again outscoring our opponent 36-26 had we balanced out the opportunities better. But there were a lot of things we need to and can improve on. After the game, Rudy spoke of the need to start games better so as to not chase deficits so often, and DeMar wasn’t satisfied with the moral victory of our competing throughout the game. Both are good signs that we’re not content and hopefully that translates into more focused play from the beginning of the game.
We’ve shown we can actually defend with dogged determination to protect both the paint and the arc; we’ve shown we can commit to the transition game and score a lot of points quickly; we’ve shown great resilience in fighting back. Now we need to show it all for the whole game. We’re nowhere near good enough to take early parts of the game in such a cavalier manner, and it starts with everyone buying into bubble play. When we push the ball and impose our pace, we simply play better. We’ve seen it time and again, and so the appeasing of players to slowly get them going each game has to change, as does their attitude in trying harder to accommodate our transition style. Sixteen games in, I’m at the adapt or sit point to any player who needs reminding of why D-out, transition play is what we need
more of. I loved our heart throughout the game. Now we need to play throughout the game to match it.
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Thinking of you, Pop