At Starting Center . . . Theo Ratliff

By Lance Fell

The Spurs should start Theo Ratliff. Did that get your attention?

As Spurs fans, I know what you’re probably asking: Why would a team with Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair, start the 36-year-old veteran? Let me try to answer that question for you.

DeJuan Blair had a very good start to the season. He brings a ton of energy to the court and a tremendous knack for rebounding. But Blair is young, and Gregg Popovich, as we all know, has a tendency to let his young players ride the bench. Also, Blair is listed at 6 foot 7 inches, which is too short to play at center.

Antonio McDyess has started some games for the Spurs. In those games, he is averaging 6.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. However he is really a power forward. Early in his career, he was one of the most athletic bigs in the game. In his lone all-star campaign with the Denver Nuggets in 2001, he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. This was while Raef LaFrentz was starting as center, and McDyess, at the power forward.

McDyess also gives the Spurs second unit a reliable big man who can consistently hit the 15-18 footer. With McDyess coming off the bench, the Spurs finally have someone who can give them valuable minutes while Duncan rests. At 36-years-old, he isn’t as quick as he once was, but he has a high basketball IQ and with playmakers like Manu Ginobili and George Hill playing alongside him, he won’t have to work too hard to get his offensive game flowing. Not since Robert Horry have the Spurs had this talented of a big man coming off the bench. And like Robert Horry, McDyess is sure to be on the court when the game is on the line.

The player who has started most at center for the Spurs is Matt Bonner. But let’s get something straight: Bonner is not a center. Bonner’s ability to hit the three point shot does spread the floor, but leaves all the rebounding up to Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson. Ratliff could help clean up the glass and limit the other team’s opportunities at second chance points.

Bonner and McDyess make a lethal front court coming off the bench. McDyess played five years in Detroit with another big man who spreads the floor and loves the three point line: Rasheed Wallace. With McDyess and Bonner on the court, the Spurs have a great combination of low post scoring and outside shooting. Add Ginobili and Hill, and the Spurs have one of the most explosive second units in the league.

Theo Ratliff is a center. He’s never been anything other than a center. He’s never been a forward/center. It’s always been just a center. And throughout his career he’s been a consistently good one on the defensive end. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive team twice, 1999 and 2004, and led the league in blocked shots in three different seasons.

With Parker, Jefferson and Duncan in the starting lineup, scoring points is not a problem for the Spurs starters. They could use Ratliff to create a defensive presence in the middle, taking some of the pressure off Duncan and his knees. He started in last Thursday’s loss to the Utah Jazz and had no points and just a single rebound in 13 minutes of play. However, he was extremely active on the defensive end and ended the game with three blocks.

In Saturday’s home victory against the Washington Wizards, Ratliff had five points, 11 boards, three blocks and two assist in 22 minutes. I’m not saying the Spurs should play him 22 minutes a game but 12 -15 minutes would be perfect. Starting Ratliff would allow the Spurs to establish themselves on the glass early in games, as well as, helping Timmy on the defensive end.

The Spurs should sacrifice the offense that Bonner gives us for some defense. With Ratilff patroling the paint early will make opposing guards think twice about attacking the basket. Bonner will add another scorer off the bench, and his ability to spread the floor will help create room in the middle for Ginobili and Hill to be aggressive in the lane. Ratliff might be old, but he can still block shots and force players into taking low percentage shots. He could definitely help the Spurs with their defensive woes.