Pop’s Challenge

It’s a been a disappointing season in San Antonio so far. If you asked Spurs fans what is causing the Spurs’ continued struggle, the responses range from “Jefferson has been a huge let down,” “They are too old,” “There are still chemistry issues with the team” or “The Spurs can’t defend the way they used to.”

In short, there are a lot of factors why the Spurs are not playing at a level they want or expected to be. Yes, some of the players have underachieved and bringing in six new players into a complex system is a tough process.

popmakesapoint2But haven’t they played enough games to resolve those issues?

After a busy summer, the Spurs were expected to challenge the Lakers for West’s supremacy and compete for the NBA title this year. Coach Gregg Popovich even quipped at the time “If we don’t win it, I should probably be fired, without a doubt.”

Now, the Spurs are not considered a title contender and their offseason trade for Richard Jefferson has not panned out.

Does that mean coach Pop needs to be replaced? No! First and foremost, Popovich is one of the greatest coaches in the NBA and his four titles with the Spurs speak for itself.

However, this year is different. It could be the most challenging one in Popovich’s tenure as a coach of the Spurs. Now is the time where he has to be riskier with the lineup and prove why he is considered one of the best coaches in the NBA.

Acquiring enough talent is one thing. Making them work together is another. I’m not putting all the blame on Pop, but he has his share of faults. He needs to make a lot of adjustments and he has his work cut out for him.

Now Pop, I never won four NBA titles nor a Coach of the Year Award but if you are reading this, here are some suggestions which could help to turn things around for the Spurs.

Mixing up the offense

The Spurs are enjoying a season high in scoring, averaging 100.6 points per game and are currently
8th in the league in offensive efficiency rating. So offense is not a problem right?

Think again. The Spurs are relying heavily on jumpers and the team is attempting 67% of their shots on jump shots. It might be due to the fact that this team has a lot of good shooters in Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, Michael Finley and even Keith Bogans.

But equally, they have players with the athletic ability to knife into the lane and create their own shots or create plays for their teammates such as Jefferson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and George Hill. So far, it hasn’t been put to good use. 70% of Ginobili’s and Jefferson’s shot attempts are on jumpers.

Here is a stat to ponder — the Spurs are 19-18 when they have more 3 point attempts against
their opponents and are 11-3 when they have lesser shots.

The recent game against the Philadelphia 76ers highlighted the Spurs’ inability to close out games and their deficiencies on both ends of the floor.
On offense they couldn’t make any shots in the fourth quarter with Tim Duncan taking only 10 shots the entire game. Their transition defense was painful to watch and they were outscored by the Sixers 33-18 in the final period and 38-15 on fast break points.

Obviously, the defense needs to get better but Pop may need to mix up the offense a little by giving more isolation plays for Jefferson, Hill and Ginobili. Feed the ball to Duncan more on the post rather than relying mainly on jumpers to produce points.

Enough of the chemistry excuse

The Spurs have pointed to team chemistry as one of the main reason for their struggles. But the fact is DeJuan Blair has fit in nicely, Keith Bogans seems comfortable with his role and Antonio McDyess has been playing well lately while Ian Mahinmi hasn’t had enough minutes on the floor to affect the jelling of the team.

Utilize and maximize the roster

I also want to point out Pop’s reluctance to use younger players (besides Hill and Blair) to prove their worth and find out what they can possibly contribute to the team.

Recently, Malik Hairston was recalled by the Spurs to replace Tony Parker on the active roster while Parker is recovering from injury. Hairston has proven that he can defend at the NBA level and tore up the D-League averaging 29 points. Granted that was against D-League talent but he has not been given enough playing time to able to produce consistently.

Mahinmi is foul prone and needs to improve. But he has potential and when he was given enough time, he performed well enough. Sure it was against the New Jersey Nets but his energy and hustle could help the Spurs in short stretches. However, he continues to ride the bench.

The same thing can be said of Theo Ratliff when he was a Spur. Early in the season, Popovich used him for short stints to provide some defensive presence and toughness. Ratliff proved he can still jump and block some shots. But he was sent to the Charlotte Bobcats for a future conditional pick.

For the Spurs to be able to compete at a higher level, they need to maximize the use of talent of their current roster and figure things out soon.

It’s not too late for this team. There is plenty of basketball left to be played. For all we know the Spurs might turn the corner in the next few games. But they have to do it with a sense of urgency because from now on, every game counts!

For Pop, it’s time to back up the words he said in the summer when this team was assembled. This current Spurs team can get it done. Otherwise, it could be another long off-season for the San Antonio Spurs.

What do you think? How much blame falls on Pop for the Spurs’ woes? Leave us your thoughts.