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Camp questions, defense and pushing up the tempo

The San Antonio Spurs did their homework over the summer.

They brought in Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, drafted Oklahoma State star James Anderson, signed sweet-shooting Gary Neal from Italy and then invited a few more quality players to training camp with four more possible positions to fill.

manu_practiceThere is more work to be done but the Spurs’ front office made a nice start in the offseason towards assembling a team that could compete for the NBA title at present, and at the same time build for the future. The Spurs now have their “Big 3″ surrounded by a supporting cast with a nice mix of experience, youth and athleticism.

The team has gotten younger while staying competitive. Gone are the days when coach Popovich can say “we’re older than dirt.” Splitter, DeJuan Blair, George Hill, Anderson and Neal are already a nice young core to start with but the question is how will they mesh and catch-up with the Spurs complex system?

Hill is already playing like a seasoned veteran. His game has tremendously improved after two years in San Antonio. Blair has proved to be a rebounding machine and an energy guy off the bench.

Splitter, Anderson and Neal? They already made names for themselves overseas or in college but how will their game translate into the NBA remains to be the seen.

However, the Spurs are not the only team which is facing these kinds of questions while entering  training camp. All the other 29 NBA teams have their own issues and concerns. For now, the Spurs must be anxious and thrilled about what their new players could bring to the table.

splitternpopFor instance, is Splitter the real side kick that Tim Duncan has been waiting for? He was the best big man in Europe before he came over to San Antonio so it’s safe to say he’d be fine. During the first day of training camp, Splitter already impressed and has shown that he can fit right in.

Anderson is already being hailed as another draft day steal and if he brings his prolific scoring in San Antonio how could we argue?

And what if Neal becomes an able replacement for Roger Mason Jr.? That would certainly make the Spurs a serious contender for the title this coming season.

But there’s another thing, with the Spurs lineup getting younger will it be best for them to tweak their style of play particularly on offense? Should they try to run more? Here’s a look on how they played in the previous seasons.

SEASON

WIN LOSS Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency

Season Pace Factor

2009-2010 50 32 107.2 (9th) 102.0 (9th) 94.0 (20th)
2008-2009 54 28 106.2 (12th) 102.0 (6th) 90.4 (27th)
2007-2008 56 26 92.0 (13th) 87.1 (4th) 103.6 (28th)
*2006-2007 58 24 92.7 (5th) 84.4 (2nd) 106.0 (27th)
2005-2006 63 19 91.4 (10th) 84.2 (1st) 104.4 (24th)
*2004-2005 59 23 91.2 (8th) 82.3 (1st) 105.8 (24th)
2003-2004 57 25 86.0 (14th) 78.5 (1st) 106.4 (19th)
*2002-2003 60 22 88.1 (11th) 83.3 (2nd) 107.8 (19th)

Based on these stats, it showed the Spurs have been always one of the slower paced teams in the NBA preferring half court sets and deliberate plays. It simply indicates the Spurs win when they dominate on defense while pace was hardly a factor.

But last season they already made some changes on their personnel and it dramatically altered their character.

They were ranked 20th on pace factor last year, which is their highest since their 2003 championship, used four more possessions per game and were seven spots higher than the 2008-2009 season. That meant change has already started last season and that trend might continue.

The change in offensive pace might be inevitable as most of the players are more adept at slashing to hoop and driving to the basket. Gone are the days when their role players were merely jump shooters. Hill, Richard Jefferson, Anderson, and Neal can all create their own shots.

Most of their big men are also quick enough to run on transition. Splitter runs the floor pretty hard, Duncan is not flat-footed either and ditto for Blair. This is not to say the Spurs should adapt the fast paced game like the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns. But a variation of half court sets, motion offense and transition offense might be in order for them to be more effective and efficient on the offensive side of the floor.

Doing so could make them harder to predict on offense as they can change the tempo of the game to their liking while trying to keep the opposing teams’ defense off-balanced.

Nonetheless, in order for them to dictate the tempo of the game it has to start on defense. Every NBA title they’ve won since 2003, the Spurs where either 1st or 2nd in defensive efficiency.

They have to get back to being a dominant defensive squad to be able to impose their will on offense. A great defensive play could always lead to easy transition baskets if you have the proper personnel. Now the Spurs have the right players to do the job. It’s up to them if they are willing to push up the tempo or not; but first they will have get better on defense.

What are your thoughts? Do the Spurs need to run more on offense?

(photos Express News)

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