Finding a starting center

The quest to find the San Antonio Spurs a starting center has been ongoing really since David Robinson retired.

First it was Rasho Nesterovic then Nazr Mohammed (with a dash of Robert Horry thrown in there) then it was Francisco Elson, then it was Fabricio Oberto then it was Kurt Thomas then it was Drew Gooden (was there some Anthony Tolliver thrown in there?) then it was Antonio McDyess, then it was DeJuan Blair, then it was Antonio McDyess again. Did I miss anyone?

Now the Spurs face another dilemma at the center spot. It looks like Antonio McDyess is retiring, probably. If so, that leaves last year’s other starter, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter - last year’s big signing -and Matt Bonner, who doesn’t count.

The Spurs were a better team statistically last season when DeJuan Blair started then when he came off the bench. Does that mean they would’ve beaten Memphis had “Grizzly” Blair been starting? Probably not. But it does mean he had found his niche with the other starters. You could also argue a young guy like Blair plays best when he’s motivated and he’s best motivated when he’s in the starting lineup. The argument against Blair is he’s 6’7″ and a terrible match up for the Spurs on defense. This becomes amazingly clear when he plays the Los Angeles Lakers since they have two 7-footers and another really tall reality TV star. Also, while DeJuan actually took some jumpers last season, I always cringed when I saw his set up for a jumper. Hopefully now that he announced on Twitter that he’s back to working out, working on a jump shot is something he’s working on.

The argument for Tiago Splitter starting is far more conceptual because we just didn’t see him all that much last season. Here’s what we know.

Tiago is 6’11″, mobile and always seems to be in the right place on both ends of the floor. Last season was as much about adjusting to the speed and rules of the game as anything for Splitter. Against lesser teams, he show promise. I was at the February 2 game in Sacramento where Splitter scored 16 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Almost all of Splitter points came because he knew where and how to cut to the basket for a score or because he was in the right place for a couple of offensive rebounds and put-backs. He also seemed to frustrate DeMarcus Cousins by simply moving his feet and not letting Cousins get position too low. I would also say he has better post moves than DeJuan does, but his offensive game outside 10 feet is also limited. And to be fair, DeJuan started that game and had 10 points and 12 boards.

 

In that aspect, Blair and Splitter aren’t that dissimilar. Both are smart players, good passers and hustle on offense. While the Spurs like to have a big that can hit a 15 foot jumper on the floor with Duncan for spacing, Blair proved last season that smart bigs can be just as effective as the kind that hit jump shots.

Here’s another dilemma: what if McDyess comes back next year? Does he automatically become the starting center? You have to think in his advanced age, McDyess shouldn’t play more than 20 minutes a game, but which 20? Fact remains that he guards Dirk as well as any person the Spurs still have on their roster, so that’s reason enough to hope he comes back in a limited role. Either way, I think having him, Blair and Kawhi Leonard coming off the bench together would at least put a little bit of hurt into the opposing teams.

To sum this winding tale up, I think Splitter should be the starting center for the Spurs next year. He’s not the super athletic, shot blocker Spurs fans have been craving for years, but he gives the Spurs size in the middle that Blair and even McDyess if he comes back can provide. He’ll be a better, smarter player for the Spurs next year and for several years to come.

Thoughts Spurs fans? Like the idea of Splitter starting or should the Spurs continue the quest for a legit center?

(photos: daylife.com)

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