In recent weeks, San Antonio Spurs fans have seen a change at the starting center position. In lieu of the scrappy DeJuan Blair, head coach Gregg Popovich has opted to go with the veteran Antonio McDyess. Blair exited the starting rotation in the early-March dismantling of the Spurs at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Offensively, the addition of McDyess stretches the opposing defense. McDyess is a pick and pop type of big man, who can hit long jumpers with regularity while Blair is a classic pick and roller, who may not have a long distance jumper that he can go to, but is much better at taking the ball towards the basket and finishing at the rim.
Since the time of the lineup switch, the Spurs have averaged 104 points per game while, before the change, the Spurs averaged only 103.5 per game. Okay, so I think we can call this a wash.
Defensively, on the other hand, since the switch the Spurs have been giving up an average of 102 per game. Interestingly, this is five points more than the 97 points the Spurs have given up on average this season. The worst of the stretch was 110 given up in the loss to Miami and 115 in the loss to Denver. It’s hard to put either of these squarely on the center position, however, the addition of McDyess into the starting lineup does not get you much in terms of size. McDyess has only an inch over Blair. But what you do sacrifice is youth, quickness, and aggressiveness. What this means is hard to quantify over such a short stretch of games, but the five point differential in points allowed is telling of what you might expect.
In this span of games McDyess has averaged a little over 22 minutes per game versus his season average of a little over 18 minutes per game. Blair, on the other hand has averaged nearly 22 minutes per game on the season but only a little over 19 minutes since the switch was made. What I believe is more important than who is in the starting lineup and who isn’t (lest we forget that Manu has spent many games over his career as the proverbial sixth man) is the fact that McDyess is seeing an increase in his minutes. Based on the indiscernible difference in production for the team, it seems more likely that what we are seeing is an effort by the coaching staff to get ready for the playoffs. One of the biggest knocks on the team this entire season has been the Spurs’ relative lack of size. Indeed, when he is in the starting lineup, Blair is the shortest starting center in the league. While this is debatable as a handicap, the size advantage of the Lakers cannot be ignored. In their last meeting, the one we would all like to forget, the Spurs were out-rebounded 49 to 43 and, in the fateful first quarter in which the Spurs gave up an eye popping 34 points to Los Angeles, the Spurs allowed 6 offensive boards. I don’t think anyone believes that this is not a concern.
While I believe that Blair is the best choice for starting center, I like the extra minutes for McDyess. If Blair, McDyess, and Splitter are not playing their best basketball, the gauntlet of the Western Conference playoffs will be that much more difficult for the Spurs to survive.