Scene 1 Over: Rookie Intermission

midseasonreviewYou just stumbled upon this article. You’re sitting there, reading right now. PAUSE! Go outside, quick! You walk outside and see the “DeLorean car” parked from ‘Back To The Future.’ Do you see it? Well, I need you to get inside and set the date for October 12, 2010. Done?

Lightning flashes around the sky, as Doc Brown tells you to begin accelerating at 88 mph. You hit 88 mph and BAM! You’re back in 2010. You get out of the DeLorean, hide it and walk into an emphatic arena. The basketball court is bright red and there are thousands of fans cheering on, as the Spurs and Clippers are in a close game. You ask a fan “Where am I?” The fan replies “Estas en Mexico!” You then realize; you’re in Mexico City for a San Antonio Spurs-Los Angeles Clippers preseason game.

You look down at the court, the Clippers score a late basket to make it Clippers 99, Spurs 97. Coach Pop calls a timeout. He hands the clipboard to Manu Ginobili, Manu gathers the team around and draws up a play. With seven seconds left in the ball game, the Spurs pass to Gary Neal; he quickly passes it to Bobby Simmons, then Simmons throws it back to him. Neal dribbles around in between the top of the key three-point line, on the right side and hoists up a 3-pointer. Swish! Gary Neal hits a game winner and the Spurs win 100-99! Mexico is going wild! Now, pinch yourself and wake up! That was just a dream! But watch out, Gary Neal, is real!

The San Antonio Spurs acquired three rookies at the beginning of the season, with strong hopes for two of them: Tiago Splitter (big name coming in), James Anderson (drafted in the first round) and Gary Neal (wait, who?). With half the season in the books, let’s see how these three rookies have panned out thus far.

The Brazilian (I haven’t really earned a nickname yet) Big Man

In the summer, the Spurs learned they were going to be able to finally bring in Tiago Splitter from overseas. Hype had begun building. Phrases like: “He’s a mixture of Scola and Oberto,” “he’s going to score in the post so Timmy can rest,” and “he’s the big man of the future for the Spurs” were all ramblings to be heard from everywhere. Splitter came in with the title of “Best Big Man in Europe, not in the NBA.” He arrived, and immediately got hurt in training camp. He missed both training camp and the preseason Splittergames. He made his NBA debut against the Clippers and scored two points and one rebound.

His second game showed Spurs fans a glimpse of what he could be. Against the Phoenix Suns, Tiago poured in seven points and three rebounds in limited action. Seven points and three rebounds looked decent but it wasn’t the production Tiago would consistently give.

Let’s look at some of his numbers to dig down a little further.

Current stat line: 30 games, 11 mpg, FG 50%, FT 61%, 2.5 rbd, .33 blk, .60 TO, 1.6PF, 4.2 ppg.

So, all this hype coming in, and we have a guy only playing eleven minutes while providing four points and three rebounds? What happened to the Luis Scola correlation? Where’s the Fabricio Oberto passing and rebounding ability?

Now let’s look at how he’s played against nine good teams (Orlando, Atlanta, New York, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans, Portland, Utah, Oklahoma City)

Against good teams: 8.9 mpg, 2.3 rbd, 3.1 ppg.

Now, let’s look at his production through the months:

November: 12 mpg, 5 ppg, 3 rbd.

December: 10 mpg, 4 ppg, 2 rbd.

January: 11 mpg, 4 ppg, 2 rbd.

As you can see, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is only giving him about eleven minutes per game. That is his only chance to try and make an impact for the coaches to see.

What’s wrong?

As I’ve watched Splitter this season, he looks really confused on the defensive end. He just doesn’t look comfortable out there. He always looks one step slower than the rest of the team. On the offensive end, when he catches the ball he always looks confused as to whether to pass it or post his defender.

Is there any hope for the future?

Yes, Splitter has shown some bright spots in his game. He had a career high against Cleveland with 18 points in 26 minutes. He’s reached 10+ points four times (18 pts vs Cleveland, 12 pts vs. Golden State, 12 pts vs. Denver, 11 pts vs. Orlando).

Also, you do need to understand he’s not getting the playing time due to: Matt Bonner shooting lights out, Duncan being Duncan, DeJuan Blair having big games every other night and Antonio McDyess being as consistent as usual. So with the other four big guys playing at a high level, it’s hard for Tiago, let alone any big guy, to get some minutes on this Spurs team. Here’s how Tiago might get some playing time: if the Spurs can stay hot and gain a huge lead on the second team in the league, I think Pop will begin to rest Duncan and McDyess even more. With more playing time, Tiago will have his chance to show off his talents right before the playoffs.

Let’s also not forget, Splitter came into the NBA playing a lot over the summer with the Brazilian National Team, suffered nagging injuries before the injury in training camp and played deep into the Spanish Finals.

My Call

I believe Splitter is a year away from being an effective big man on this team. If he does play in April, he’ll just be an extra body to rack up fouls against the Lakers, Mavericks, Celtics and Magic. But for this season, looking at how his monthly average has stayed the same, I don’t really see him being much of an impact. Post play will go as far as Duncan, McDyess, Blair and Bonner hold it down.

Ahhhhh, Mr. Anderson………. (Matrix Voice) 

Anderson With the 20th pick in the 2010 draft, the Spurs selected James Anderson. He is a guard/forward with big time scoring ability and length to be a potential defensive stopper. He was brought in to be the backup small forward to Richard Jefferson. Anderson looked very solid in his preseason games, and coming into the first six regular season games, the Spurs thought they’d found the missing wing they needed.

Unfortunately, Anderson suffered a stress fracture to his right foot and has been inactive the last few months.

Let’s see how he did within his first six NBA games.

Six games: 18 mpg, FG 42%, 3pt 50%, FT 67%, 1.5 ast, 1.5 PF, 7 ppg.

Wow. That’s a great stat line, especially by a rookie. Even more impressive, is looking at his six games in detail. The least he scored was 5pts and he was starting to show defensive skills early.

Vs. Indiana: 10 pts, 1 stl.

Vs. New Orleans: 5 pts, 1 blk.

Vs. Los Angeles Clippers: 8 pts, 1 blk.

Vs. Phoenix: 6 pts, 1 stl, 1 blk.

Vs. Charlotte: 6 pts.

Vs. Los Angeles Clippers: 7 pts.

Will Anderson make an impact this season?

This week, word was Anderson will be sent to the Austin Toros to begin getting back into playing shape. The Spurs brought in another small forward from the D-League (Larry Owens). If Owens doesn’t work out, and Anderson has a healthy, efficient comeback with the Toros, the Spurs could look to bring him back and insert him in the lineup and see how he fares. As I wrote in a recent column, I’d prefer to give Anderson a shot to be effective rather than go out and get another wing player. If he can consistently give the stats listed above when healthy, the Spurs will be adding another weapon to their high-powered offense.

The Sniper, Ladies and Gentlemen; Mr. Gary Neal

Sniper – to shoot at someone from a hiding place, accurately and at long range.

Let’s see how Gary Neal fits in there: “To shoot at someone (opposing team) from a hiding place (beyond the arc), accurately (have you seen him shoot? He’s accurate alright!) and at long range (3-point land).”

Where do you start with Gary Neal? A kid who played in Europe after college, the Spurs discovered him with their unmatched scouting ability when they invited him to play for their 2010 NBA Summer League Nealsquad where he excelled.

How do you know he’s a cold-blooded shooter? Go back to that preseason game in Mexico, did you know before Neal hit that game winning three he had MISSED ALL THREE OF HIS PREVIOUS SHOTS?

That’s a man with no fear at all. If you see Neal in person, he has this cool “swagger” about him. I told my buddy David at a recent Spurs game: “Look at Neal, doesn’t he look like he’s playing right now with a lit cigar in one hand, wearing a luxury bathrobe and has a chalice of wine in his other hand? All while listening to smooth jazz music?” That’s just the persona Gary Neal gives off, he’s a just a “cool Kat.” Never frantic, just in a very chill mellow zone at all times. Now, as much as I’ve gloated about his demeanor on the court, if you’re an opposing team facing Gary Neal, get ready. He is a dangerous man with a variety of weapons.

Season: 41 games, 18.7 mpg, FG 43%, 3PT 40%, FT 86%, 2.7 rbd, 1ast, 1.8PF, 8.7 ppg. He’s made 65-164 3pt, made 42-49 free throws.

Ranks #20 in the league in three-pointers made.

So, the Spurs have a consistent rookie who is scoring 8.7 points per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point land? Great scouting find again.

Let’s see how Neal plays against good teams (Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans, Portland, Utah, Oklahoma City)

Vs. 12 Good Teams: 19 mpg, FG 37%, 3pt 30%, 8 ppg.

His 3 pt shooting percentage decreases a bit, but he is still able to produce his average scoring number against the elite teams, which means Neal is here to play and he won’t shy away like Roger Mason did against good competition. Neal will shoot regardless if it’s the Raptors or the Lakers, without hesitation.

Let’s look at how he’s producing by month:

October: 4 ppg.

November: 6.5 ppg.

December: 11 ppg.

January: 9 ppg.

As you can see, his production is increasing as the months go on. So by season’s end, he could well be the sixth double-digit scorer for the Spurs. Imagine teams having to play the Spurs? They would have to try and stop six potential scorers every game. Yikes!

Neal has also had his highlights thus far:

In only his third game with the Spurs, he scored 16 pts vs. the Clippers.

He’s already had three 20+ point games: 21 pts vs. Dallas, 22 pts vs. Phoenix, 22 pts vs. Denver.

The Snipers Weaponry

Neal has an assortment of moves that he can use against opponents. 1. The quick trigger three pointer – this is when a Spurs player kicks out to Neal, he quickly releases the shot before the defense can react. 2. The bunny hop 3 ptr – Neal has shown the ability to catch a pass while bouncing, spring up and trigger on one bounce. 3. The Sniper Rifle – The NBA 3 pt line is 23.9 feet and Neal has made several threes from over 25 feet comfortably. 4. The transition pull-up jumper – On several fast breaks, Neal will just quickly pull up within 15 feet and knock down the jumper. 5. The tear drop – Parker is still the king of the tear drop, but Neal has shown that it is a strong part of his repertoire.

My Call

DeLoreanEvery time Gary Neal makes a three pointer I tweet “#Sniper”. I think I’ll still be tweeting this in the second half of the season a lot. Gary Neal doesn’t seem to be cooling down; if anything, he’s even more comfortable with the team, knows his role and will increase his scoring average. His month-to-month scoring has proved this, and if you’re wondering if he’s going to knock down shots in the playoffs?

Go back to sleep, get back in the DeLorean, travel to October 12, 2010 in Mexico City. With seven seconds left in the game, what happens?

All stats used as of 01-17-2011

Follow Paul on Twitter: @24writer

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.