Like every other aspect of this team, the San Antonio Spurs’ bench is under performing in this series against the Memphis Grizzlies. The bigs coming off the bench are playing worse than any Spurs playoff team I can remember. While the backcourt is producing up to their regular season averages, they haven’t been a viable alternative to a starting backcourt that is either banged up (Manu Ginobili) or playing poorly like Tony Parker. You expect to get a lift from your bench when you are in a tough and physical playoff series. But what the Spurs have gotten is the status quo at best or grossly under performing at worst.
I’ve never seen a group of bigs coming off the bench for the Spurs that has been a bigger liability in a playoff series then this one. Matt Bonner has been atrocious. And as bad as his shooting has been, his defense has been worse. Any big he gets matched up with for Memphis has a clear advantage over him and it’s exploited repeatedly. No casual fan had ever heard of Darrel Arthur before this series, and in one playoff series, while being matched up with Bonner, and he trended worldwide on Twitter. I’ve never seen a player who took so much off the table and put so little on it when his shot isn’t falling. Also, Bonner once again shows he is great in the regular season but vanishes in the playoffs.
DeJuan Blair is all heart. He battles for rebounds and plays defense with as much passion as anyone in basketball. But his lack of height has hurt the Spurs tremendously in this series. He just can’t handle the Grizzlies bigs in the paint. Then again none of the Spurs’ bigs have but Blair is at a disadvantage. The Grizzlies big men have been grabbing offensive rebounds right over the top of his head and getting put backs or backing him down for a high percentage shots at the rim seemingly at will. It’s gotten to the point where Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had to give minutes to Tiago Splitter in game four, partially due to Blair’s disadvantage. It would be in DeJuan’s best interest to work on his jump shot during the presumed lockout.
The bench backcourt has performed up to par for the most part. Producing up to season averages and playing relatively solidly. But what you ideally want from your bench during the playoffs, especially as a high seed, is someone stepping up and relieving the starters of the burden of having a bad game and neither George Hill nor Gary Neal has done that for a gimpy Manu or a struggling Parker. The starting backcourt hasn’t had a great series, and the bench hasn’t picked them up. I would have thought Hill would have been that guy this series, but he hasn’t been. And it’s a bit disappointing. Not a lot to criticize here. But it’s the playoffs and you expect a bit more.
However, there was a bright spot to come out of this series. Splitter came in and played with a lot of energy and didn’t seem to freeze under the lights. He was a huge upgrade defensively over Blair or Bonner and was making some plays during a crucial playoff game. His play gives me a bit more optimism for his ceiling as an NBA player. I can see him developing into a poor man’s Joakim Noah. He would need to be paired with a big who had a jump shot to really be a effective player. But I think he will develop into a valued player.
Danny Green has impressed Popovich enough to give him playoff minutes in a tough and physical playoff series though usually in garbage time. Still, it’s high praise for the second year player. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop over the next couple of years.
During the regular season the Spurs had what was arguably the deepest bench in the NBA. That seems like a long time ago, because the bench has been one of the many weak points in this series exploited by the size and youth of the Memphis Grizzlies.
If the Spurs are going to survive to game six tonight, the bench will have to play a major role in it happening. That’s something they haven’t shown they are up to the task for yet this series.