The San Antonio Spurs were exposed a little bit on the wing without Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard the other night against the Memphis Grizzlies, particularly at the end of the game. For three quarters of the game, the Spurs did a good job of getting in to the paint, averaging seven shots in the lane.
However, when the fourth quarter rolled around, the Grizzlies put the clamps down, getting a shot in the paint off just twice, which helped lead to a comeback by the Grizzlies for a last second win. There were other factors as well, particularly some late game breakdowns on defense, but the fact remains the Spurs' offense sputtered down the stretch, converting just 2/7 field goal attempts in crunch time.
Should we chalk this up the Spurs being without two of their three best wing players against one of the best defensive teams in the league or is it a larger problem?
The Spurs system is built on ball movement and spreading the floor, but what happens when they only have one or two players that can break down a defense to get guys open shots? Tony Parker did a fine job of doing it for most of the Memphis game, but towards the end of the game, the Grizzlies did an excellent job containing him and forcing him in to long jumpers. With a healthy Ginobili there, or even Kawhi Leonard's emerging offense, you have two more options to get in the paint and either collapse the defense to find an open shooter or get a high percentage shot at the rim.
That's where the Spurs really miss Ginobili. It meant a lot of Gary Neal and while he hit a couple of big shots while Parker was on the bench, he also committed a couple of mistakes on both ends of the floor. While Neal has proven he's more than a spot up shooter, he's been dreadful when he gets in to the paint this year. According to NBA's stats site, he's shooting just 48 percent inside of eight feet, which is below league average. Additionally, only Danny Green has a worse assist ratio among Spurs guards. Speaking of Green, he's only slightly better at finishing inside eight feet and is a worse passer than Neal.
This is where I do what I didn't think I'd do even a week ago. I'd like to see Nando De Colo play more, especially in crunch time (I don't even have a good joke about the French to plug in here). Not a lot more, I think Leonard, Green and Stephen Jackson should play more, but if we're choosing between De Colo and Neal, give me Nando. He shoots better from three, although his sample size is way smaller, and finishes inside eight feet at a 59 percent clip. He's also a much better passer than Neal. Against Memphis, he played 17 minutes and scored 10 points on 5/6 shooting. Four of those five makes came in the paint. However, he still has some seasoning to go through, tallying five turnovers, including a needless behind the back pass attempt to Matt Bonner in the fourth quarter that sailed out of bounds.
If Manu Ginobili is going to miss some playoff time, the Spurs will need another penetrator. We know he's going to miss the rest of the regular season so why not give it to Nando, who's proven to be a capable shooter when he's open, good at getting in to the lane and a crafty passer when the defense collapses on him. His playing more also isn't going to decide whether the Spurs hold on to the number one seed. It would also give him some much needed experience getting used to the defensive system, which is probably the biggest concern at this point. You know what you have in Neal, you know he'll be ready to do Gary Neal things when called upon. The next eight games are to find out who you have from your other reserves.