Through four games of the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs are struggling.
Well, not all the team is struggling but key role players have seemed to disappear.
Danny Green, the Spurs’ starting shooting guard and 3-point specialist, is averaging 2.8 ppg. It doesn’t take you much math to know that he isn’t even averaging a three pointer and that’s about all he does on offense.
The versatile Marco Belinelli has also been struggling along with Green with a disappointing 3.5 ppg. Their statistics don’t get much more impressive with their shot attempts from beyond the arc either. Belinelli is averaging 1 attempt from the 3-point line while Green is only averaging 2.5 attempts.
The question has been brought up by fans and also by sports analysts, “What’s wrong with the Spurs” and “Is it time to bench Danny Green?”.
The answer to the question is a difficult one depending where you’re coming from. From a statistical standpoint, the answer is positively yes. The team has more options that can bring in more points than Green could as the starting guard. It might even make sense from that perspective to start Belinelli in his place since his percentages are far greater than Green’s (40% FG, 50% 3FG). The other side of the story is that it probably wouldn’t matter.
If stats are put aside, the Dallas Mavericks are forcing those looks on the two Spurs.
It has been very rare for the Spurs to score on a one on one situation with the exception being post ups by Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. The majority of the Spurs’ offense has gone through the pick and roll, often called San Antonio’s “bread and butter” play, and it’s the only play that’s given them an advantage. The main reason for this is the Mavericks are playing the Spurs strictly in a man defense scenario. They’re staying up on the shooters and forcing the Big 3 to beat them themselves the majority of the time.
Does that sound familiar at all?
With the exception of an injured ankle taking Manu Ginobili out for the series, this is the exact same defense the Mavericks gave San Antonio in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.
The Mavericks played up on the silver and black’s shooters in Bruce Bowen, Roger Mason Jr, Ime Udoka, and Matt Bonner to name a few and allowed Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to try to beat them in pick-and-rolls and “Four Downs.”
We’re seeing a repeat here as the majority of the points have come from Parker getting freed by a pick being set for a mid range jumper or layup, Duncan posting up a Mavericks big man, or Ginobili wreaking havoc driving to the lane through a pick-and-roll.
The problem with taking out Green or inserting Belinelli in his place (or anyone from that matter) is that the offense will still rely on the ball handler and the big setting the pick. If Belinelli is swapped, he’ll still be a spot up shooter that’ll be guarded at arm’s length and have his shot taken away (while sacrificing some defense in the decision).
That’s the same scenario if Patty Mills were to start next to Parker or Ginobili as well, the offense would still result in a pick-and-roll if the ball handling guard wants to score. The only difference is the way the guard tries to score whether a mid range jumper, tear drop, or layup attempt (or fancy behind the back move if we’re talking about Ginobili).
The Spurs are going to have to rely on their main core and main plays to squeak out of the first round this year. The biggest difference from 2009 however is that the Spurs will have more players who can run those plays in Mills and possibly Belinelli depending on the situation or matchup he has.
A change in the lineup would only hurt the defense side of the ball while not changing the offense with how the Dallas Mavericks want to force the Spurs to beat them, so don’t be surprised if Coach Popovich keeps preaching energy and more “nasty” over seeing a change in the starting lineup.