In advance of the 2014 NBA Finals, I answered readers questions in the first edition of the Project Spurs mailbag. I covered Tony Parker, whether LeBron James has more pressure than the Spurs, Tiago Splitter’s effectiveness and much more.
To have your question answered in next weeks mailbag, tweet @quixem or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Goodson asks, “Can the Spurs win without Parker?”
Yes, though it certainly won’t be easy. Parker averaged 15.7 points and 6.4 assists in last year’s Finals, pedestrian numbers for him actually, and the Spurs’ offense was a tad more productive when he hit the bench (scoring 1.2 points per 100 possessions more). Mills and Joseph can fill in the gaps and they are more capable of handling the load this year.
The Spurs’ best chance, of course, is with a reasonably healthy Parker picking apart the aggressive Heat defense since he’s able to make quick decisions and attack the scrambling Heat back line. For all the strides Mills has made this season, he’s still very much a straight-line (predictable) attacker off-the-dribble. Parker gives Miami’s defense a few different looks. The Heat defense, one that leverages their speed, isn’t as effective if they don’t know what’s coming on each possession.
With that being said, Parker is improving every day. Dr. Garrett estimates Parker will be 95 percent healthy by Game 1. Below is a chart outlining the Spurs’ chances without Parker.
Romeo Morales asks, “Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are going from guarding Durant/Westbrook to guarding LeBron/Wade — confidence booster?”
The Durant/Westbrook tandem averaged 45.1 points and 44 percent shooting in the Western Conference Finals — numbers below their regular season marks. When Westbrook ran roughshod on poor Parker, Gregg Popovich switched Kawhi Leonard onto him, an adjustment he can in his back pocket. Durant/Westbrook took a third of their shots from mid-range, a good thing, and they were less efficient in the restricted area against the Spurs. They did the best job they possibly could’ve, while suffocating the rest of the Thunder options. The bench scored five points in Game 6 and all of them were by Derek Fisher.
LeBron/Wade isn’t an easy task either. LeBron barreling to the rim is the most dangerous play in basketball and Wade, with a lighter regular season workload, is still a damn good player at his age. He can’t match Westbrook’s athleticism (can anyone?) and he isn’t a threat to bomb from the 3-point line, but he’s crafty enough away from the ball to give Danny Green trouble. Wade averaged 19.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 46.9 percent shooting in last year’s Finals. He’s healthier this year. The Spurs have their work cut out for them.
Will Kawhi be able to effectively guard LeBron?
LeBron averaged 18.5 points per game against the Spurs this season in a tiny two-game sample, the second lowest against any opponent this season. But we shouldn’t take too much from that sample. Including last year’s Finals, you can make one reasonable conclusion: Kawhi makes LeBron’s life difficult.
LeBron with Kawhi on the floor: 280 minutes, 154 points, 19.8 points per 36 minutes, 43.9 FG%
LeBron without Kawhi on the floor: 85 minutes, 60 points, 25.4 points per 36 minutes, 45.1 FG%
What’s important, too, is LeBron averages fewer shots in the restricted area when Kawhi is playing and he makes them at a lower rate. That’s his bread-and-butter and when he can’t subsist on those shots, he and the Heat defense suffers. So, yes, Kawhi can effectively guard LeBron.
Mark Ignacio asks, “How much will Kawhi earn this offseason?”
He’ll earn $2.89 million next year, a hike of a little over a million (he made $1.87 million this year). Then he has a qualifying offer worth $4.05 million in 2015-16. He’s not going anywhere.
Juan Manuel asks, “How much will the series change with the great level of Ginobili this year compared to last years playoffs?”
Manu is scoring more points per game and playing less minutes this postseason, which tells all you need to know about his resurgent 2013-14 postseason. (Also: John Diaz took a deeper look here.) The Spurs are scoring 113.9 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor this postseason and it doesn’t even matter if Manu himself isn’t producing. Manu’s presence alone positively influences the Spurs. Anything else is gravy. He’s one of the most important players in this series.
Will Tiago Splitter be effective in this series?
I have my doubts. The Spurs were -7 in his 107 minutes during last years NBA Finals. Splitter struggles against athletic bigs/teams that can swallow up the space he needs to be effective offensively. Oklahoma City and, to a similar extent, Miami both leverage their speed and athleticism in the pick-and-roll. They swarm the pick-and-roll and they swarm Splitter when he catches the ball on the roll. Tiago, one of the best pick-and-roll bigs in the league, has to make a split second decision before Miami’s defense recovers. He didn’t do that in last year’s Finals. He played a total of 22 minutes in the last three games of the series, as Gregg Popovich deliberately shortened his rotation to counter the Heat.
He’ll probably get the start tonight, but he’s on a short leash.
Romeo Morales asks, “Will we see less Tim and Tiago on the floor at the same time like in the previous series? More Diaw?”
This is a good follow up question. While the Spurs were outscored with Splitter on the floor (see last answer), they were +19 when Tiago shared the floor with Tim Duncan last year — +23.4 points per 100 possessions. A 39-minute sample size isn’t large, of course, but the Heat scored 77.4 points per 100 possessions when the Spurs went with their typical big-man tandem. The Duncan-Splitter combo tandem was successful defensively, even though Chris Bosh complicated the rotations a bit.
As the series wore on, Splitter-Duncan played fewer minutes together to keep up with Miami. It worked in spurts and, though it presents spacing issues offensively and awkward cross matches defensively, the Splitter-Duncan tandem is still important in a series against LeBron. Expect more Boris Diaw this year, too, but protecting the rim is always a premium and the Spurs are at their best when they play Tiago and Duncan together.
Does LeBron have more pressure than the Spurs?
LeBron has a tremendous amount of pressure — he’s the best player in the world and he’s the fulcrum of the entire Miami Heat team. He has the highest burden of any NBA player. That being said, I think the Spurs have more pressure. They’re on the wrong side of Duncan’s career (though his wrong side is better than most peoples right side) and their chances at a championship decrease every year. LeBron is in the Eastern Conference. He’s 29. He won’t have many chances at the illusive three-peat, but he’ll have more chances at a title, in general.
Chris Reichert asks, “If the Spurs win is there a scenario where you see Duncan and/or Manu retiring?”
Yes. I don’t think either calls it quits after this season, but they’re both in their late 30’s. You can’t rule it out. Of the two, Ginobili seems like the most likely to retire first.
Samuel Yu asks, “What will happen to you and the city of San Antonio if the Spurs lose again to the Heat?”
Life will go on.
Morgan Lozano asks, “Are we (the Spurs) going to win the Finals?”
Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. (For the record, I picked the Spurs in six.)