While San Antonio Spurs fans are sweating a brief Kawhi Leonard injury (out 10-14 days according to the Spurs), this injury may be a blessing in disguise for the team to try out more rotations with their abundance of guards. I'm sure head coach Gregg Popovich plays plenty of different lineups against each other during practices, but nothing is like a real NBA game.
The bigger question is: What does coach Pop do with his starting small forward position going forward and how will it affect the rest of the team? The frustrating part for him is that he has more options than most coaches would:
Start Stephen Jackson: It seems like the likely scenario. He's a defensive minded 3-point shooting guard-forward who backs up… a player with the same mindset. Pop starting Jackson wouldn't change anything with the Spurs' starting unit, maybe with more plays being run Jackson's way than Leonard would. With him starting, that would leave the second unit strictly to Ginobili and Patty Mills. The big hole Jackson leaves isn't in the small forward role, but in the power forward position. He's been spotting Leonard from the bench but also playing the 4-position for good amounts of minutes so far in the season. Jackson starting would force Pop's hand to play Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, and Boris Diaw together more and next to Tim Duncan than he has this season. We may even have a Matt Bonner sighting too! This would be mainly to not have an encore of a tired Spurs team heading into the fourth quarter and running out of gas like they did against the Knicks. This move would push De Colo to second string behind Green with Gary Neal being injured also.
Start Manu Ginobili: A familiar sight to Spurs fans and something Pop decides to do every now and then when he sees his starting unit in trouble. Manu has been playing small forward in some minutes this season while Mills and Neal have been on the floor with him, so he's not a stranger to this position at all. The Spurs' starting unit would get a huge boost offensively, if his back isn't bothering him too much, and defensively he's been a workhorse. The problem the Spurs may run into starting Ginobili is the second unit will be left with Patty Mills and Stephen Jackson if Pop's current rotation is kept in tact. Mills is a burst of energy and can score/shoot when given the opportunity, but that would probably be it for that unit. Diaw has been struggling these past few games and Jackson isn't a guy who can run the offense consistently anymore like he used to in Golden State. This move would likely have Pop subbing in and out for a few stretches to keep one or two of the "Big 3" on the court at all times.
Start Patty Mills: This may seem insane to some Spurs fans, but remember: Pop isn't a stranger to a two-point guard backcourt. In recent years, we saw a Parker/TJ Ford backcourt when Ford was in a Spurs uniform and Parker has also shared the court with Gary Neal this season and in the past. This move would provide a quick backcourt with some defense as Mills isn't too shabby, even in a position that he's not fully accustomed to. Patty starting would push Green to the small forward spot and have De Colo, Ginobili, Jackson, Diaw, and probably Splitter off the bench (a second unit that would be worthy of starting for a few teams in the NBA).
Start Nando De Colo: This move wouldn't surprise me at all, even though it's unlikely. Why would Pop start a rookie guard from overseas on a team that's playing to win it all this year? If Nando starts, he would have veteran leadership around him in Tony Parker and Tim Duncan while having Danny Green to take the load off of him to score. With De Colo's many intangibles and skills, he'd have no pressure to produce with this unit while bringing more to the table than Green would in the two-position. This move would leave Pop's bench in tact and with no problems with chemistry. He may not be the best defender, but he doesn't have to be locking his man down 1-on-1 if he's got help from Duncan (and Splitter if Tiago starts).
With these possibilities (and more, even a million to one chance Boris Diaw plays small forward like he used to in Phoenix), the Spurs are capable of shuffling a lineup and keeping in tact a balanced offensive attack while still being able to defend superstars on teams like Andre Iguadola in tonight's game vs. the Denver Nuggets. A team that has already had half a season and training camp to build chemistry while being led by a veteran coach can still expect its fans to believe in a winning formula, even if it's injury ridden for a few games.
What do you have to say Spurs fans? Which player should Pop turn to with Kawhi out for a while?