I did a quick Q&A with Michael De Leon from Project Spurs last night/earlier today, where we discussed our teams' recent play, stars of the future, and what it's going to take to win tonight. You can see my responses about the Bucks over at Project Spurs and Michael's thoughts on the Spurs below.
Q: How much do you read into the Spurs' great start? Can they sustain it and legitimately challenge the Lakers in the playoffs, or are they playing above their heads right now?
A: They have played the Timberwolves twice and the Clippers three times already, but they've also had impressive wins over Utah, Orlando, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Portland. I try not to read too much into it, because at some point they are going to go through dry spells and they'll have a difficult road schedule in February and they'll be playing the Mavericks, Magic and the Lakers in the next few weeks. One reason I have some hope and feel like they may be able to be a threat in the West is because it's a completely different team this year, not just new pieces, but also new atitudes and roles. The scoring load doesn't always come from the big three and on any night, George Hill, Richard Jefferson and perhaps even Gary Neal can lead the team in scoring. The balanced scoring has also allowed them to not have to play Tim Duncan 48 minutes a night, and they'll rest Manu and Tony up a bit as well. The Spurs are a very deep team, they are still without James Anderson and I'm expecting a lot more from Tiago Splitter soon and that'll play well in their favor in the playoffs.
Q: The Spurs have a number of intriguing youngsters, with George Hill and DeJuan Blair already familiar to most NBA fans and Tiago Splitter also joining the fray this year. How is Pop meshing these guys into the rotation and where do you see their long-term futures?
A: I really think George, DeJuan, Tiago and even James Anderson are the future of this franchise. One of my criticisms over the last 4-5 years was that the Spurs weren't bringing in understudies for Parker, Ginobili and Duncan and my biggest fear was that the team would have a tough rebuilding period if they didn't bring in the right players to learn from the big three while they are still at or near their best. I'm a lot more comfortable when talking about the post-Duncan days now that Splitter and Blair are in the fold, and the same for Anderson, Neal and Hill. As far as the rotation, Pop is a pretty fair guy and he'll play the players that work hard and deserve minutes. Coming into the season, most expected the battle at the backup three would go to Bobby Simmons
or Alonzo Gee
and I said at the time that Anderson was my darkhorse to steal that role away from them. That's exactly what he did. Now Simmons and Gee are gone, and before he was injured, Anderson was really devoting himself to becoming a better defensive player and it was starting to show.
Q: RJ seems to have improved a bit over his disappointing 09/10 season. Is there an obvious difference in what he's doing, and has he been good enough to make you forget about his contract? (if you ask me the same question about John Salmons, the answer is a resounding no).
A: I was probably one of RJ's toughest critics last season. I didn't think his 12 points per game was worth $15 million. I also had a problem with his effort. While the Spurs system isn't something you can get the cliff's notes on, it was watered down and most of my problems were due to him settling for floaters and outside shots, and not attacking the rim like we expected. This year is the complete opposite. This summer Pop gave him the option of either enduring a grueling summer training regimen to "get back to basics" or pack his bags. Now the effort is there, the mentality is completely different and he now accepts this as his team and that's shows up on and off the stat sheet. Because of that, I haven't said a bad thing about him yet this season, and while I still don't love the contract, it's becoming a little easier to forget.
Q: Pop seems to be saving Duncan more than ever before, but his efficiency numbers are also down a bit from his usual brilliance. Is it still the same Timmy but fewer minutes, or is his age slowly catching up with him?
A: I think a bit of both. A lot of people look at stats and may see a decline and start saying Duncan may be done, or is too old and slow and then he goes and scores 24 points with 17 rebounds. Pop is a smart man, and he knows even if they pickup some losses due to lesser minutes given to him or sitting him out completely, it's not as big a deal this early. The goal is to go into April and May with a healthy Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. At the same time, sure, he's another year older and some of that can be seen with his lateral quickness. Regardless though, Duncan has never made his money on athleticism and I don't he'll have a sudden, rapid decline, and would not be surprised to see him averaging double-doubles the next two years.