Monday, October 27, 2008


I am proud to present the third member of the 48 Minutes of Hell staff: Timothy Varner. When it comes to the Spurs, Tim is as knowledgeable as it gets. In fact, if you know more about the Spurs than Tim, you are either named Gregg Popovich or R.C. Buford. Aside from that you don't exist. I don't always agree with everything Tim says, but that is exactly why it is a pleasure to have him on board.

The Spurs have trimmed their roster to 15.

Making the cut this season are rookie Anthony Tolliver and last year's NBDL scoring champ, Desmon Farmer.

Tolliver is something of an enigma to Spurs fans. A former full-time low block dunk specialist at Creighton, Tolliver shot the ball remarkably well as a member of the Spurs summer league squad. His 52% 3 point shooting was reciprocated with a quick contract, indicating that the Spurs viewed him as a keeper. The Spurs fondness of Tolliver proved true through out training camp, his shot, however, seems to have gone awol. Tolliver shot an ugly 18-56 from the field and 6-26 from the arc. Mike Budenholzer explained his poor shooting performances this way, "We've noticed that most of his shots are on the back of the rim. He's geeked up." I guess.

It appears as if Popovich plans to use Tolliver to space the floor for his other bigs, assuming defenses think enough of his shot to honor it. But this raises a second question. Isn't Tolliver a Matt Bonner redundant? Is it wise to have two floor spreading 4s on the same roster, especially since neither has shown in adept ability at anything other than heaving the ball toward the rim whenever it rotates into their hands.

Thankfully, it's not simply the Spurs coaching staff that has vouched for Tolliver's shooting. Teammates, such as Tim Duncan, have remarked that Tolliver has shown an ability to knock down shots, so we're left with the feeble hope that he's simply in a slump or "geeked-up" to be a Spur. His summer league efficiency was noteworthy, and it was sustained over several weeks. Tolliver might be a player, but the jury is still out.

Tolliver's minutes and production were similar to Matt Bonner's in the preseason. Bonner played better, but not by leaps and bounds. Tolliver is younger, more athletic, and much less expensive. In other words, Matt Bonner should keep a bag packed.

Desmon Farmer, on the other hand, played extremely well this preseason. Farmer, as Spurs fans have no doubt read by now, is a journey-man scorer in the Stephen Jackson mold. He has a good stroke with range, but he can also get to the rim. He shot nearly 50% on his 3 pt attempts during exhibitions.

Farmer fills an obvious need for the Spurs on both the short and long term ledger. With Manu Ginobili injured, it makes sense that the Spurs would find on a spot on the their bench for a scorer. His ability to knock down shots from deep further mitigates against the loss of Brent Barry. But projecting beyond December, Farmer could stick with the Spurs as an insulate against their oft-encountered offensive droughts. Between, Mason, Hill and Farmer, the Spurs should be an improved offensive team this season. If they get anything worthwhile from Ian Mahinmi or Anthony Tolliver, they'll be among league leaders in offensive efficiency. In fact, becoming more potent offensively appears to be Gregg Popovich's no. 1 objective this off season. Farmer helps in that way.

Farmer is a prototypical Spur in another sense. He's taken his lumps. The Spurs front office has an affinity toward the underdog, they like going to war with guys who have had to battle to make the league. Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka, Roger Mason and Desmon Farmer are these sort of players. They're tough, and they've had to endure difficulty to make their NBA dream a reality. Anthony Tolliver is not as long in the tooth, but he's cut from this cloth. Ian Mahinmi and George Hill were not listed in the league assembled draft media guide prior to the Spurs surprisingly making them first round selections. By some accounts, they're not even supposed to be here.

Popovich loves art-house movies, and in one sense he's an art-house coach. His teams do not feature primedonna performances; he doesn't thrive on sensationalized story lines. Instead, he prefers an ensemble of unknowns, professional stage veterans and a core of A-listers who feel no need to stand out. Joint contribution to telling the right story is preeminent, and the cast is there to provide nuance, not to steal the show. Desmon Farmer is a likely member of a Popovich-led troupe.

Of course, time will tell if either he or Tolliver have what it takes to stick. The Spurs have expressed great confidence in Tolliver, but if he continues to miss, and miss badly, the Spurs will have to re-evaluate his place on the team. As for Farmer, he's limited by being limited. He's an NBA-level scorer, but his game doesn't have much definition beyond putting points on the board. He'll have to work hard on the defensive end to avoid a permanent place on the bench. If the Spurs were to suffer an injury and were forced to create roster space for another player, Farmer is the first to go. In a similar manner, if their offensive struggles are alleviated by some other combination of players (Mason/Hill) or by an early Ginobili return, Farmer may no longer be needed.

Nevertheless, after a lackluster off season, the Spurs brass has once again made good. George Hill, who I hope to write about in the coming days, is a solid, 8-man rotation point guard. The Spurs spent a little extra money for a quality camp, and in so doing added youth and depth to their bench. In fact, they had such a encouraging camp, they were forced to cut 2nd round draft pick Malik Hairston, whom they see as an NBA player, for lack of roster space.

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