Thursday, December 4, 2008

Playing Parker Off the Ball

This is something of a trivial post, but in his State of the Season post from yesterday, Graydon Gordian wrote:
After some discussions with Tim Varner on this very issue, I've settled on the idea that Roger Mason and Tony Parker should be our starting backcourt. Tim also believes, as do I, that Mason should be running the offense from a point-forward position while Parker plays off the ball.
I'd like to qualify this statement by saying this isn't really our idea (it's Coach Pop's idea, although a year removed) and that I believe Tony Parker should be given more minutes off the ball, but that the majority of his minutes should still come at point guard. Let me explain.

Before I do, however, it's important to note that Popovich has already killed the idea of a Mason-Parker starting back court:
Gregg Popovich made another vow Tuesday evening, but he might have been the only one who believed it. He told Manu Ginobili he’s a starter again, this time “in perpetuity,” and later listed off all the reasons why the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year will never be a sixth man again.
I like Pop's resolve, if for no other reason than it places a mandate on Roger Mason and George Hill to play aggressively off the bench, looking for their shot and getting to the rim. Popovich typically waits until later in the season to set a rotation, but he doesn't have that luxury this season. In past season's the Spurs roster was stacked with guys who knew the system and whose chemistry extended beyond their usual unit. As we've seen with the recent pair of losses, this team has more talent than previous squads, but they're hopelessly out of sync. Talent, yes. Chemistry, not so much.

Let me use David Thorpe to frame this issue a little differently:
Why is it that some coaches always seem to get the most out of their players? Simple, they allow them to play with defined roles and expectations. That way, the players can just go out and play without second-guessing their efforts and actions.
These words were penned in praise of George Hill's early play. By firmly placing Ginobili in the starting five, Popovich will get better, more consistent production out of Mason and Hill. Eventually. Those two will have no choice but to look to score. A tight rotation provides tightly defined rolls. (Yes, Bulls fans, I feel your pain.)

That brings us back to finding Tony Parker minutes off the ball. This is not a new idea. Last season, Pop toyed with the notion by playing a sometime backcourt of Vaughn-Parker or, gasp, Stoudamire-Parker. It never took off, mostly because opposing teams had no reason to respect the shot of Parker's running mates. When Vaughn's defender plays him with 10 feet of is-this-defense-legal sag, it's hard for Parker to get into the lane. Roger Mason is a different story, however.

Mason seems to find his rhythm when he serves as a ball handler. At points he forces the issue, but his best basketball as a Spur came when he started in Tony Parker's absence. This was also the case in Washington--while starting in the place of the injured Gilbert Arenas, Mason averaged 17 points per on 50% shooting. His numbers as a starter in San Antonio are similar.

Since coming back from injury, Tony Parker has over dribbled at points, looking for his shot and his rhythm. Giving him more minutes off the ball would allow him to do this more naturally while Mason provides him with spacing and a sure-fire 3-point security blanket--both of which Vaughn never allowed. This is seldom discussed, but by playing Parker off the ball, Popovich would create a new set of angles from which Parker could attack defenses. As it currently stands, Parker spends too much time probing around the arc looking for these angles.

I'm not sure how George Hill fits into this puzzle. His early play was inspiring, but his minutes must decrease with the return of TP. I think Pop will find a way to get Hill 6 or 7 minutes per half, so long as he plays with purpose. Popovich won't tolerate tentative point guards. His love-affair with Parker was borne, in part, out of the young player's fearlessness. Pop will tolerate missed shots and occasional recklessness, but he won't suffer cowardly play.

The Spurs are up against another issue. They don't get enough scoring from other positions. Duncan is the only proven front court scoring threat, although Matt Bonner deserves a respectful nod for his recent efforts. Finley is on again, off again at the wing, which is something because Bowen and Udoka are complete offensive liabilities. In short, the Spurs would greatly benefit from someone who could consistently provide offense at small forward and another player who could chip in a bit with painted area rebounds and put backs.

In time, Pop will figure out his backcourt rotation but the issues at wing and up front are difficult fixes. In other words, tinkering with the rotation won't help slow the bleeding. The Spurs simply don't have the personnel. Pop is already doing a yeoman's job by getting so much from Bonner. Thomas and Oberto's play could improve, but it doesn't change the fact that together they represent one crafty defender, one clever passer, several solid screens, and a bevy of "the ball rotated into my hands" set shots per game. They're just not the guys. They're the guys you play alongside the guys. As Graydon wrote,
"When I have something lucid to say about our frontcourt rotation, I'll get back to you."


Lo Real said...

Is this a Spurs blog? I hope not, because his name is ROGER MASON, not George Mason.

John said...

Being a big fan of him, I just wanted to comment on Manu performance from which I feel was just reminder to everyone about how good he gets when he is on his best. As witness from his season high performance against the Nuggets.

It is always proven for SA Spurs, that even with both Parker and Duncan on their best; it is Obi Wan Ginobili the team’s catalyst. I don’t there was any games from which the Spurs lost when Manu plays like this.

I just all those injuries are a things in the past about him as I want to play like this and help the Spurs to win another Championship. I have confidence in them though many basketball bloggers and experts might have written them off in favour of the Lakers or Celtics.

Anyway as always, here is my recap on his performance. Would appreciate to give us your thoughts about tonight game.