by Radoslav Komljenovic
The Spurs are having serious trouble against front lines consisting of two big, bruising-types with skill. Milicic-Love, Gasol-Randolph. One can only imagine what it’ll be like against Bynum-Gasol-Odom—not that the latter two are bruisers, but they are big, long and highly skilled.
Specifically, Blair has serious trouble in these match-ups. He can't hold his own on the glass, can't adequately guard any of them and is an afterthought offensively, because the games are bound to be close when you're getting destroyed on the glass. And when the games are close, Blair is, rightly so, an afterthought offensively.
Pop's modus operandi in these match-ups is to (once the game proves to be tougher than initially thought, or at least hoped) play Blair sparingly, lean on Bonner heavily—presumably in the hopes that he can get hot from deep and negate the inevitable disadvantage in the paint and on the glass—and finally lean on McDyess heavily down the stretch.
But the Spurs shouldn't be in these situations consistently against the likes of a Memphis or Minnesota, not where they have to scramble and fight to survive against them. McDyess needs to start in these match-ups and Splitter needs to be inserted into the rotation, at the expense of Blair.
Even if Pop changes the lineups against these types (starting McDyess, inserting Splitter into the rotation, dropping Blair from the rotation), the Spurs will still be at a rebounding disadvantage. Because the reality is, Blair is the second-best rebounder on the team—and Splitter is a distant fourth.
So plugging Splitter in for Blair won't necessarily help on the boards. But it will help the team defensively, as Splitter's length should at least bother some of the bigger front lines (at least more than Blair is capable of), even if he get's overpowered by some.
The bottom line is, Duncan needs help in the paint. He's 34, with bad knees borne of a ton of mileage and while he's a center by default at this point, due to the game continuously going smaller and faster and his decline in mobility, he's not a true center. Truly, he's a four and a half—asking him to take on two big, bruising-types alone, essentially, is a recipe for disaster.
Reality is, the Spurs have pulled out three games against the Timberwolves and Grizzlies, mostly because, well, they're the Timberwolves and Grizzlies—and the Spurs have a vast advantage in both talent and experience. That won't be the case against the Lakers.
Perhaps the biggest and most alarming takeaway from the games played against these types of front lines, is Splitter being used sparingly. One more sign that Pop either doesn't see him as the answer or as a necessity for this season.