The most-anticipated matchup of the season so far happened on Monday. The San Antonio Spurs visited the white-hot Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., in what was perceived to be a no-holds-barred battle of the two top teams in the league, period–not to mention the whole young guns/old heads and little brother/big brother context.
The reality was quite, quite different.
The Warriors went on to scorch the Spurs to the tune of 120–90, the Spurs’ worst loss during the Tim Duncan era. Speaking of Duncan: the Spurs captain, and both defensive and leadership anchors, watched the game from San Antonio as he was sent home two days before the game to get treatment on the right knee that has been plaguing him this season.
In fact, the team should have called Ghostbusters, since their key players were in the ether.
Thirty-three-year-old Tony Parker could not keep up with the 27-year-old Stephen Curry. No one could, including Defensive Player of the Year and star two-way player Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was held to only 16 points during the game, and then there was this:
LaMarcus Aldridge, deemed to be the biggest offseason prize, didn’t come within sniffing distance of being worthy of the $84 million contract the Spurs bestowed upon him.
He only had five points throughout the whole game and showed why the Spurs sorely missed Duncan’s presence: Aldridge guarded the rim like he was a sieve, allowing the Warriors to slip through his porous defense to score again … and again … and again. Only David West showed up, but he alone wasn’t nearly enough to stop the onslaught of the Warriors’ hyper-paced game.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) January 26, 2016
Of course, the Spurs will be the Spurs and use this game as a teaching moment. Indeed, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News reported that the Spurs forewent their usual shootaround in preparation for their upcoming home game against the Houston Rockets, in favor of watching film from the Bloodbath by the Bay.
The Spurs found out the hard way that, as far as this season is concerned, they still have some work to do in order to get to Golden State’s level, and I have no doubt that they will solve the current season’s puzzle that is the Warriors. But what about the next season?
Jan 14, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) reacts after a shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The most pressing issue is that of the point guard position. Parker is under contract with the Spurs through 2017. He has gone on record with Marc Spears at Yahoo! Sports as saying that he wants to play another five years and retire as a Spur, while telling Sam Amick of USA Today Sports that he wants to provide the same mentorship to the younger players that Duncan and Ginobili provided to him and others.
“The way Timmy and Manu help all the young guys, I want to do the same thing too, you know?” Parker said. That’s great, but his production has been iffy this year so far, although he has mostly delivered when needed. His hip continues to bother him and, as Monday night showed, he is no longer fast enough to match up against a team as fast as the Warriors.
The good news is that most of the other 29 teams in the league don’t play anywhere near that pace; the closest may be the Boston Celtics. The bad news is that the Warriors aren’t going anywhere, not anytime soon, and their pace will probably stay at least as frenetic as it is now.
With Parker resting his hip, the onus tends to fall upon Patty Mills as his primary backup. The three-point-bombing Aussie has bounced back from shoulder surgery last summer and been an important part of the “Juice Unit,” the energetic second unit off the bench. He can still set up his teammates and his three-point stroke is still valid. Mills is serviceable, but he’s not Parker in the paint.
He can’t cut and evade defenders to get to the rim and score.
Ginobili is Ginobili, but I think he’ll roll out when Duncan does. Duncan’s decision to re-up had a significant influence on Ginobili’s decision, and vice versa, although the latter still had the desire to play as well.
— Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) July 6, 2015
Danny Green’s three-point shot has been way off this season but he’s good on defense (except Monday night), so he does still contribute until his shots start falling with consistency. He also managed to break Bruce Bowen’s record of three-pointers made for the Spurs franchise during his slump, so there’s that.
But again, he can’t contribute what Parker can; his primary role is that of a three-and-D specialist.
Ray McCallum has some skill, and has started for Parker when he was out, but he needs more seasoning; he’s a third-year player who mainly rode the bench for the Sacramento Kings prior to being acquired by the Spurs.
Any of the above are solid choices to back up, or maybe even replace Parker eventually, but it’s going to take time to get them anywhere near his level. That’s time that the Spurs may not have, at least when it comes to vying for the 2016 championship.
I advocated earlier for the Spurs to somehow get Austin Spurs player Bryce Cotton back to San Antonio, as he would be able to immediately come into the game for Parker and play at a more specific level than McCallum or even Mills. Unfortunately for the Spurs, Cotton has allegedly opted to leave the D-League and chase more lucrative pastures overseas in China.
There has been no official confirmation of this from mainstream sources, but Cotton’s name has been removed from the team’s roster. I suppose a deal could always be made down the road, and Cotton could be brought back from China if he is indeed headed there, but I’m not holding my breath right now.
Love it or hate it, Parker is the motor that makes the Spurs go; if he is not healthy, the Spurs will struggle. It’s not normal for the Spurs to be active during the midseason trading period, but they may address this glaring issue before Feb. 18, which is about a month before the next meeting with Golden State.
I will continue to be concerned but, like all true Spurs fans, will continue to “Trust in Pop” and wizard general manager R.C. Buford.
Check back with me later when I address the issues with the big men on the Spurs roster in part two of this report.
Originally published at hoopshabit.com on January 28, 2016.