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What now?

Just when it looks like we are finally hitting our stride, the basketball fates throw one more curve ball down the pipe, as Tony Parker becomes the latest victim of San Antonio’s ailing basketball karma. In my last article, I said the game in Cleveland was the marker that would indicate the Spurs’ ability to make a run this season; there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that George Hill is as good as Pop’s man-crush would indicate, and Manu’s old and decrepit body hasn’t failed him yet. The bad news is the Spurs are extremely shallow at the guard position, and while we competed honorably against Cleveland (minus King James and in their own house), when we were in position to close out the game, we couldn’t get it done.

Tony Parker’s chances of continuing his dominance from last year were slowed by nagging injuries, which is disappointing, but it makes him much easier to replace when he can’t play. George Hill took advantage of the opportunity and now excels in his new role as the starting point guard. In the 9 games Parker has missed this season, Hill managed to substitute Tony’s average of 16 points, 2 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, with 17.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. George also adds two new elements to the mix; he is a much more aggressive defender and his long-ball is extremely reliable. Making up for the dip in assists, is the master, Manu Ginobili, elevating his season average from a respectable 3.7 to a commanding 7 assists per outing. With Parker sidelined, Manu has also been able to increase his scoring, rebounds, and 3-point percentage. Even the scorned Richard Jefferson has managed to raise his game, and at times, was able to lead the Spurs in some of Parker’s absences earlier in the year. But hiding beneath all of these great improvements is a weakness that wasn’t exposed until now.

Replacing Parker means Pop must commit Hill and Manu to the starting line-up. At first glance it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but as I reveal the new bench unit, the truth will become painfully clear: Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson, and Malik Hairston. If you like suspense thrillers forget about buying a movie ticket, look no further than the Spurs’ bench. Their unpredictability will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. How will they blow this lead? Who’s going to clank the next three-pointer? It is down right terrifying. The leading role in this thriller is, apparently, Roger Mason. Now that Finley is gone, Parker is injured, and Hill is starting, Mason has been elevated from the dog house to sixth man. In 25+ minutes against Cleveland he was 1-10 from the field, 0-8 from deep, and 0-1 from the line; he might be better off staying in Pop’s dog house. Can any explain to me why Mason took 3 times as many shots as Richard Jefferson during the Cleveland game? The second squad is, and should be, the Richard Jefferson show! Look, I love Roger Mason, but I have no desire to watch him hoist up 10 shots a game until he gets his stroke back. We picked up Jefferson for this reason, let the man play!

There is no doubt in my mind the Spurs will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much more than that. Tim has been able to rest and is playing great in limited minutes, Manu is hotter than Ben Roethlisberger’s latest tabloid scandal, and Hill has been a breath of fresh air amidst the disappointments that continue to plague the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, Manu won’t be able to continue his gutsy performances for the rest of the season, he will eventually break down, and the bench might as well be empty. Consider the rest of the season a chance to get to know Ian Mihimni and Malik Hairston, as they look to earn a greater role on the team next year. Spurs fans, through caution and your expectations to the wind; let’s enjoy the rest of the season, it should be quite a show.

P.S. Congratulations to Michael Finley, he had a fine performance in his debut with the Boston Celtics.


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