Spurs Finally Win In Portland; Not Coincidentally, I Wasn’t At the Game: Draw Your Own Conclusions
When Gary Neal is an old man somewhere, sitting on his porch with his grandkids, and they ask him about his days playing in the NBA, he’ll pull out his handheld 3D Hologram device and call up the 4th quarter of last night’s game in Portland.
And when Spurs fans bitch and moan about Neal for any reason (mostly for his lack of real PG skills, even though he is not a PG), they should also refer to last night’s 4th quarter. This is why he is on the team; this is his NBA destiny.
Gary is a superlative shooter and scorer, but when he ‘catches fire’ (like last night), it’s pretty incredible. Is there any other player on the team that you feel more confidence in his shot when it is in the air than Gary? Last night he had every trick going, and was wreaking so much havoc that the Blazers double teamed Neal at the end of the game. Read that sentence again; I’ll wait. Gary. Neal. Was. Double. Teamed. Duncan no longer commands a double team; Ginobili and Parker rarely see them. Gary Neal saw one last night. (And in perhaps the most important play of the game, made a great pass out of a double team to Ginobili that ended up in Duncan’s hands for a lay-up at a critical juncture late in the game. He has some PG skills.)
The comparison that is most commonly thrown around for Neal is Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson (because he can heat up so quickly off the bench). I never really saw Vinnie play, so I’m only going off what I heard. Last night, Sean Elliott made the same comparison. This is the role best suited for Neal, and one that he will hopefully be able to play more than back-up PG.
This was doubly highlighted last night by Mills insertion into the starting line-up (due to Parker’s illness). Mills is a player; he’s better than a 12th man off the bench. He’s probably not quite a starting-level PG in the NBA, but he’s certainly a high-quality back-up. He can shoot the lights out, he’s lightning quick, he’s a good passer, and he is an absolute pest on defense. I actually love the thought of him with the second unit, wreaking havoc on opposing team’s back-up PGs. He puts so much pressure on the ball, that once the team gets into their offense, they have often already used up 10-12 seconds of the shot clock. There is tremendous value in always forcing teams into short possessions.
Once everybody is healthy and available to play, it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Mills seems the best option to back-up Parker, yet we still need to find minutes for Neal (as he clearly showed last night). But we already have Green starting, and a certain Manu Ginobili coming off the bench at the 2-Guard. How will Pop find minutes for all of these players? A thought I had last night was that Neal might be best utilized in line-ups that don’t have any of the Big 3, for those 3-4 minute stretches when we try to give them all rest. Make him the focus of the offense, give him 3-5 shots per stretch, and see what happens.
Either way, it’s an embarrassment of riches worth having, and one that Pop will certainly utilize well.
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