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The Curse of the Starting SG

By Jeff Koch on December 23, 2013.

Toronto 99, San Antonio 112

A night after coming from 10 down in the 4th quarter to beat the Thunder in OKC, the Raptors pushed another Western Conference team to the brink on their own floor. On this night, though, Toronto came up just short and the Spurs finally gained some separation in the closing minutes of a hard-fought game.

With the win secure, the most interesting story of the night was the inclusion of Belinelli to the starting line-up, moving Danny Green to the bench. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it seemed to be the first time it was a direct switch of the two players (meaning the rest of the starting line-up was in tact). I’d like to look at this line-up change from a few perspectives with the caveat that I’m in full support of Pop tinkering to his heart’s delight to see what he has with certain players in different situations. The regular season is a laboratory; Pop the mad scientist. It’s always entreating, and often fruitful.

Let’s start with the upside. Marco is clearly having a better season thus far than Danny Green (though Green’s defensive contributions are often overshadowed by his very obvious offensive struggles and mishaps). He deserves more playing time and a look with the starters. Both are great shooters when open, but Marco is a bit more crafty in finding his shot and getting clean looks. Marco is also a better dribbler, and more creative in his passing and ball handling, which is something sorely missing in the starting unit outside of Tony Parker. Right now, all of the creative flair is stockpiled on the second unit, so spreading that around couldn’t hurt. Marco could add some offensive punch and diversity to the starters.

And Green could add some defensive prowess to the bench, particularly playing with Ayres or Splitter as the primary center. The second unit still has Manu, Diaw, and Patty, so there is plenty of creativity, ball handling, passing, and shooting left. Playing with that trio, Danny should be able to find himself available for more wide open shots, and his primary offensive responsibilities would be shooting and ball rotating. With the frenetic style of the bench, Danny’s disruptive defensive tendencies would also be highlighted.

The downside? It seems that most of Marco’s abilities are wasted with the starters, and his 6th sense with Manu and Boris is gone. He becomes at best a 4th option in that line-up, and his creativity has little room to play. Tonight, he seemed to drift a bit, and it’s no coincidence that his best stretch came in the second quarter playing with the second unit. He missed all of his 3s, which in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean anything, because they were still wide open. He just doesn’t seem the same player with the starters. Granted, a little bit of court time could change this.

Green, despite his season-long woes, also seems more at ease with the starters. Playing with Manu and Boris isn’t yet the salve, and, conversely to Marco, his best stretch came in the 4th quarter, mostly playing with the starters (closing the game). Tony and Tim know how to find him open; he just needs to be more patient and know that his openings will come. Also, the starting unit created a powerhouse defensive identity (well earned) last season, and it’d be nice to keep that, particularly with the continuing defensive development of Splitter. That starting five can be a fierce unit with enough scoring punch between Tim, Tony, and Kawhi.

Again, it bears exploring rotational adjustments, but putting Marco with the starters seems to diminish his greatest value to the team, and doesn’t add much with Green. We’ve seen Danny excel with the starters, and hopefully this is just a slump for him to work through. Remember, what we need from Green is defense (still there) and shooting (still there, streaky as ever). Green’s issues haven’t been a decline in shooting, but rather a decline in open looks. The offense will still find him those open looks, it just takes a bit more work and some patience.

It’s great to root for a team whose problem is two quality shooting guards and has the luxury to tinker with rotations.

The Spurs next game is on Christmas Day at home against the Rockets. I want to beat Harden, Howard, and McHale very much.

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