The NBA Playoffs have reached that wonderful point in the 2nd round where the true contenders like Cleveland and Golden State have both dominated over the teams that never had a chance of making history like the consistently under-performing Toronto Raptors and the new to the postseason Utah Jazz. The other two series, however, have been great match-ups. In the East, the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are engaged in a chippy and blue collar battle featuring an exciting point guard fight between Isaiah Thomas and John Wall.
In the West, however, exists a more bipolar match-up. In one corner are the San Antonio Spurs; the old guard (haven’t missed playoffs since 1997,) the front-court heavy team that wants to slow the game down (27th of 30 in pace this season.) The Spurs become even more front court heavy with starting point guard Tony Parker out for the remainder of the post-season. They owned the league’s most efficient defense this season as well.
In the other corner is the up-and-comer. Houston barely made the playoffs last season, and this year they won the 3rd seed in the East with a very new roster by playing the 3rd fastest pace in the league driven by their guard play. Their three top scorers (James Harden, Eric Gordon, and Lou Williams) are all guards, and accounted for 52.2% of their scoring average this season. They owned the league’s 2nd most efficient offense this season, and made more three pointers than any other team in NBA History.
Suffice it to say, this match-up has made for a competitive 2-2 series through four games so far with each team both winning and losing two games a piece. The average pace this series, 95.9, has been closer to the Spurs’ regular season pace of 94.2 than the Rockets’ 100.0, but it hasn’t stopped Houston from being the more efficient team (1.14 points per possession vs. 1.11 for San Antonio) so far.
The Spurs, however, have the edge in this series. They have Dewayne Dedmon, a weapon and force the Rockets have not had to face yet. After going to the hospital last night, it appears as though the Rockets’ Nene is out for game five at the least, and their “rim runner” could miss even more time.
It is shocking that a coach with as much knowledge as Gregg Popovich has not put Dedmon in yet for extended playing time. In the series vs. the Rockets, Dedmon has only received 19 minutes in three games. This comes after a series vs. the Memphis Grizzlies in which Dedmon received more minutes (43 in five games,) but still not enough nor as many as he received in the regular season (17.5 per game.)
Trying to get inside the mind of Gregg Popovich, it is understandable that he would try to counter the Rockets’ relative inexperience with the well-traveled LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and David Lee, who have a combined three NBA Championships, 217 playoff games, and 7,287 minutes of playoff experience under their belt, but it simply isn’t working for the Spurs.
San Antonio was able to make it past Memphis in a too-high six games for the talent disparity Memphis faced, but still, Memphis was able to score more points (111.4 points per 100 posessions vs. 107.6 during the regular season,) which simply shouldn’t happen in a series against a high level defensive team. Against a team with a chance to win against San Antonio like Houston, the Spurs need to maintain their defense strength to win, which they haven’t done.
The Spurs big man trio of Gasol, Aldridge, and Lee have been unable to stop Clint Capela, not even an extraordinary player, from having an extraordinary outcome on the series. Capela has been the best big man in this series with 13.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in just 26.7 minutes per game and on 69.7% field goal shooting. Look at the impact Capela is having compared to his teammates as well as San Antonio’s bigs:
Capela has been excellent for Houston. The fact that the Rockets are getting +40 net points per 100 possessions with Capela is unbelievable, but attributable to the Spurs’ tendency to play slow footed bigs in these playoffs. Gasol, Aldridge, nor Lee have the foot speed or athleticism to compete with Capela.
On the offensive end for San Antonio, Capela’s defensive prowess has limited the shooting of Gasol and Lee to just 41.4 and 41.7% from the field, and Aldridge has been neutralized with a -9 net points per 100 possessions as well.
With a road game six in Houston, the San Antonio response to Capela needs to be at the forefront of their game plan for Tuesday, and that starts with inserting Dewayne Dedmon into the rotation at the very least, or what would be most drastic by inserting him into the starting line-up.
Dedmon represents the closest thing to Capela on San Antonio. The 7’0″ 245 pound 27 year old possesses the ability to protect the rim like nobody else on the Spurs, and was statistically their most efficient defender this season. He led the team in defensive rating (99) over the defending two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. He beat Leonard and all but Kyle Anderson out in defensive box plus/minus (+3.2) as well.
Dedmon was by all means a contributor this season; he’s credited with 5.2 win shares for the Spurs, which was good for 5th on the team despite only receiving the 9th most minutes. Dedmon started 37 games for San Antonio this season, and they were 5.3 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Dedmon on the floor.
Dedmon can make a big difference for San Antonio if they play him. Limiting the big man rotation to Aldridge, Gasol, and Lee is not working for San Antonio. They need to integrate a mobile rim protector like Dedmon to neutralize Capela and the Rockets, whose two wins were simply uncontested with 27 and 21 margins of victory.
In the post-Tim Duncan era of San Antonio basketball, the need for defense from the big front court positions as re-emerged. Dedmon is the short term answer at the very least.