We now turn to part three of our first round fall out series, the Spurs, Mavs, and the Pelicans:
-Spurs: The obvious question is whether the big guns, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, are coming back. As a general rule, I am not a fan of the speculation on whether TD or Manu should quit based upon how fans or writers “feel” about the subject. I also think the notion of only going out on top is pretty silly. If the players still want to play and someone still wants to play them, then let it happen. I can understand the concern about dignity of a Hall of Fame player. Ultimately, though, the latter years of burnt out old stars like Moses Malone and Patrick Ewing don’t really make their great years any less great. Do you think of Moses as a dominant rebounder or a guy in street clothes at the end of the Spurs bench?
With respect to Duncan, unless he is just sick of playing, there is no statistical reason to doubt that he won’t still be great in 2015-16. As many have noted, TD’s per-minute stats are ever so gently declining and he is still hugely effective. If given the choice between Duncan and any other center for 2015-16, I would probably choose TD, with possible exception of Marc Gasol. So, yes, Duncan should be back unless he has a burning desire to spend more time with his family or has decided to dedicate his life to arts and crafts or something.
In the case of Ginobili, there are signs of clear decline. His PER fell to 16.2 (career is 21.1) and his true shooting percentage fell to .544%, when he is usually really efficient. The other alarming issue is that Manu’s turnover rate hit a career-high (18.5%). On the plus side Ginobili’s other peripheral stats remained solid.
Going further into the shooting issue, Ginobili’s distribution of shots is fairly stable to career numbers. Rather, he just hasn’t finished around the rim as well as usual. From close in (0-3 feet), he shot .594% versus a career average of .628% (to underscore this point, Ginobili had only one dunk this season, after having 10 the previous season). The other area shooting weakness was further out. On long twos he shot way below average (.250% versus career average of .344%) and his three-point shooting was also down a bit (.345%).
Manu probably won’t improving his finishing around the rim but it is possible that the long range shooting could improve, since those shots are more prone to anomalous results from year-to-year. If Ginobili can improve that shooting, he should be able to put together another season like 2014-15. This would mean he is still an above-average NBA player.
At age-38, though, improving or even holding steady is tough. The argument for keeping Ginobil is multi-faceted: (1) he is actually still relatively productive and the shooting might improve, (2) he was already pretty cheap ($7 million per year), and (3) he is a franchise icon. Assuming he can comeback cheaply, the risk of collapse is low enough to give Manu one more run.
-Mavericks: This is a team in a tough situation. The free agency issues are not simple. Obviously, Rajon Rondo won’t be here next season but Tyson Chandler is a free agent and Monta Ellis is likely to opt out of his final year of his contract (he would earn $9 million). This leaves a core of Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons. To make matters worse, Parsons is having knee surgery that could complicate next season too.
Dallas could just bag competing and try to accrue a draft pick but this isn’t the Dallas Way. Mark Cuban likes having a good team and I’m sure he feels an obligation to keep the team respectable while Dirk can still play. Given these facts, the easiest way to stay respectable would be to bring back Ellis.
Of the two, Ellis is less important. He isn’t really young (he will be 30 next season) and he is not a great floor spacer (he shot a very weak .285% from three). Chandler will be 33 but was arguably the most effective player on the team. He led the team in PER, VORP, Win Shares and BPM (Brandan Wright and Amare Stoudemire had higher rates but didn’t play full seasons in Dallas). Also, you would have to wonder how bad the Dallas defense (20th) would be without him. Chandler isn’t a great risk as an older player but Dallas can’t be competitive without him. Potentially overpaying Chandler is necessary unless a defensive stalwart falls in the Mavs’ lap in the off-season.
As for Ellis, he still has uses as a moderately effective high volume scorer. Bringing him back would depend on pricing (the Mavs got him relatively cheap last time he hit the market).
Keeping Chandler and finding someone to take Ellis’ role, though, is only step one. Dallas must find some useful players in free agency and the draft. Accomplishing all this really just keeps Dallas near its current 50-win plateau—first round fodder with an outside hope that some other star somehow falls in its lap to make the team a contender again. On the bright side, having Mark Cuban always gives Dallas that chance to get another star.
So the plan makes sense but isn’t perfect. Even if Dallas is able to keep all its good vets around at reasonable prices, the plan still hinges on Dirk still being close to a star. Alas, Dirk also showed some signs of decline (19.1 PER and other advanced stats were their lowest since 1999-00). This doesn’t mean Dirk won’t be a star player next year but if he doesn’t stabilize the decline, building a team around him won’t make sense anymore. It is rational to believe Dirk should still be good but Dallas is a team that could do everything right this off-season and still fall out of the playoffs in the west.
-Pelicans: The question here was whether Monty Williams deserved the axe. Williams led the team to its first playoff appearance since the Chris Paul days. In addition, he has presided over a team that has steadily each season since Paul left.
The case against Williams revolves around that terrible defense. How does a team with Anthony Davis rank 22nd in defense? In Monty’s first season (2010-11) he had Paul and Emeka Okafor and managed to have the 10th best defense in the NBA. Since then, they have been 15th, 28th, 27th, and 22nd respectively. The trend suggests that Williams hasn’t been great at that end.
One of the observations made by NBA analysts is that, while most coaches can’t make a offense much better, they can make defense better. The Pelicans should be able to be at least average defensively with Davis and a host of bigs who can block shots like Jeff Withey, Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik.
Going from Williams to a defensive guru like Tom Thibodeau would give huge room for improvement in New Orleans. Williams isn’t a bad coach and certainly has earned his way on to the coaching treadmill with the other usual suspects but the chance at jumping from 45-wins to serious contender makes firing him a good decision.