Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Importance of Being Brent Barry

Happy new year everyone, its been a long break. After a bit of pressure, I decided to return to the blog once more, though I wouldn’t expect daily updates just yet! Lots of stuff has gone on in the NBA, both over the summer and in this still young season. This year is definitely shaping up to be an exciting one. Unlike last year we have a large number of legitimate MVP candidates (the short list includes Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant), the next generation of NBA superstars is finally beginning to emerge in the form of Paul, Howard, and Deron Williams, and while the Celtics are running away with the regular season, there is no consensus on a favorite to win the NBA title. That said, anyone who has been round this blog before knows that my pick is, as always, the San Antonio Spurs, and the team’s recent struggles are what prompted me to start writing ballintellectual again.

People aren’t talking about it, but the big news of the young NBA season should be the fact that the Spurs don’t seem so comfortable. This is not a record issue, the Spurs are holding on fairly securely to a top spot in the west with a very fine 23-10 record. Everything aside from the record, however, should bring concern to Spurs fans everywhere (there are about five of us outside the city of San Antonio). In their last ten games, the Spurs are 5-5, an unheard of streak for them in the past decade. For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, their starters face major injuries. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobli (their MVP), have all missed games this season, and we aren’t even at the all star break yet. Granted, these injuries have been temporary, and considering the track record of the Spurs’ training staff, the Spurs’ big three should remain healthy until June. However, this overlooks the most serious injury facing San Antonio this season, the torn calf muscle of 2-guard Brent Barry.

Barry has been part of the Spurs franchise since the 2003-2004 season, taking over for Stephen Jackson as the Spurs go to spot up shooter. Barry is 36 and is not an offensive force, nor has he ever been. However, besides the big three, no individual piece of the Spurs offense is as important to their success as their shooters, and Barry is a quick shooter who shoots 40% behind the arc for his career.

Why is Barry so important to the Spurs’ success? The answer lies in the ways that various teams most typically defend San Antonio. The line on the Spurs for years has been to make them into a three point shooting team. To beat the Spurs, teams try to pack the middle, stopping dribble penetration from Ginobli and Parker and post-ups from Duncan. In doing so, opponents leave the Spurs open to shoot threes, thus forcing the Spurs to beat them from the outside. Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, San Antonio is adept at spreading the floor and making it easier for their shooters to hit threes, their ability to adapt to opponents’ defensive schemes is a large part of their success. With Barry hurt (and badly), the Spurs lose their best shooter, the guy with the quick release who can stop & catch on a dime, and launch a shot before his man has time to recover from doubling down on Duncan. When teams trap Duncan/Parker pick and rolls, sending Duncan’s man to double team parker when he comes off the screen, it is often the weak side guard (Brent Barry’s man) who is sent to temporarily cover Duncan. This of course leaves Barry open, and he is adept at making teams pay for leaving him open. With Barry gone, the Spurs lose a major dimension to their offense. No longer do opponents have to worry about leaving the weak side guard to pack the paint, the Spurs’ shooters are simply less of a threat.

All of these points aside, I still expect San Antonio, with Barry in tow, to make a comeback when it counts, and tweak out another title. However, this year has exposed cracks in the Spurs’ armor that have never been seen before, and I only hope that RC Beuford sees them too, making the correct roster changes before the dynasty is forced to end.

Tell your friends about ballintellectual! Its good to be back!