San Antonio Spurs: 5 Bench Players Who Need to Step Up for Gregg Popovich

Garrett Jochnau@@GarrettJochnauCorrespondent IIMay 23, 2012

San Antonio Spurs: 5 Bench Players Who Need to Step Up for Gregg Popovich

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    The Spurs finished off their second playoff sweep on Sunday and will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in this year's Western Conference Finals.

    The two teams are some of the best in the league, and the overall matchup will be very exciting. However, much can be said of the individual matchups as well. Each team has talented players filling each position, and the ones who out-compete their opponent will surely lead their team to victory.

    One of the Spurs best aspects is their deep bench. With more talent in the reserve spots than any other team in the league, their bench play will look to exploit the Thunder's lack of depth.

    The bench has been spectacular thus far into the playoffs, but to guarantee a win, even more is needed.

    These five players need to focus and play harder than before in this following series. While they have been good already, they need to be even better. Who knows? Maybe it will decide the series.

Matt Bonner

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    Three-point shooting has been one of the Spurs' strongest aspects of their very diverse game. Their high points-per-game average is due largely to their dominance from behind the arc.

    The team, in essence, is loaded with three-point shooters. Players from all positions have been seen to knock down a long-range shot. From Gary Neal to Danny Green, the guards have no trouble from downtown.

    However, this is expected, as guards are known to thrive on those deep shots. What makes the Spurs so unstoppable are the other guys who make a living from beyond the arc. Boris Diaw has been no stranger to the "three ball", but perhaps no Spur is more comfortable than Matt Bonner.

    Often referred to as the "Red Rocket", Bonner's game solely relies on his ability to knock it down from long-range. 

    He led the league in three-point percentage last year, and while his numbers have taken a slight drop this year, he will never pass up the opportunity to shoot an open three.

    If the Spurs want to continue having the best three-point shooting of any remaining squad, Bonner will need to be scoring decent numbers.

    Three-point shooting is really all that he can do, but Pop seems to love him anyway. If the threes aren't falling, then he is completely useless, so he will need to produce from beyond the arc in order to prove that he deserves time, as well as help his team reach the Finals.

Tiago Splitter

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    The Spurs often find themselves on the "shorter" end when matching up with teams. Other than Duncan, the only player close to 7'0" is Tiago Splitter, the 6'11'' Brazilian center who is finishing up his sophomore campaign. 

    Splitter has contributed in many ways to the team, often providing it with a new set of legs during Duncan's periods of rest.

    He has been terrific this postseason, posting decent numbers despite playing only 16 minutes per game. While he has been great for the team, the Spurs need him to be even better.

    In order to win the series, winning the big-man matchups are key to the Spurs' success. With Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka leading the front court, and players like Nick Collison providing height off the bench, the Spurs need all of the help that they can get to win these matchups.

    This means that Splitter needs to take advantage of every opportunity, both on offense and defense. Free-throw shooting is key too, as he has been poor from the line.

    He needs to step it up and sink a few to ensure that the Spurs don't miss out on free opportunities from the charity stripe.

    Defensively, he needs to be a force in the middle, and contest anything from in the key. Russell Westbrook led all point guards in points from the paint, so Splitter will need to control that area, so Westbrook does not have a field day from inside the lane.

Gary Neal

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    Neal was a major contributor in last year's short run, especially with his game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

    Now, he needs to keep up the intensity in this year's postseason. His matchup will most likely be Derek Fisher, the veteran backup point guard for Oklahoma City.

    Neal is perfectly able to outplay Fisher—whether or not he does so is another story. Like Bonner, he needs to light it up from beyond the arc, a shot that he is very comfortable with. 

    He also needs to make sure that the Spurs don't fall behind during Parker's rest periods, which means that he needs to contain Westbrook, while also putting together an impressive offensive performance.

    He can drive, and has almost mastered the floater, but every move needs to be near perfect in this series. He will need to play with a high IQ and limit the turnovers.

    He can also play at the two, and is a good compliment to Parker. He needs to come up big this series, as it will be very surprising if the games are not close.

    Hitting the dagger at the end of games is his specialty, and if the Spurs need a last second three, he should be comfortable being that guy.

Manu Ginobili

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    The Spurs Big Three has established itself as one of the best in league history. They have won three championships together, and seem to improve every year.

    Manu Ginobili is no exception.

    Despite dealing with an injury, and seeing a slight drop in numbers, Ginobili still makes contributions to the team that cannot be seen on paper. 

    Coming off of the bench, Ginobili provides an offensive spark, as well as energy that helps revive the Spurs, if they begin to tire.

    However, while his "sixth-man" talents may have gone unmatched prior to this series, his matchup in the Western Conference Finals will be as difficult as it gets. James Harden won the Sixth Man award this year, and despite coming off of the bench, he has been the Thunder's third best player.

    Like Ginobili, he completes the trio while providing fresh legs off of the bench. He also has a very old school feel to his style of play, making the matchup even more exciting.

    Seeing two similar players with similar roles on their teams square off will be exciting, and if the Spurs want to win, Ginobili needs to not only match Harden's efforts, but surpass them as well.

Stephen Jackson

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    It is a fact as plain as daylight. Kevin Durant is nearly unstoppable. Emphasis on the "nearly." 

    He is the best scorer in the NBA, and probably the league's second best player, if not the first. In order to win the series, the Spurs need to do one thing: contain Durant.

    However, this is far from an easy task. Kawhi Leonard is a fantastic perimeter defender, but he alone cannot minimize Durant's contributions. 

    Stephen Jackson, who the Spurs recently acquired at the deadline, is the team's backup small forward and potential defender of Durant.

    He and Kawhi will share time at the small forward position, and in those minutes, it is crucial to make sure that Durant does not take over.

    Jackson's height (6'8'') makes him an ideal size to guard the 6'9'' Durant, and his long arms and terrific perimeter defense allow him to fit the role needed to stop him.

    However, he will need to contribute offensively, too. He recently became a pass-first player, which has opened up many chances for open threes or mid-range jumpers. He also has been knocking down shots at a high percentage, and must continue to do so in order to keep the Spurs in it.

    Lastly, he needs to provide the energy that the team often lacks. His competitive nature allows him to provide that spark of energy that gets the team going from the start.