Each San Antonio Spurs Player's Best Basketball Skill
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The San Antonio Spurs are a team of many talents. Every single player has his role, as well as the appropriate basketball skills to bring to that role. The front office often likes to sign players who fit with the team's system and culture, rather than just the most talented players.
However, every player, from stars like Tim Duncan all the way down to role players like Nando De Colo, has one particular area where they really make their money on the basketball court.
So let's look at the best basketball skill for each player currently under contract with the Spurs.
Players will be listed alphabetically by last name.
Note: All statistics used are found on Basketball Reference, unless otherwise indicated.
Aron Baynes: Physicality
Check out the very first play in this video to catch a glimpse of Baynes' physicality.
Ironically, we lead off the article here with the player who has the least NBA experience on the Spurs.
Aron Baynes played just 16 games for the Spurs last year, but it's not too soon to pick out what his best skill is. Baynes is strong and he isn't afraid to be physical.
The above YouTube video captures this, with Baynes' powerful dunk on the Bobcats that was actually the first basket of his NBA career. On the next play in the video, he blocks Ramon Sessions' drive with a powerful swing of the arm.
Another example of Baynes' physicality is his guarding of Dwight Howard (video from YouTube) in the Spurs' first-round series against the Lakers. Even though he is guarding the league's best center, he doesn't give an inch and even causes some frustration fouls from the All-Star big man.
In the future, though, he will have to learn to curb his aggressive a little bit. Last season, he averaged 5.9 fouls per 36 minutes.
Marco Belinelli: Spot-Up Three-Point Shooting
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With the San Antonio Spurs, I expect that number to increase.
In a system where Danny Green, Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard all took their three-point games to new heights, Belinelli should also thrive. During his time with the Bulls, Belinelli was getting set up from point guards Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Neither player is a bad passer, but they certainly aren't known for it.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will help Belinelli reach his sharpshooting potential with their pinpoint passes for open three-pointers.
Unlike Gary Neal, the player he is replacing, however, Belinelli is somewhat capable finishing at the rim and defending his position.
Make no mistake, though—this guy is a sniper.
Matt Bonner: Spot-Up Three-Point Shooting
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Despite being 6'10" and playing power forward, Matt Bonner shoots a lot of threes.
In fact, in 2012-2013, more than 52 percent of his field-goal attempts were three-pointers. And that was an even a low year for him—the previous year, that figure was 71 percent.
Thankfully, Bonner is very good at spotting up for three-pointers, or else he wouldn't be worth much as a player. He isn't strong, he doesn't have a post game and he doesn't have much athleticism (although this dunk on YouTube might suggest otherwise).
According to Vorped, Bonner shot 46.3 percent on three-pointers from the top of the key or from the wings last year. He prefers those spots to the corners, unlike some of his teammates.
His shooting motion is slow and quite unorthodox, which prevents him from being an effective pull-up shooter, but the Spurs don't need him to do that.
Catch, shoot, score. That's Bonner's role.
Nando De Colo: Passing
De Colo can make difficult passes like this one look easy.
Unlike Matt Bonner before him, Nando De Colo's best skill isn't quite as obvious.
He has a decent shot (37.8 percent from three), quick hands (1.6 steals per 36 minutes) and moves well without the ball.
But if I have to pick De Colo's best skill, it would be his passing.
His numbers won't wow you (5.4 assists per 36 minutes), but his passes have zip on them and are often of the creative variety, like the above dime to Tiago Splitter. Notice how De Colo keeps his eyes up the whole play and knows where his teammates and opponents are on the floor.
If he gets more playing time than the 12.8 minutes per game he got last year, get ready for many more nice passes from De Colo.
Boris Diaw: Versatility
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It would be easy to just say Diaw's best skill is his passing. He has averaged 4.7 assists per 36 minutes during his career, which is very impressive for a guy primarily playing power forward.
But Diaw's versatility is even more impressive.
At the beginning of the 2012-13 season, Jeff McDonald from Spurs Nation brought up a quote from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, about Diaw:
"He's a very skilled player. He understands the game really well, and he's skilled in all areas—passing, shooting, dribbling. Being able to play some 3 and some 4 has helped us get through."
But it's not just his offense.
Diaw was very successful guarding LeBron James in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports noted that James shot just 1-of-8 with Diaw on him during that game. Very remarkable, considering Diaw predominantly guards post players.
Tim Duncan: Interior Defense
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High block totals can often be misleading for NBA big men. These big men can be mistaken as elite defenders, when, in fact, they are just good at swatting away the shots of perimeter players that drive the lane.
Tim Duncan is not one of those guys.
Yes, Duncan was No. 3 in the NBA in blocks (2.7 per game) last year, but don't mistake him for one of those overzealous, undisciplined shot-blockers. Duncan really is a top-notch individual defender, as evidenced by his league-leading 95.0 defensive rating in 2012-13.
And, unlike some of those other guys (*cough* Larry Sanders *cough*), Duncan avoids fouls, an often-overlooked statistic for shot-blockers.
Tim Duncan is good at a lot of things, but he is the best at defending the paint. In fact, no one in the NBA is better at it than Duncan.
Manu Ginobili: "Manuverability"
Manu Ginobili's tricky moves with the ball and his body make him a tough cover.
When I think of Manu Ginobili, the first thing I think of is body control.
But considering Ginobili's first name worked so well with a synonym of body control, I just had to use the synonymous word instead.
Other candidates for Ginobili could be his improving passing skills and basketball IQ, but Manu's "manuverability" is too great to ignore.
In the above video, Ginobili showcases his maneuvering ways with a couple of nice fakes in the plays starting at the 0:23 and 1:03 marks of the video. Ginobili has a way of making his body look exactly like he is going to shoot a three, but he doesn't. In the second of these plays, he squeezes his body between two defenders, and gets the and-1 basket.
Ginobili is also the master of the "Eurostep," a move where he picks up his dribble, takes one step in one direction and the second step in a different direction to lose a defender. He shows off this ability in this video from YouTube.
Danny Green: Spot-Up Three-Point Shooting
I realize there are lots of good spot-up shooters in the NBA, but Danny Green made A LOT of threes on the biggest stage.
In my opinion, Danny Green established himself as the premier open spot-up three-point shooter in the league with his scintillating performance in the NBA Finals.
The above video shows all 23 of Green's record-breaking threes in that series.
Stephen Curry is definitely the best overall three-point shooter, I realize. And Ray Allen is better historically and when the shots are contested, but Green is more automatic on open shots than Allen is right now.
Before Games 6 and 7 of the Finals, Green was a dazzling 25-of-38 (65.8 percent) from three-point land in the series. After the Heat started making a more concerted effort to give him no room to shoot, Green hit just 2-of-11.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that he is still lights-out from anywhere on the court when given some space.
Green's strong perimeter defense might have been the choice here if it weren't for his 27 three-pointers in the Finals.
Cory Joseph: Defensive Activity
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Cory Joseph is not a starting-caliber point guard yet, but he has some skills that are ready for starting duty.
The biggest one? His defensive activity.
According to NBADraft.net, University of Texas head basketball coach Rick Barnes called Joseph the best defensive guard he's ever coached.
Fortunately for the Spurs, Joseph has transferred this skill to the NBA.
In this YouTube video of a game against the Pistons, Joseph is all over the place on defense and seems to have great awareness of what is going on around him. Notice, in particular, the first play of the video as well as the plays starting at 1:28 and 2:16. Joseph is both fundamentally sound and athletic enough to shut down talented offensive guards like Brandon Knight.
In 2013-14, look for Joseph to establish himself as the Spurs' primary backup point guard and show off his defensive ability for longer periods of time.
Kawhi Leonard: Defensive Playmaking
Kawhi Leonard loves to stick his long arms and huge hands in passing and dribbling lanes.
Kawhi Leonard has a very diverse skill set, which makes it tough to pick out one particular area where he excels the most. In the end, it comes down to his rebounding or his defensive playmaking.
Although Leonard averaged double-digit rebounds in the NBA Finals, he only averaged 6.0 boards a game during the regular season.
Defensive playmaking it is!
According to a video by ESPN Sports Science on YouTube, Leonard has an insane 7'3.75" wingspan and 11.5" hand width. These physical qualities make it extremely tough on opposing small forwards to get around or shoot over him.
But Leonard complements his astounding attributes with great defensive fundamentals, which he uses to frustrate even the top players in the game.
Even the best player in the world showed some disappointment when he saw Leonard checking back into Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
If Leonard makes an All-Defensive Team in 2013-14, don't be surprised.
Patty Mills: Shooting
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If towel-waving (video courtesy of YouTube) counted as a basketball skill, that would surely be the pick here. Mills has the technique down and he is very consistent, displaying his abilities on every big play by the Spurs.
Unfortunately, it doesn't count here.
Patty Mills is very quick with the ball, but his ability to get hot off the bench is his best on-court attribute. Unlike some of his teammates, Mills is a versatile shooter. Off the dribble or spotting up, it doesn't matter. Neither does distance, as he likes shooting mid-range jumpers as well as three-pointers.
This skill was especially evident at the end of the 2011-12 season when Mills joined the Spurs. He averaged 10.3 points in just 16.3 minutes per game to end that season, to go along with 48.5 percent shooting from the field.
Here is a YouTube video from Mills' best game from that season, in which he scored 34 points and dished out 12 assists.
If Mills gets more than the 11.2 minutes per game he got last season in 2013-14, keep an eye out for his scoring numbers.
Tony Parker: Finishing at the Rim
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Several weeks ago, I wrote an article that ranked Tony Parker's five most dangerous offensive moves. The top three most dangerous moves were all one that Parker uses to finish off drives.
So naturally, that's Parker's best skill—finishing.
Add all this up, and Parker scored 10.1 points per game last season—in the paint. That led all point guards, according to ESPN's Sunny Saini.
Pretty good for a 6'2", 180-pound guy without great leaping ability, if you ask me.
Jeff Pendergraph: Mid-Range Shooting
Jeff Pendergraph has a soft touch on his mid-range jump shot.
Jeff Pendergraph is a great energy guy off the bench.
He rebounds (10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last year), blocks shots (1.2 blocks per 36 minutes) and runs the floor very well for a big man.
But his best skill of all is his mid-range shooting.
J. Gomez at Pounding the Rock pointed out that Pendergraph shot 43.5 percent on jump shots from 15 to 19 feet last season, a very good rate for a big man. The above video from last season showcases this catch-and-shoot ability, as Pendergraph hits five mid-range jumpers in one game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Also worth noting is Pendergraph's excellent free-throw shooting. He only took 23 shots from the line last season, but he made an impressive 21 of them (91.3 percent).
Tiago Splitter: Interior Defense
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Tiago Splitter is a highly underrated post defender.
While he isn't necessarily the strongest or most explosive big man, he is fundamentally sound. His footwork and timing on shot contests are impeccable. This strength of Splitter's showed up in the stats, too—he ranked No. 15 in the NBA in defensive rating, ahead of stalwarts such as Dwight Howard and Mike Conley, both of whom are known for their defense.
Splitter has made significant progress in his post defense since coming into the league. As a rookie, he averaged 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes. In 2012-13, his third year, that number was down to 2.9. This allows Gregg Popovich to play Splitter longer minutes.
Splitter's pick-and-roll screening and finishing were also considered at this spot.