by Mark Deeks
In a sadly one sided series, the Golden State Warriors have taken a 3-0 lead over a seriously undermanned San Antonio Spurs team that has missed Kawhi Leonard for five of the six halves of basketball in the series thus far. Without Kawhi doing everything from the wing, and without Tony Parker at point guard, the Spurs have been left with a team of role players with no one to be role players around. The 108-120 loss in game three was at least far closer than the 100 -136 loss of game two, yet the Spurs have given up 123 points per game thus far in the series and seem to have little hope of stopping the juggernaut Warriors.
No Kawhi, No Chance
The series is all but over, doubly so in light of the fact that Leonard is considered “unlikely” to play in game four. David Lee will also miss game four due to a knee injury, and a helpline has been set up for those affected by his absence. On the Warriors side, Andre Iguodala is likely to play game four after missing game two but playing game three, while Zaza Pachulia is “questionable”, and Kevon Looney is definitely out.
Once it was obvious that game two had been blown open – something that was obvious from about seven minutes in – Gregg Popovich took out Manu Ginobili, ostensibly in the hope of saving him for later in the series. And while it didn’t turn the outcome of the series any, it works in the sense that Manu had his best individual game for a long while. Manu has had a few good outings and big moments in the post-season thus far, but he had not had a 20+ point game; indeed, he had had five scoreless outings, including the first four games versus Memphis. In game three of this series, however, Manu scored 21 points in 18 minutes on only 9 shots. He added two assists and a steal, being the go-to off-the-dribble player the team otherwise lacks without Parker and Leonard. Manu’s legs haven’t got 30 minutes left in them any more – then again, tonight might be the last game of his NBA career, so every ounce of stamina ought to be left out there.
Changing of the Guard
Elsewhere in the backcourt, rookie point guard Dejounte Murray is surprisingly outplaying Patty Mills. We have long called Mills a worthy pick in this space, especially after Parker’s injury, yet he has had a very disappointing series. Despite becoming a starter and getting as many minutes as he can handle, Mills has scored only 17 points all series, taking 24 shots to do so, and although he has turned the ball over only three times, he has also recorded only 10 assists. Murray by contrast has 24 points and 8 assists on 24 shots in 58 minutes compared to Mills’s 91, and so while it is not without mistakes and comes with limitations (he cannot shoot from outside for instance), the reckless abandon with which Murray plays is at least a bright spot off the bench. As a cheap if unreliable pick, Murray may have some value.
With Lee injured and the need to match up better with the endless athletic 6’7 wings of the Warriors, Popovich changed his line-up, benching Pau Gasol and starting Kyle Anderson as a kind-of power forward. And although this did not slow the Warriors down in any noticeable way, this suited both players individually from a fantasy perspective. The always-heady Anderson recorded 6 points (3-3 shooting), 9 rebounds, 5 assists and a block in 20 minutes, while Gasol recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes as a sixth man who was looked for far more on offense. It is expected that this pairing will continue, thus making both picks potentially good value ones, especially Anderson, whose Boris Diaw impression saw him do everything right to keep his spot.
Jonathan Simmons tried to pick up the offensive slack in game three, scoring 14 points in a team-high 34 minutes. Unfortunately, as much as Simmons has boosted his market value with a strong post-season run, higher minutes and offensive responsibility exposes his limitations. Simmons is at his best when running the floor, cutting baseline on every post-up, defending with athleticism and occasionally spotting up. This is his role. But when asked to take players off the dribble or create offense, he is exposed. Simmons took 17 shots to score those points, missing all his three pointers and not getting to the line. He represents good value as a pick and has taken 17 shots in both of the last two games, but his output might not be very efficient.
Warriors Rotation Continues
The Warriors’ continued decision to go eleven deep – they did so again in game three even without Zaza Pachulia, as Pat McCaw instead stepped into the rotation – rather dilutes the fantasy impact of any bench picks, thus making it hard to find sleepers. Amongst the starters, the Core Four of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are known entities and each brilliant in their own way, thus not really fitting of the “sleeper pick” status this space attempts to explore. There is one, however.
In Pachulia’s absence, JaVale McGee started for the Warriors, and had a typically productive few minutes. Doing the thing he has done all season, McGee played less than 20 minutes even as a starter (he hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in any game this season), yet spent that time being typically impossible to defend. And while he isn’t doing anything special, he isn’t doing anything guardable. McGee outruns the opposition, attacks the glass and floats around for lobs, taking advantage of the great spacing and unselfish play of his team. In game three, he scored 16 points on 9 shots in 13 minutes, never touching the ball unless he was taking a shot, and with those shots almost always being assisted looks at point blank range. McGee’s rejuvenation of his career has been very fun to watch, and if Pachulia is out for game four, he will surely again start, score in double figures and score efficiently, all for a very low cost.