It’s early, but Derrick Rose only has a 5.1 PER and the perviously defensively-stout Memphis Grizzlies are surrendering 105.1 points per 100 possessions. Tyreke Evans looks lost, Josh Smith still thinks he can shoot threes, the Denver Nuggets are an absolute mess, and the Dwight Howard/Omer Asik pairing, is neither pleasing statistically nor visually.
The season is young, but that doesn’t make these concerns any less real. That some of the troubling trends can be attributed to the small sample size caveat is of little comfort, because that sample could just as easily portend doom as it could be an outlier.
This is normal, of course. The early part of the season is when concerns most often rear their heads, giving the team the rest of the season to address the issues.
Sometimes, the fix is easy: running a player off screens so he can get the ball on the move, adjusting the pick-and-roll defense, moving one player to the bench and another to a starting spot to provide better offensive spacing, and so forth. But what of the larger issues, those that aren’t easily assuaged by a simple schematic adjustment?
“Concerns and worries are always there,” Gregg Popovich said at shootaround before the November 5th game against the Denver Nuggets. “But no facet of the game becomes perfect — whether it’s shooting or turnovers or giving up offensive boards or getting back in transition — you stay on top of everything in hopes that you get better and better in all areas.”
Yes, even the Spurs — well-oiled, lethal machine of precise execution that they are — carry their fair share of worries.
Manu Ginobili’s early season numbers — shooting 19% from deep, a 46% true shooting percentage and 14.3 PER — have done little to mollify the anxiety that his performance in last year’s finals were less of an aberration and more a presage of his decline.
Last season was Tim Duncan’s 16th, and also one of his finest. At an age in which most players consider retirement, Duncan averaged nearly 18 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game. Yet, despite Duncan’s appearance as an ageless wonder, no amount of managed minutes can forever stall the effects of time and age.
Danny Green entered yesterday’s game against the Knicks shooting just 30% from three, a sharp decline from his 42% clip last season. Will his six-three-pointers outburst yesterday prove to be the game that breaks his slump? The answer isn’t important — even if yesterday’s performance gets Green back on track, the worry that his shot could leave him once more persists.
“The concerns never leave,” Popovich said. “One hopes that they dissipate over time, but they don’t alleviate themselves.”
No team is free of worries. Basement dwellers and perennial contenders alike have sets of tensions that range from easily addressed to unfixable. Popovich may be one of the greatest coaches of all time in the NBA, but even the best coaches, Popovich included, can only do so much to allay the fears that constantly surround a team. Ultimately, hope, chance and luck play a large role, larger than any coach likes, in the exacerbation or mitigation of those concerns.