Spurs make power moves to challenge Warriors

This is my Thursday column.

Since the Warriors won the NBA Finals, San Antonio’s moves might have flown under the radar for Bay Area basketball fans. The moves were subtle, but they will affect the Warriors, could affect the Warriors big time.

Let’s back up and examine what the Spurs did.

They agreed to terms with two free-agent power forwards — four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, and two-time All-Star David West. The deals will become official when the NBA’s moratorium on signings ends Thursday.

Why did San Antonio sign those two power forwards? Well, other than the obvious reason — they’re good.

Think of the Spurs’ signings in context of the Warriors, the team to beat in the NBA. To make the Finals next season, the Spurs probably have to go through Golden State. If you were running the Spurs, how would you attack the Warriors? What is their pressure point? Who is their weakest point?

If you answered Draymond Green, you get an A-plus.

If you didn’t answer Draymond Green and you’re shouting obscenities at me through your computer screen, relax. I realize Green is one of the best defenders in the NBA.

But now that the Warriors have traded David Lee to the Boston Celtics, Green is the only power forward left on the team. And he isn’t really a power forward — he’s a tough small forward. He’s merely 6-foot-7.

As good as he is at defending, we’ve seen him struggle against tall power forwards who can shoot. Who can shoot over him. Guys like Aldridge (6-11) and West (6-9).

The first five games of the playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (6-9) scored on Green almost at will. Randolph shot 53 percent in those games. Green couldn’t get his hand up far enough to contest Randolph’s jump shot or his baby hook in the post. The Warriors had no answer for Randolph.

But Green made Randolph work, and Randolph ran out of gas in Game 6, shot 5-for-14. And the Warriors won the series. Randolph couldn’t win four-out-of-seven games against the Warriors by himself.

The Grizzlies had the right idea, but not enough power forwards to make the idea work.

Now the Spurs do. Aldridge and West can keep each other fresh and take turns wearing down Green if the Warriors play the Spurs in the playoffs next season.

First, Aldridge can back down Green, shoot over him and try to demoralize him. Aldridge averaged 26.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game against the Warriors last season. He played like a Hall of Famer.

When Aldridge gets tired, the Spurs can replace him with West, who’s not as good but can bang and bruise Green in the post — soften him up for Aldridge when he comes back in the game.

The Warriors have no power forward on the bench who can give Green a breather against those two because the Warriors have a team full of wing players and centers. Against the Spurs in a possible and now more difficult playoff matchup, Green might wear down by Game 6 — possibly even sooner.

Last season, the Warriors became a championship team and an elite defensive team when Green became the starting power forward. He is the strength of the Warriors’ defense. If the Spurs expose him as a weakness, San Antonio could break the Warriors’ will and take away their confidence, and then series could be over.

How do you like your small-ball lineup now, Golden State?

Small ball is the new trend in the NBA. The Warriors beat the Cavaliers in the Finals with extreme small ball. They benched Andrew Bogut and moved Green to center because he could guard Cleveland’s unskilled center Timofey Mozgov, but Mozgov couldn’t guard Green. Series over. Now other teams want small lineups, too, and the Warriors are the NBA’s trendsetters.

San Antonio doesn’t follow trends — the Spurs lead. They go against the trend. They see through the trend and exploit it.

You can almost hear Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich scoffing at a coaches’ meeting this offseason: “Let the Warriors play small — we’ll play big and we’ll crush them. Draymond Green will beg for mercy.”

I’m not saying that strategy will work, although it might. It’s an answer to small ball and it’s worth thinking about.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

This article has 62 Comments

  1. Nicely written, as a casual basketball fan it provides me with a welcome insight into the NBA.

    But i wouldnt blame the Warriors for believing that they can impose their will against anyone. This was a historically elite team, one that has the genuine potential to be able to sustain their level of play for several years to come. Best since Jordans Bulls.

    1. I enjoyed your Cleese-esque post earlier. I refrained from responding so as not to stir the pot any further; I’m not interested in a War with some guy. Life’s short.

    2. I do not want to get into another dust up, but the Warriors were also lucky last season. They did not have to play SA and the Clippers, and the Cavs were decimated with injuries.
      Still, they have a strong core of players, but it will be hard for them become a dynasty.

      1. The Spurs in the playoffs would have been scary; I’ll give you that. The Warriors have had a hard time beating them for almost the last two decades. This Warriors fan breathed a sigh of relief when they were eliminated.

        But the Clippers? The Warriors only beat them 3 out of 4 times in the regular season, and most weren’t close. They did lose to the Clippers in the playoffs last year, but that was with significant injuries and they still pushed them seven games. Aside from being healthy, this year’s team was much better both offensively and defensively. I cannot fathom why anyone thinks the Warriors got “lucky” by not having to play them. We’ll never know what would have happened, but I have a hard time believing they would have presented a real threat.

        Somehow, I have a feeling that if the Clippers had beat the Rockets, we’d be hearing people say “They were lucky they didn’t have to face Houston!”

        As for the Cavs, yeah, tough breaks for them. If they had Irving and Love, they would have had a better offensive team, but their replacements were much better defenders. Tristan Thompson surely wouldn’t have scored the contract he did without the playoff performance he put in after Love went out. Frankly, I think they’re better with him than with Love, although lack of depth surely hurt them.

        How do games 2 and 3 go without Dellavedova guarding Curry? Could James have been more effective late in games without having to carry so much of the load? The entire series would have played out differently. But would the outcome change? We can only speculate.

        1. OK. Just knew that many pundits said the Warriors breathed a sigh of relief when the Clippers were eliminated, since the Clippers knocked them out of the play offs a couple seasons ago.
          I just said they were ALSO lucky. The Warriors are damn good. They are Champions of the world.

  2. Harrison Barnes, Gerald Wallace, Marreese Speights, James Michael MacAdoo and Kevon Looney can all play the 4 spot.

    David West doesn’t scare anybody offensively.

  3. Nice read Grant.
    I’m a warriors fan, but not the fanatic that I once was. Aldridge and West will make the Spurs a tough out come the playoffs but the warriors just defeated a pretty good team in the finals that featured LBJ, Mozgov and a surprising breakout player in Tristen Thompson.

    The two games that the Cavs won were because Curry and Klay did not play up to their standard. When Curry finally begin to play like he did throughout his MVP season, the finals were essentially over.

    Aldridge and West will make for a formidable foe but if they can’t stop the splash brothers, Draymond will only be a small piece of the puzzle to worry about.

    I saw Ezeli emerging from the shadow of Bogut and he could provide some help in certain packages when playing teams with a good front line such as the Spurs.
    Warriors may also make a trade at the trading deadline to shore-up their front line for their stretch run.

    1. Grant who would you guess would be interested in trading for one of our TE’s and which one is most likely to fetch the most?

      1. Let me change the second part of that question since you already answered it in the article. What do you expect we could get for McDonald.

  4. Grant,

    You’re right about one thing, the Spurs do lead. Last year the Spurs benched Splitter in favor of Diaw. This move sparked them to a championship. U’Ren co-opted the idea from the Spurs. So the implication that the Spurs have never adopted small ball is plain silly.

    You also failed to mention that the Spurs couldn’t afford to keep Splitter, once they signed Aldridge. The net gain of talent isn’t a gain of size, but rather athleticism. They realized to compete with the W’s, they needed to become more athletic, not more deliberate.

    The W’s young players will continue to improve. The Spurs older players will continue to get worse. Older, slower, less explosive and more injury prone.

    I hate to tell you, but Duncan, Parker and Ginobli aren’t going to get any younger in the off season. They also lost Belinelli. He was a very important player for them and one that will not be easily replaced.

    You also failed to mention that Barnes played effective defense at power forward last year.

    You’re a young man, please don’t blindly buy into needing a traditional, back to the basket big to win in the NBA. You need rim protection, but not necessarily traditional inside scoring. Open your mind to the new order in the NBA.

    As Bob Dylan wrote:

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is rapidly fadin’
    And the first one now will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’

    1. “The net gain of talent isn’t a gain of size, but rather athleticism.”

      And skill. LA is a much more skilled player than Splitter.

      1. Grimey,

        Thanks for adding that, I should’ve had that in there.

        My point is that if the Spurs got better, they did so because they became more skilled and athletic, not because they got bigger.

        I also think it remains to be seen how much better they actually are.

  5. Who thinks the 49ers will draft Isaiah Battle in the supplemental draft today?

    I hope they don’t. It’ll only be a matter of time before the suspensions for failed drug tests start showing up.

    1. Coffee, I would give up a 5th for him. Balke has taken chances with troubled players before and we have already two 5ths next year anyway. Not counting more comp picks coming. If he was to enter the 2016 draft he was projected to go end of rnd 1 or early 2.. I think it’s a good gamble for a 5th. Just my opinion. I think if they don’t draft him today they must really like Trent Brown.

      1. Even if they only sort of like Brown he’s still a better bet then Battle.

  6. Battle is a low risk with a decent upside.
    You could never have enough O-lineman as witnessed last season when the team trotted out 7 different combinations at O-line.

    I for giving Battle a shot.

    1. He’s only low risk if they can pick him up with a 7th otherwise I’d stick with Brown. If Battle doesn’t get suspended by the league for drugs he’ll probably get suspended by the team for punching a coach.

    2. Have you looked at his film? He’s a classic waist bender, and his anchor wasn’t sufficient in college. I’d pass….

  7. I’d take a chance on Battle with a 5th. Good athleticism, great size and a lot to work with. Character risk obviously, but with the uncertainty the Niners have on the Oline right now, it’s worth a shot considering he’s still very young. He’s already a very good run blocker much like Davis was when he came out of College. No brainer if he falls that far imo.

    1. Well at least it makes the SD somewhat interesting this year. I like to see the varying opinions. If the team does get him I’d feel a lot better about it if it wasn’t anything higher then a 6th although I agree the odds of him making it out of the 5th are probably low.

  8. PFF on Battle:
    “Battle’s eligibility sparked the major media coverage of this year’s supplemental draft but that Battle is seen as the marquee player available in this class shows how weak a crop this is. Battle is the classic draft conundrum of balancing a valuation of his skills and athletic ability against his on field performance. In terms of overall grade against Power 5 opposition last season 87 offensive tackles earned higher marks and 120 earned higher grades in pass protection.

    The optimism that teams will seek in his performance on the field to match his athletic ability is that Battle did improve as the season went on which teams will hope to see continued with NFL coaching. Battle’s worst three games of the season (at Georgia, at Florida State, vs NC State) all came in his first five games of the season while his best three games came in a row in his final three games (vs Georgia State, vs South Carolina, vs Oklahoma). That upturn was led by a strong second half of the season as a run blocker which saw him earn a positive grade in that facet of the game in six of his last seven games. From Week 7 onwards Battle’s run block grade of +11.8 was the 12th best in college football and it is with that optimism that teams will be selecting Battle.”


  9. Looks like Rams got him in the 5th. Will be interesting to see if the Niners took a shot in that or a later round.

    1. The Rams are desperate for OL assistance, and apparently the 49ers like what they have in house at this time….

  10. Lattimores’ recent pondering on why take a running back with his injuries begs the question, why enter the draft?

    1. I think it’s mainly because he’s a worker Razor. He put his all into making a comeback from those gruesome injury. The problem for Lattimore was that his body refused to cooperate with his mindset.

      1. Yea, I understand why Baalke took him. His mindset/work ethic gave him a punchers chance along with the abundance of picks. What I’m questioning is his insinuation that Baalke was inept for taking him. If that’s the case, then why did he enter the draft?

        1. What I’m questioning is his insinuation that Baalke was inept for taking him.

          Maybe that’s because he believed that he should have been drafted lower or not at all. Lattimore was a comp pick, but he was still drafted in the fourth round, and he might see that as foolish given his injury.

          1. Possible, but I’m not so sure he fully comprehends the dynamics behind real time drafting and Baalkes’ inherent strategy….

            1. Probably not, but then I doubt anyone on the 49ers does. Potentially including York.

    2. I was a big Lattimore fan and was hoping that he would make it onto the field but it was not to be.

      I’m happy that the 49ers gave him an opportunity by drafting him and showed great patience in waiting for his possible return.
      That being said, I believe that ML would have lasted until a much later round. There is the possibility that Latt could have still been on the board in the 6th – 7th rd.

      M.Lattimore could be looked on as a wasted pick, but I like that our Org took a chance on him. Hopefully the Org’s show of a big heart can be turned to good fortune down the road – like this coming season!

    3. Exactly, Razor. It sounds like he was complaining when all he had to do was tell the league no. In 2013 the Niners paid him around $480,000, essentially to rehab his knee. Plus he received thousands in PT. I don’t like the message he’s been sending, unless of course the media has distorted it. Now i’m ashamed he was a Niner.

      1. I think his comments have been taken out of context.

        In the feature article on him it is clear he was fully on board with the rehab and working hard to make it back on the field when drafted and throughout his first season with the 49ers. But when he was cleared for practice in the 2014 off-season he realised his knee was unable to do what he was used to being able to do, and it hurt like heck every day. That was when he realised he couldn’t do this anymore.

        With his comments regarding being drafted I think he was just trying to convey how he didn’t think anybody would draft him due to his injury history, not that Baalke was a fool for drafting him and that Lattimore already knew he’d never get back to the football field.

        1. As usual, Scooter, the voice of calm and reason. I have to admit that I never read the feature article.

          1. George,

            For what it’s worth, I read LM’s comments the same way.

  11. Can you believe it? Don Trump leads all republican presidential hopefuls in the latest poll….lol

      1. I find it interesting that he’s losing corporate support while gaining public support. Sounds like some Americans still respect a man with the guts to say what he thinks. Whoever was responsible for setting up that republican debate for FOX in August should get a promotion. I think it’s going to be must see tv….

        1. Personally I think he’s a clown that is using his stardom to go one step further. He did this previously in order to get a new contract with NBC and he’s most likely doing it again because it’s putting his name further out there which some fools will capatilize on after this circus. I will personally burn all my 49ers paraphernalia if Trump is elected.

          1. LOL, yea he’s a clown, but a rich one. He’s nobody’s fool. For some reason I get the feeling there might be something more to it this time….

            1. We’ll see. Right now I have no reason to vote for him or any of the candidates from both parties.

            2. I do too. At first I thought his entering the political arena was another publicity stunt. Now I’m not so sure. Got to give it more time. As for why he’s doing relatively well in the polls, I think it’s three things —
              1. He’s not a politician. If you think this country has serious problems (I won’t get into what I think they are), common sense tells you the people who have been managing things all these years (politicians) are incompetent, on the take, or both.
              2. He has the guts to say what he thinks, as you point out.
              3. Some of what he says (again, I won’t get into it) rings true.

            3. Trump’s a fraud. He was born into wealth. He drove his father’s business into the ground only to be bailed out by dozens of banks allowing him to defer on nearly $1 billion in debt. His casino went *bankrupt*. I believe that’s a mathematical impossibility.

              1. All of this is true. I myself have never liked him as a person. He’s a successful businessman, though, which no one else running for President can say. If he actually gets on the ballot, it will be a matter of weighing the evils, imo.

        2. That will be about as much fun as a 48 hour Lawrence Welk festival on all TV outlets. Enjoy.

          1. Nah, more like the Yule fire log being on the TV screen every Christmas day.
            Oh look! That area of the log changed to that same glow I’ve seen so many times in the last two minutes. Far out.

        3. Trump’ remarks boarded on racism. If most of America likes what he said, perhaps we’re more screwed up then some say we are.

    1. What Trump has, at this very early date, is name recognition, and he’s appealed to the haters in his party of choice — not that there is anything unusual about that.

      As for making money, maybe we should elect Mark Zuckerberg. He’s made a lot more money than Trump. Oh wait, nether one of them has a clue about building a consensus from the immense diversity that is the USA.

  12. Your only exposing one match up in the game and not discussing Curry, Barnes and Thompson, who I believe have not reached their peaks yet along with Green. Also Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are one dribble away from hitting the old age home.

  13. San Antonio isn’t was it was. Manu, Parker and Duncan are done. This was their last run. So they added two 4s. Big deal. They needed an upgrade at the point guard to position to push teams.
    The teams that give the Warriors fits are long athletic teams. LONG and ATHLETIC. San Antonio isn’t long and athletic. Aldridge makes them better. West slowed down this year and is often injured. That’s why we didn’t want them.
    San Antonio wont make it past the 2nd round without a good point guard. Just like Cleveland couldn’t beat us without a point guard.

  14. Gentlemen,

    Donald Chump is as fake as that birdnest on his head. He is nothing more, nor nothing less, than a front-man, an actor, serving the diabolical interests of misanthropic Swiss banksters. Besides, since when has ‘speaking your mind’ against disenfranchized peoples been considered to be an act of courage, or selflessness.

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