For instance, wasn't Spurs center Tiago Splitter(notes) supposed to be a rookie of the year candidate? Wasn't he supposed to perhaps put San Antonio over the top, as the team tried to return to the finals for the first time since 2007? Coach Gregg Popovich's team actually has the best record in the NBA, but that's not because of Tiago's play; because the Brazilian big man is averaging just over four points and two rebounds in 11 minutes of play.
So why the slow start? Well, Splitter had a very busy summer, full of international ball, writes Andrew A. McNeill of the Spurs' blog 48 Minutes of Hell, but that's not the end of it.
"He had some things break down while he was in Europe and then he came here and had the problem with his calf," Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the season. "I think all in all, his body is probably just telling him to take a break.
"So we don't want to bring him back and stick him out there for an inordinate amount of time."
Splitter missed most of training camp, valuable learning time that he is unable to recreate with the season underway.
"Missing training camp really hurt," Coach Pop said. "There's so many things that I'd like to do during the game that he's not going to know what exactly he should be doing."
I chatted with Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Barry Hecker before the Spurs' win on Saturday night about a number of things. Speaking about player development, Hecker talked about how little NBA teams get a chance to practice, saying that there's almost no 5-on-5 scrimmaging during the season, especially for a veteran team like the Spurs.
Coach Pop agrees with Hecker's assesment.
"Practices in the NBA aren't what you might want them to be or as available or often as one would like," Popovich said.
Erring on the side of caution, fatigue, and playbook know-how. Sounds about right.
This doesn't mean that Splitter won't work as a fantastic high-low option with Tim Duncan(notes) soon enough, or that the Spurs are busting heads mainly because of DeJuan Blair(notes). But it does mean you might have to wait until ... well, I don't know how long you'll have to wait. Because coaches like players to know the plays and rotations, and (especially with San Antonio's vaunted Rodeo Trip coming up in a few months) there just won't be a whole lot of time to practice as the season moves along.
The playoffs, though, could be an entirely different matter.
- Gregg Popovich