D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images
New threesome in town makes life a lot easier for the Spurs
By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Dec 22 2008 6:38PM
SAN ANTONIO -- In a lot of ways, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are the Spurs. But another threesome almost unknown outside of San Antonio is just about equally as responsible for the Spurs' current standing as one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Roger Mason, George Hill and Matt Bonner are regulars in Gregg Popovich's rotation for the first time this season. They'll be sharing the spotlight with the more senior threesome Christmas Day in a Western Conference dustup in Phoenix.And, if you listen to Popovich, they're going to be around for awhile.
"They're going to get my confidence because that's the way we'll be the best team we can be," Popovich said of his new threesome. "I'll have to live through some mistakes here and there, and some teaching moments.
"[But] George Hill is our backup [point guard]. Roger Mason is going to play and Matt Bonner is going to play. They'll have to play badly for 37 games in a row before I change anything."
Popovich may have a hard time counting past one. Each of the three has been in the starting lineup at one point or another this season after arriving in San Antonio with different expectations. Hill began as a rookie project. Mason was a free-agent consolation prize. Bonner was a trade throw-in three years ago. No one cares about that now.
The Spurs saw Hill, a product of tiny Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, as a possibility with the 26th pick in the 2008 Draft. When a couple of other bigger names went off the Draft Day board, the Spurs grabbed the 22-year-old shooting guard with the intention of moving him to point.
"[Popovich] thought I could bring youth to them and make them better right away," Hill said. "That's what I really try to focus on when I'm out there -- going hard and doing the best I can defensively first, and offense comes."
Still, the 6-foot-2 Hill didn't exactly light up the NBA summer league. His struggles -- 2-for-25 shooting in his first three games -- actually had the Spurs reassessing their plans to make him the backup to Parker and veteran Jacque Vaughn.
"He had a tough summer league," Popovich admitted. "But once the lights went on and the real games came, he showed he can play."
Roger Mason Jr. has found a steady role this season as a member of the Spurs.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images
Mason, 28, wouldn't be in San Antonio had Corey Maggette signed with the Silver and Black. It wasn't any secret that the free-agent scoring machine from the Clippers topped the Spurs' wish list. Even Mason knew it.
"They were very clear I was their No. 1 option, if they didn't get Corey," said Mason, who played for the Washington Wizards the previous two years. "They made it known pretty early on they wanted me, but they wanted to see if they could get him first."
Maggette got his mega-millions in Golden State, and when the Spurs signed Mason, they unearthed another sleeper who's fitting into their well-defined system. The 6-foot-5 Mason helped carry the offensive load, as did Hill, when Parker and Ginobili were out. Mason quickly established himself as one of the league's best 3-pointer shooters this season.
"The coaches have done a good job of putting me in position to get some good looks," Mason said. "And I've been able to take advantage of it."
Bonner, 28, didn't stand out for anything other than his red hair in his first two seasons in San Antonio. This season didn't start out well, either, when the 6-foot-10 forward/center registered a DNP-CD on Nov. 12.
That seems like a season ago. Bonner is now starting alongside Duncan in the frontcourt, showing off a nose for rebounding and a nice 3-point stroke. He's settled into the role once occupied by Robert Horry.
"Matt's done a wonderful job for us," Popovich said. "He's gotten the minutes that Robert used to get and he's really played well."
Much of San Antonio's success for the rest of this season -- and ultimately in the playoffs -- may be in the hands of Hill, Mason and Bonner. That's something that the senior threesome understands fully.
"They've been huge and we are all very happy with the way they are playing," said Ginobili.
"Just a great situation," Duncan said, "where you can look back at the beginning of the season where these guys got more time and got a little more comfortable being on the floor because of that."
Bonner, though, was quick to put his role, and the role of Hill and Mason, into perspective. The Spurs, after all, are the Spurs for a reason. "It's a pretty easy gig, because you've got Tim, Tony and Manu," Bonner said. "They attract a lot of attention."
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