Have you ever thought about how much the great warriors of old times have in common with the great basketball players of today? Okay, maybe you haven’t. Maybe that’s not the first thing your mind jumped to when the latest memo from the boss wasn’t enough to hold your attention today…or when your art history class went just a little too far over your head. It came to my mind though, and really they’re quite similar. Both require an extremely high level of mental fortitude. The preparation and refining of skills in order to achieve success is very much the same. Some rely more on physical advantages while others must excel in a certain area to survive. Then of course, some have both…like Achilles or Kawhi Leonard.

The term pollice verso is a Latin phrase meaning “with a turned thumb” and in Ancient Rome it was used in the context of gladiatorial battles. When a gladiator had fallen and been defeated, the victorious warrior would look up at the crowd to determine the fallen one’s fate. If it was a thumbs up, it meant the crowd thought the defeated gladiator had fought valiantly enough to be spared. The thumbs down was the signal to go ahead and finish him off.

As DJ Khaled would say, “It’s a cold world, dry your back.” Granted, 2018 is puppies and ice cream compared to that, but not in my basketball critique. This is the gladiatorial realm of NBA analysis and only the truest of ballers will be spared. There is no room in my NBA world for those who don’t have what it takes to compete on a championship level.

Considering the 2018 season, I pondered the Spurs roster and put the pollice verso concept to work. Now we already know that the two stars on this team are Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and while it’s safe to say I have very different feelings for each, it is undeniable that they are the stalwarts and that there will be no important battles won without their combined star power. Additionally, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have four championship rings apiece. There should be no question of their championship mettle and there will not be in this piece (not to mention that they’ve both played effective and selfless basketball this season). Those four aside, I dissected the supporting cast and made a determination on their ability to execute their role at a championship level this season, with a verdict of thumbs up or thumbs down at the end.

Let the battle commence.

Danny Green

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on Danny because of a simple fact; he has shown up in the playoffs time after time and he’s a champion with the Spurs. He started on the 2014 team and I know for a fact he has exactly what it takes to play his role at that level. Nonetheless, we of course want to evaluate what we see in 2018, not what the situation was four years ago. But I see nothing but positives in Green’s play this year. Coming off an All-Defensive team performance in 2017, he’s one of the best defensive guards in the league, and he looks confident offensively as well. There’s been a feeling amongst Spurs fans for awhile that Green hasn’t played quite as well offensively in the last couple of years, particularly shooting the three, and I see where that feeling comes from. The offense has shifted over time and he hasn’t looked quite as good in this style, but if anything I see improvement from last year. He’s shooting it well and even putting the ball on the floor a little more frequently. I like the way he’s playing.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Pau Gasol

Interior passing has long been one of my favorite traits of the Spurs, and Gasol truly keeps that tradition alive with his passing ability. When he catches in the high post there aren’t many better at finding cutters, kicking to shooters and playing high-low with another big, and I really enjoy it when the Spurs utilize his skills there. Luckily this has also been an improved season shooting the ball for Gasol, who hit rock bottom during the playoffs last year when he really couldn’t buy a bucket. This season he’s gotten back to his crafty ways, scoring the ball at every level, even shooting the three pretty efficiently. The downside comes on the other end of the floor…the defense nearly sends him to thumbs down territory by itself. At this point he’s just a step above Dirk Nowitzki (I’m sorry but Dirk can literally barely move these days) and I don’t question his effort but it’s just rough when he has to come out and guard anywhere outside the paint. That being said, his other positive contributions are going to save him here. The scoring, passing, solid rebounding and team play/leadership push him across.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Kyle Anderson

Oh boy…Kyle. This is a contract year for “Slowmo” and his role is probably greater now than ever. Some would tell you that his play is better now than ever but I just can’t do that. Since his rookie year I have dreaded it every time he comes on the floor and I hate saying that because I think the dude has some skills, but it’s true. He’s just so slow. I’ve never been able to get over that. You think to yourself, hey, a perimeter player can still be good if he’s slow…but the thing is, Anderson doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter either. That lack of shooting and lack of juice in his step does nothing but bring the team down a notch in my opinion. Those who sing his praises talk about his playmaking and see something similar to Boris Diaw in him and I find that laughable. I’ve just never seen it with him and I can’t lie about that.

Verdict: Thumbs Down

Dejounte Murray

Man, this is really a tough one. This kid’s just 21 years old and he was recently given the boost up to become the starting point guard, which is an enormous responsibility for a player that’s still super raw and still has to develop. That being said, he has the opposite effect from Anderson in terms of the eye test. When he comes on the floor you can feel the energy and you can see the juice he gives the team, which I love. I think Murray has a great future as he continues to improve his jumpshot and refine his point guard abilities under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich and Tony Parker…but that’s not the question. In 2018, right at this moment, I’m just not sure how confident I feel once the fire gets hot in April. I expect that his playoff experience from 2017 will help him and I know for sure that he won’t wilt in the moment. Still though, the guy’s 21 and there are things about that that you just can’t change.

Verdict: Thumbs Down

Patty Mills

After a verdict that was tough on my heart with Murray, I had to bring in one of the highest level championship DNA’s I know of. Mills’ Game 5 performance in the 2014 Finals is an indelible image and one I think still resonates in people’s minds as a hallmark moment in that championship run. That fire still burns brightly in Patty and he brings it every night. You can always count on him to go all out and make the hustle plays and the extra passes that win games. I have always loved to see him come in off the bench because he brings a pace and a team element to the offense that leads to winning basketball. In other words, having Patty on the floor leads to winning. That’s really all that needs to be said.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Rudy Gay

I’ll be the first to admit that I was very skeptical about this acquisition in the offseason. Gay has never really seemed like a winner to me and it’s not so much his play as it is the fact that his teams seem to play better without him for some inexplicable reason. I wasn’t sure how his game would fit with the Spurs but other than the fact that he’s dealt with some injuries, I have to say I’m impressed so far. When he’s played he’s really added an extra punch to the offense and the Spurs needed another guy who can just get some buckets. I think when they picked him up I was looking too deeply and forgetting Gay is really good at that. Anyway, I’ve liked the way it’s looked with him on the floor and I think Gay will be a key factor in the playoffs.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Joffrey Lauvergne

Lauvergne is not a bad basketball player but he isn’t a really good one and the Spurs needed one in the post. I have no problem saying I’ve been sour on this offseason acquisition from the start for the simple reason that David Lee and Boris Diaw are both out of the NBA now, which I find utterly ridiculous. I look at the Spurs from a vision that I want them to win the title this season, that’s how I’ve always looked at it. They’ve always done a good job putting together the roster with only that goal in mind but the only reason I can surmise that Lauvergne is on this team is because he’s younger. The 26 year-old may continue to develop but he looks uncomfortable out there right now and he’s not the quality player San Antonio needs in a backup post.

Verdict: Thumbs Down

Bryn Forbes

Coming from being undrafted in 2016, I think it’s pretty remarkable that Forbes made it to the point of being relevant enough to be addressed in this article, and in such a short period of time. Forbes was a diamond in the rough, this dude can really score. He has a real knack for making plays and he’s a spark-plug in terms of perimeter shooting for the Spurs. He still has a long way to go and a lot of things to improve but I’ll put it this way; I know he won’t get a ton of minutes in the playoffs, only spot minutes. I have confidence that he can execute that minor but important role. Besides, he’s Luca Ginobili’s (Manu’s three year-old son) fourth favorite player, coming in right behind Michael Jordan. How can I not reward that?

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Davis Bertans

This guy fills the hole Matt Bonner left in my heart when he retired. Bertans is an awesome catch and shoot player. That’s all he is right now and that may be all he ever will be. But as evidenced by Bonner, that’s a career in the NBA and a pretty good one at that. In the playoffs the Spurs will put Bertans in if they need to spread the floor and get some quality shooting out there. Bertans will provide that.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

 

So there you have it. Some of these warriors have what it takes to perform in the heat of the battle but there are still some links in the chain that will need to show their worth as the season unfolds. Regardless, I ask- are you not entertained?

 

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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