TORONTO – SPORTS – No matter how many times the San Antonio Spurs are counted out and no matter how many times their window is said to be closing, the Spurs remain amongst the NBA’s elite. Right no they are the hottest team in basketball having rattled off 15 wins in a row as of this writing.
They have surged to first place in the Western Conference and have the best record in the entire league. So why is this so surprising?
It shouldn’t be. After all this is a team that came within a few seconds of winning the NBA Championship last season after losing a thrilling, and heartbreaking seven game series to the Miami Heat.
Yet each and every year people line up to eulogize the Spurs. They’re too old. They’re too slow. They’re too boring. And every season just like Jason Vorhees in the “Friday the 13th” films. The Spurs just won’t die. No matter how many times the media tries to kill them off. There’s one constant in basketball that I’ve learned to live by: never bet against the Spurs. Ever. The Spurs consistency is really embodied by their Hall of Fame-bound big man, Tim Duncan.
The best player of his era alongside Kobe Bryant, Duncan has built an impressive resume of being a four-time NBA champion, two-time MVP, three-time finals MVP, a 10-time 1st team All-Star and a three-time 2nd team all-star. An impressive list of accomplishments by a man who quietly has amassed even more impressive statistics. Duncan is averaging a double-double over his career.
He’s the mark in all but three seasons in the NBA.
This season at 37 years-old and in his 17th season in the NBA, he’s on pace to do it again.
The most remarkable aspect of Duncan’s game is its workmanlike appearance. There’s nothing flashy about it. He’s able to grind it out on defence and offence and make opponents pay down low. He also moves the ball very well for a big man and his instincts are virtually unparalleled in the league.
If there’s a flaw to Tim Duncan’s game, I think he’ll retire without anyone finding it. That’s why he’s called “The Big Fundamental”.
And fundamental basketball is what the Spurs do best. The beautiful thing about fundamentals is that you’re able to use them as building blocks to continue to refine your skills and add new wrinkles to your game.
It’s how a man in the league for almost two decades has remained one of its most dominant players. Duncan seems to add new footwork, different ways of moving the ball, new ways of spacing out for rebounds, etc every season. As a fan, it’s a joy to watch. It’s Duncan’s work ethic that has set the tone for the Spurs throughout his stay there.
Nobody’s followed Duncan’s examples of work ethic and commitment as much as 32 year-old point guard Tony Parker. When the young French guard entered the league, he was a dynamo with blazing speed, able to slash through the lane and drive to the basket like few others in the league. However, Parker had major deficiencies in his shooting. He underwent drastic and intense extra training sessions with a shooting coach to correct them and by the 2005-06 season had made major strides in his jump shot, three point shooting and free throws. Now Parker is considered one of the leagues elite point guards.
Even in his 13th NBA season, Parker can still outpace younger opponents with blinding speed, but he’s added to that speed superior footwork, better shot selection and continually improving ball moving abilities. He’s also got so many more offensive weapons in his arsenal than the “tear drop” shot that he made his name off of in the early years of his career.
Parker, as a veteran, is still an absolute joy to watch play the position and competes as hard, if not harder, as he did as a younger player in the league.
As does Manu Ginobli, the 36 year old Argentinian vet who unbelievably was a 57th overall pick in the 1999 entry draft. Ginobli finally suited up for the Spurs in the 2002-03 season and has been Euro-stepping all over the competition ever since. Ginobli throughout his entire career and been a testament to the importance of footwork and proper positioning in the NBA.
He’s made so many clutch plays for the Spurs over the years just by continuing to be in the right place and the right time. Whether as a sixth man or starter, Ginobli has continued to contribute immensely to the Spurs success. Even after being written off due to a poor performance in last year’s finals, Manu, like his team, is enjoying a surprising resurgence.
So much so that he’s indicated that he will be back for at least one more season with the Spurs next year. With the veterans chipping in and working hard, it’s hard not to see the effects on younger players such as Kawhi Leonard. The third year product of San Diego State plays small forward and stands at 6’7” and 225 lbs.
He’s a great defender and scorer already and he’s coming off a star-making performance in last year’s NBA finals vs. Miami. Leonard is the future in San Antonio and he gets to learn from three of the greatest players in Spurs history in Duncan, Parker and Ginobli, as well as one of the greatest coaches in the NBA Gregg Popovich.
Of his young star, Pop said: I think he is going to be a star. And as time goes on, he will be the face of the Spurs, I think.
At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he is coachable, he is just like a sponge.
When you consider he only had (two years) of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he is going to be something else. And if anyone knows talent, it’s Gregg Popovich.
Since taking over as head coach in the 1996-97 season, Popovich has had a hand in the development of every player in that organization. He’s had a hand in the Hall of Fame careers of Duncan, Parker Ginobli.
Likely the future success of Kawhi Leonard will be in part due to the fact that he had the opportunity to play under Pop. Over his years in San Antonio, Popovich has built an effective system that much like its Hall of Fame big man, has so much beauty in its simplicity. Its resulted in 4 championships and 17 straight seasons of playoff appearances. It’s a simple system that relies on a motion offence.
When its played as well as the Spurs have been doing it, it’s nearly impossible to defend. Generally, it involves a player in motion, usually a guard, going through a set of screens and getting ready to receive a pass or hand off the ball at the elbow. It’s a simple play but leads to so many variations depending on the parts. It invariably leads to high percentage shots and open looks, which in turn leads to points. That’s where the genius of Popovich lies.
He’s able to make so many players fit in that offence and become efficient components of it. Whether its cast-offs like Boris Diaw or Marco Belinelli, or young players like Danny Green or Cory Joseph, every one of them can play a different role and create unique sets in the motion offence. Combine that with the punishing, physical, yet highly intelligent defence that the Spurs play and you’ve got a team that will be competitive for as long as their is talent in place to support the system.
Popovich deserves so much credit for the longevity of the Spurs and should be named coach of the year at the end of this season given how much his squad has exceeded every expectation.
Spurs basketball isn’t pretty to the casual fan. If you want alley-oops and fancy dunks, the Clippers are probably your best bet, but if you want to know how the game of basketball should be played then start watching the Spurs.
In fact, watch the Spurs beat the Clippers in five or six games if they meet in the playoffs. One day Parker, Duncan, Ginobli and even Popovich will all be gone and the Spurs dynasty will likely come to an end.
Their legacy will live on in Kawhi Leonard and other young players and how long they can keep this tradition of excellence going.
However, it’s not over yet. The playoffs are just around the corner and the Spurs are chasing another title.
Don’t bet against them.