Monday, June 16, 2014

The Spurs Round Up: I Guess They Aren't Boring Anymore

The Way To Be
Here's something that's going to sound really react- ionary: the 2013-14 Spurs might be the best team in NBA history.

No, seriously.

Let's break it down. The coach, no one's arguing with; five titles in fifteen years in an era of free agency and salary caps is world-class, and that's a simple statement of fact. Tim Duncan is the best power forward of his generation, and the biggest winner now, passing Kobe Bryant. Tony Parker is one of the best point guards of his era, and Manu Ginobili one of the best off-guards. And none of those guys were the MVP of the Finals; that honor, of course, went to Kawhi Leonard.

It's easy to see how there were better than last year's Spurs team, and that outfit was a famous three-point miracle away from winning in six. It seems pretty obvious that this team would have beaten that Heat club, just on the basis of this year's Ginobili being so much better than last year's. (Looking further, consider how much better Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills were compared to 2012-13.)

Do they beat the 2011 Mavs? Well, um, yes; that club rode the last good moments of Jason Kidd, the best work ever by Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler; not exactly a generation-shattering collection of talent. The Kobe/Gasol/Odom Lakers would have been a very difficult task, especially with Phil Jackson's ability to get the better of Popovich much more than most, but that club had real trouble guarding the three-point line against Boston, and the Spurs shoot it better from the arc than Boston did. This brings us back to the Garnett/Allen/Pierce Celtics, and that's a pretty great series battle of who can dictate tempo. I still take the Spurs, though. And now we're back into earlier Spurs teams, or the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or the Pistons, and the game is just too different now with the three-point shots and the international talent, and so on. I know everyone wants to canonize the Jordan Bulls, especially any time anyone compares James to His Airness, but the game is just so different now; much less with hard fouls, much more with movement and three point shooting. If the game is played under 2014 rules, I take this Spurs team to beat anybody.

The biggest reason why? Look at what they did to their competition. The beating that they just put on the Heat was historic. You just rarely see the Finals going to a blowout as often as this did, and the simple fact of the matter is that when Leonard wasn't in foul trouble, they were dramatically better. Tonight, they were up 20 before Parker made a bucket. The Heat couldn't keep separation even after playing their best ball of the season, because the Spurs' depth was just of such quality.

And this wasn't even their most one-sided win in the playoffs.

That honor went to Portland, who got run out of the building in a series that was like this one, in that the longer it went, the more pronounced the beating became. They handled a Thunder team that might have had the best two players on the floor, seemingly had turned the series around after getting back Serge Ibaka, and spent a good chunk of that series without a healthy Parker. The only real problem they had was in the first round, when Dallas took them to the limit, and even that required some pretty damned lucky shots before the Game 7 beatdown.

There's also, of course, everything else. The NBA is frequently boiled down to Heroball. The Spurs don't do that. (With the possible exception of what Duncan did to the Thunder in overtime.) You can frequently predict a series by just going with Team With The Best Player Wins; that's not the Spurs, either. This is a league where coaches are hired out or their uniforms because they were heady point guards, and teams fire Coach of the Year winners within 18 months on average, as soon as they don't get out of the second or third round. Dear Lord in Heaven, the Spurs don't do that at all. Rather than blowing up their aging nucleus, they simply cut their minutes, avoided a player revolt, and got useful contributions from a bewildering array of options. Stars get yelled at. Benchies get fourth quarter minutes if they are better that night. The ball moves, gloriously, consistently, and at speeds that no other team can match or defend. And finally, as the series went on and Leonard got more and more comfortable, they even got good on defense.

If you defend the arc, they penetrate and make. If you have a rim protector, they make shots in mid-range, a lost art in the NBA. (Watch that Houston - Portland series for clarification.) If the starters fall behind, they pull them. No player gets to take them out of the game with an 8-for-30 night because he's The Star. No player gets to conserve his energy for offense, because all five guys can score. Players come here and get better, more conditioned (especially Diaw and Mills), and overcome adversity. I'm thinking primarily of Splitter, posterized for the ages by James last year, stuffing Wade in one of a dozen Clinch Definition moments in tonight's game. And that guy's had his minutes go up and down at Popovich's whim, without pouting.

It's incredibly inspiring, really.

I don't root for the Spurs and never have; I'm a Sixers fan. But by watching this series, I don't have to put all of my hopes that the upcoming draft class has to have a Magic Duncan for my team to be good. Instead, they could find talent from all over the globe, coach them up, keep them together over the years, hire the right coach and spread the minutes to a bunch of useful role players. And absolutely run away with a championship.

That never used to work, and even when it seemed to, it was only in a power vacuum, until some new Jordan or Bryant or Shaq or James came along to end you with his star power. The Spurs have shown the world a better way to build a team, and a better way to play basketball; it's as if the Webber/Divac Kings had beaten the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. (These Spurs are much more mentally tough and better on defense than those Kings teams, of course.) And even if they fall apart with injuries or age or complacency next year, and even if Popovich and Duncan and Parker and Ginobili all decide to walk away, that should stick.

But honestly? I don't think they are going anywhere. If there's an easier situation to be a star player than what the Spurs have got going right now, I haven't seen it. No one seems to be looking for more numbers, chafing under Popovich, looking for endorsement deals, or in any way angry about any damned thing at all. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili might play 50 regular season games next year and be even more ready for the playoffs, with the club still holding a 2 or 3 seed.

You've got hot weather, you're the only team in town, you've got interesting teammates from all walks of life, and you play historically great and beautiful ball. Why would anyone want to leave this?

And more importantly, why would anyone want to make any other kind of team?

1 comment:

Snd_dsgnr said...

Really nice rundown man. I'm not a Spurs fan, I don't look back on game 6 of last years finals and immediately feel my blood pressure rise like I do when I think of the Giants-Ravens Super Bowl or UNC-Utah in the 1998 Final Four, but this is a pretty great illustration of why they're my favorite NBA team to watch.

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