Feb 12, 2013, 9:29 AM EST
The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the San Antonio Spurs.
You don’t have to scrounge for reasons for why the San Antonio Spurs have such great success. A quick point of the finger to Tim Duncan works just fine; an additional point to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili works even better. There probably can’t be enough praise heaped on head coach Gregg Popovich, and attributing credit to the top of the organization won’t warrant many complaints. The Spurs are a world-class organization with all-world players. It can be that simple.
Maybe it’s so simple that it’s easy to look past. Every year the Spurs get older, and every year the concerns about time pop up and we forget everything else. Every compliment includes a caveat — the Spurs are great, but they’re old. Fact is, time is undefeated, and we tend to side with the champion over the challenger in that regard. In the eyes of many, the Spurs are up against it more and more every year.
But when the Spurs inevitably tear through the league like they always do, we say that they’re defying time. We praise their ability to fight time. Every year we do this and act surprised.
It makes me think that we’re looking at it the wrong way. The Spurs aren’t fighting against time. They’re using it.
It starts by giving it up. Manu Ginobili has done it for years, coming off the bench and taking less minutes while not shying away from recuperation time from the bumps and bruises his reckless style of play welcomes. Tim Duncan, meanwhile, has played less than 30 a minutes a night for the last three years. It’s not that Duncan can’t play that much anymore — his playoff average usually hovers around 36 minutes a game — it’s all about pacing. Duncan is playing some of the best basketball of his career and putting up career per-36 numbers, but no team better understands how long an 82 game season is than the Spurs. They are always the tortoise.
That said, thinking that the Spurs sit their stars simply for the sake of rest is a classic mistake. Monday night’s trip to Chicago was a perfect example. Could some combination of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Stephen Jackson could have played? Probably, but suiting up those guys for tired or rusty minutes in the middle of an 82-game season serves no real purpose. Popovich went with none of the four, and the Spurs reserves got a ton of minutes they don’t usually receive. That move paid off, as the shorthanded Spurs beat the Bulls easily, 103-89.
And what’s the result? Another banked experience for guys who might not get many shots at it. When the day comes for Kawhi Leonard to be the Spurs’ top scorer, he has 26 points against the league’s best wing defenders to draw on. That confidence gleaned is more important than anything Parker, Duncan or Ginobili could have done. No coach puts their team in more no-lose, low-risk situations during the regular season than Popovich.
You would think a front office with an aging core would be in a huge rush to win in their championship window, but the Spurs have gone the opposite route. Tiago Splitter was drafted way back in 2007, playing overseas for three years of Tim Duncan’s prime before coming over. Nando de Colo was drafted in 2009 and is a rookie this season. George Hill was a mature, useful player at both guard spots for the Spurs, and he was swapped for a raw 19-year-old rookie in Kawhi Leonard last season.
Is it a coincidence that the biggest moves the Spurs have made have been for a center and a small forward? By waiting on Splitter and developing Leonard into a killer corner scorer, the Spurs might be better than ever. After all, it’s the Spurs — not the Lakers or the Heat or any of the other “super teams” — that have the most effective starting lineup in all of basketball. The Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter lineup has a 106.9 offensive rating and an 87.1 defensive rating. The window is as open as it ever was.
Most of San Antonio’s offense revolves around motion. Guys move with a purpose. There are very few plays for individuals, which eliminates turn taking and bad shots off the dribble. The next time you hear about a player under Popovich complaining about not getting enough shots will be the first time. If you cut hard, you’ll get it. If you screen hard, you’ll get it.
The Spurs may have been missing their stars in Chicago, but their biggest star was undoubtedly the system. The reserves executed in the halfcourt flawlessly, running everything with the same crispness the starters would. Popovich demands his players to follow a lot of rules on both ends, but he doesn’t dumb things down or limit the possibilities. He trusts his players to make the right decisions because they’re his players. Again, that comes with time.
And that’s really the point. We like to consider time as the one great enemy to the mighty Spurs empire, but no other team has used it to their advantage quite like the Spurs have.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:01 AM EST
Can we just get through the rest of this season without any more major NBA injuries, please?
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
Brad Stevens reportedly likes Prince, so a buyout may not be in the cards.
Derek Fisher didn’t realize motivating his players would be such a big part of being an NBA head coach
Jan 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Fisher played 18 years, and claims that his motivation always came from within.
After being fined for obscene gesture, Dwyane Wade asks NBA to improve on ways it protects players from fans
Jan 24, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Wade was fined for flipping off some fans who he believed crossed the line.
Jan 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
“He had his chance to reach out,” Waiters said.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Howard left the game after just eight minutes and did not return.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:17 PM EST
Aldridge has a tear in his left thumb, and was originally set to be sidelined 6-8 weeks.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Drama in Dallas?
Jan 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
The inside access here makes this a must-watch.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Before recent trades, players believed the team would go no further than the second round of the playoffs.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Green was completely amazed, just like the rest of us.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
That is as good a step-back jumper as you will see.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 AM EST
There are $25 million Kobe will be back next season.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:45 AM EST
Somebody is making their All-Star case.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:16 AM EST
Lakers star could also above and beyond and chase Michael Jordan’s comeback
Mark Cuban says fan voting system for All-Stars is ‘broken,’ small number of total votes shows ‘nobody cares’
Jan 23, 2015, 11:30 PM EST
Cuban want to eliminate fans voting for the All-Star starters.
Jan 23, 2015, 10:15 PM EST
It’s a good thing, because he received fewer votes than Marcin Gortat.
Jan 23, 2015, 9:15 PM EST
Maybe, but the field is simply too crowded in the West for Ellis to have a reasonable shot.
Jan 23, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
I’m no expert in copyright law, but this strikes me as the kind of lawsuit that gets settled out of court.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
So he plans to play for the Knicks until 2050?
- Brandon Jennings leaves game in wheelchair, may have torn Achilles 0
- LaMarcus Aldridge decides to delay surgery, will return for Blazers Saturday vs. Wizards 7
- WATCH: Kobe Bryant’s doctor explains diagnosis to him following exam of injured shoulder 9
- Report: Cavaliers players say they ‘had lost faith’ due to lack of depth and roster construction 44
- Kobe Bryant will be back next season, he can’t resist the challenge 20
- Klay Thompson sets NBA record with 37 point quarter (VIDEO) 36
- If injury is serious, it would go against history for Kobe to be productive again 16
- Sixers’ leading scorer Tony Wroten suffers partially torn ACL, likely done for season 12