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.
Dec 9, 2013, 1:07 PM EST
In case you can’t get enough Kobe Bryant comeback we are here to help. Nike released a Kobe Bryant comeback commercial on the day of his return to the Lakers lineup, which you can see above. In case you didn’t know and it wasn’t already obvious, Nike is a Kobe sponsor and he has his…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:55 PM EST
Tuesday night the Nets could get Paul Pierce and Deron Williams back on the court. Which would be a nice first step toward turning Brooklyn’s tire fire of a season around. Both Pierce and Williams went through practice on Monday, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com. We knew Williams was close to returning, however Pierce…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:01 PM EST
This was easily my favorite highlight of Sunday night. In the fourth quarter of the Lakers loss to the Raptors Sunday, Nick Young got the ball in a transition attempt before the defense set, Young got the ball in the right corner, attacked along the baseline and as he got close to the basket Jonas…
Dec 9, 2013, 11:19 AM EST
Getting Rudy Gay in a trade from Toronto was not a sign the Kings want to make a run at the playoffs right now in the West — they are one of just two teams in a deep conference with no real shot at the postseason (Utah is the other). No, this was about future…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:59 AM EST
There were rough patches — the 2-for-9 shooting, the eight turnovers — but there were also moments in Kobe Bryant‘s return to action Sunday night against Toronto where you said “that’s the Kobe I remember.” There was his first play, a bullet pass to Robert Sacre for an assist. Later there was the jab step…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:31 AM EST
The Knicks suffered their worst loss of the season on Sunday, losing by 41 points to a Celtics team that shouldn’t beat anybody by that much. And they did so wearing their alternate orange uniforms. Whether the 12 noon tip time or the orange color scheme is messing with the Knicks on these weekend games…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
J.J. Redick is out with a broken hand. Matt Barnes is out following surgery to repair a retinal tear in his left eye. Reggie Bullock is out with a sprained ankle. All this has left the Los Angeles Clippers short bodies on the wing, so they may bring in veteran Stephen Jackson to fill the…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
LOS ANGELES — Make no mistake, this was first and foremost about money. And future flexibility. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri made a smart trade sending Rudy Gay out of town in a deal that sets his team up for the future by removing up to $12.4 million from the books next season. This summer Andrea…
Dec 9, 2013, 2:17 AM EST
LOS ANGELES — Kobe passed the first challenge he has set before himself. Eight months of never-ending therapy sessions and workouts to return to the court paid off — Kobe is back. He was introduced with Darth Vader’s theme music and Staples Center was buzzing like it was a playoff game. Kobe was on the court…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:29 AM EST
Kobe Bryant returned, Rudy Gay was traded, and the Knicks were crushed. Grading a busy Sunday of NBA action: Toronto Raptors: What the Toronto Raptors have not had in recent years is a GM with a plan and financial flexibility. With this and previous trades you get a sense that GM Masai Ujiri has a plan. First, get the…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:40 PM EST
It’s hard to explain to people outside Los Angeles the buzz in the city around Kobe Bryant and his return to the Lakers. The Lakers radio home in the city ran promos that just used pronouns —”You’ve been waiting for HIM” and “HE is back” — and everyone just knew what that meant. So what…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:10 PM EST
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant is back — he was walking around the Lakers’ locker room pregame in uniform ready to go — and he is going to try to score. It’s what he does. But don’t be surprised if on his return Sunday night against Toronto you see a lot of the dishing, facilitating…
Dec 8, 2013, 7:42 PM EST
The Toronto Raptors are trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for multiple players, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Toronto began the season with the goal of making the playoffs, but it’s become clear after 18 games that even in the dismal Eastern Conference, that’s not going to…
Dec 8, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
The Nets have had their season derailed by injuries thus far, and while having a first-year head coach in Jason Kidd probably isn’t helping given the situation, the fact is that without the team’s full complement of players, it’s impossible to know just how much fault can be placed there. But the clock will be…
Dec 8, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Kobe Bryant will make his return Sunday night at home against the Raptors, his first on-court appearance since suffering a torn Achilles near the end of last season. While we don’t expect the same kind of heroics Bryant displayed in last season’s epic victory over Toronto, it’ll simply be good to see one of the…
Dec 8, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The Knicks snapped their nine-game losing streak on Thursday with a 30-point win over the Nets, and followed it up with a 38-point victory over the Magic at home the very next night. Any belief that the Knicks problems were on the verge of being solved, however, was delusional at worst, and short-lived at best.…
Dec 8, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
The NBA changed the way they categorize players for All-Star voting purposes last season, eliminating the center position (and all others) from the ballot entirely and replacing those with either a frontcourt or backcourt player distinction. While it won’t affect superstar big men like Roy Hibbert making the All-Star roster, it will change the way…
Dec 8, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
When Ray Allen chose to leave Boston as a free agent and join Eastern Conference rival Miami following the 2012 season, it didn’t sit well at all with two of the Celtics’ biggest stars. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were upset by Allen’s decision, even though he wasn’t guaranteed a thing in Boston and was…
Dec 8, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The reports surrounding the status of Rockets big man Omer Asik will continue their steady stream until the inevitable trade happens. Houston wanted to make it work with Asik playing alongside Dwight Howard, but that experiment failed and with Asik being disgruntled in his situation and constantly requesting to be traded, the Rockets seem determined…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
Coming into Saturday night’s game against Dallas, the Blazers had used the top-ranked offense in the league to get out to a 17-3 start to the season, best in the Western Conference. Portland’s defense is ranked just 20th, however, and playing against a Mavericks team whose offense is ranked fourth and can score almost as…
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