The San Antonio Spurs: Perennial Contenders
Another year, and another successful regular season for the under-the-radar San Antonio Spurs.
A Spurs regular season in the Tim Duncan era has become reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day”. Each year, Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili get older, and the Spurs just keep on winning. They have become the epitome of success, not only in the NBA, but in the entire world of sports. They have won at least 50 games in each of the past 14 seasons, and are just just one win away from hitting that mark once again this season.
A key component for the Spurs' success is the ability to win on the road. The Spurs are 24-8 away from the AT&T Center, while posting a 26-8 record at home. As a result, numberFire has them ranked third overall in nERD behind the Clippers and Rockets.
The most remarkable thing about the success the Spurs have had - specifically on the road - is that they have done it year in and year out. The thing that's different this year, unlike other seasons, is the supporting cast. In fact, the only players on the Spurs roster that have played more than 60 games this season are Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli. That's certainly different than how they looked in their heyday.
The Spurs have been plagued by injuries through much of this season, but have still found a way to quietly take over the NBA's best record. Kawhi Leonard has missed 15 games, Parker has missed 11, Ginobili's missed 10, and even last year's hero of the NBA Finals (at least through 5 games), Danny Green, has missed 10 contests. Having four of the top seven players in your rotation miss double-digit games is not usually a recipe for success, but Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have reinvented success in the NBA.
Balance and Fundamentals
The Spurs are an incredibly balanced team from top to bottom, with Leonard being the highest individually ranked player in numberFire's nERD efficiency ratings at 28th overall. Following Leonard are Ginobili at 38th, Duncan at 42nd, and Mills at 46th. This may seem alarming at first glance, but this just shows the tremendous amount of balance on this team. They have star power, but it isn't necessary for Ducan and Parker to post huge stat lines in order for the Spurs to maintain their success. In fact, the Spurs have had eight different players who have led the team in scoring in a single game this season.
This type of balance allows the Spurs not only the flexibility to bring in players off their bench with confidence during any clutch moment, but it also allows them the ability to succeed if one or more of the starters have a bad game. This is what makes the Spurs so dangerous.
San Antonio currently ranks secnd in the NBA in field goal percentage, first in three-point field goal percentage, fourth in free throw percentage, second in assists, ninth in blocks, 26th in turnovers, fifth in assist/turnover ratio, and fifth in total defense per game this season. These statistics all bring us back to one major advantage that the Spurs have over every other team in the NBA: Fundamentals. Many teams have adapted over the years to become more up-tempo style offenses, dominant defenses, paired multiple elite scorers together, and any other strategy to gain an advantage in the current day NBA.
The Spurs and Gregg Popovich have found a way to incorporate the best of all of these strategies into one. They excel on offense and defense because of unselfishness, fundamentals, and superior coaching. Popovich was quoted a few weeks ago as saying "Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’ And I’ll get up and walk away." This is all a product of the confidence and air of excellence that Pop has instilled in his players. In fact, Pop's relationship with Duncan has been described by Popovich as a "marriage". It has gotten to the point that words aren't always necessary. Duncan and Popovich have won 887 games together, an NBA record. The trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have won 491 games together, third in NBA history among trios.
Another major component of the Spurs' success is the unselfishness off the court as well. Duncan is a surefire Hall-of-Fame player, and could easily be one of the highest paid players in the NBA, even at the age of 37, because of what he means to his team and his remarkable consistency. Duncan is one of the few players in the NBA who realizes that the team is more important than himself. There are 53 players in the NBA who make more than Duncan's salary of just over $10 million per season. His unselfishness has allowed the Spurs to sign key players such as Belinelli, Diaw, and Ginobili to deals over the past two seasons.
There is not a deeper, more disciplined, or more balanced team in the NBA than the Spurs. They are the only contending team in the NBA who doesn't rely on an elite scorer to succeed. Parker is the Spurs leading scorer this season at 17.5 points per game. This is not usually a recipe for success in the NBA, but the Spurs have developed their own unique recipe for success, and as unorthodox as it may be, it is hard to argue the results, and nearly impossible to replicate.