by Jan Gonzales
The present NBA spotlight and all the talk is focused on the Golden State Warriors. The impressive start to the 2015-2016 by the defending champions is unmatched, of course led by the head of the snake and their MVP – Stephen Curry. However, the ‘old and boring’ team, the San Antonio Spurs, just keeps flying under the radar and are set to make noise late in the season.
Everything’s quiet for the Spurs. They do what they do. They may have the oldest age in the league, in average at 30.1 years old as a team, but they have been the model of consistency in recent NBA memory. Despite the Warriors grabbing all the attention to their superb 36-2 start(as of presstime), the Spurs are breathing in their necks, just three games behind at 33-6.
But how are they doing this?
Going on a little flashback, the Spurs won free agency by a mile. They lost some key pieces from their 2014 championship to acquire the biggest free agent last season in LaMarcus Aldridge. They followed it up by extending one of the best perimeter defending duo in the league, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to multi-year extensions. And to top it off, David West turned down a $12m deal from the Indiana Pacers to finally get a chance to win the ring from a legit title-contender.
All these names, including several returnees, are under the call of one of the most respected coaches in the league, Greg Popovich. All these off-season transactions speak volume about the Spurs’ system. The sacrifice portion of the Spurs started with their cornerstone, Tim Duncan taking a 2-year $10m deal to open up cap space for said players to come and play for them. Their savvy, yet still reliable veteran, Manu Ginobili also signed a cheap 6-million deal to help the Spurs. Wow.
Numbers won’t lie as San Antonio is still a threat to anyone is the league. The Spurs rank second in total assists per game(25.5) behind the Warriors(29.0). They have the best defensive rating at 93.4 and overall net rating at 15.0. Of course, their league-leading defense as of now is led by their rising star Kawhi Leonard, who by the way, plays only 33 minutes a game compared to the rest of the team, who all gets less than 30. This tells a lot about how Greg Popovich shuffles his players efficiently, while getting their legs healthy late in the season.
The Spurs are unforgiving and the way they are dismantling the other teams in their wins are eye-opening. In their victories, they beat their opponents(in the first 39 games of the season) by a margin of 17.8 points. This results to their core crew to get their rest and even sit out the entire fourth quarter in blowouts. And by the way, their second and third unit are no pushovers.
Furthermore, everyone remembers how heartbreaking they were eliminated last year against the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Playing in NBA in general(with now the Eastern Conference leading the West standings-wise) requires a tremendous amount of effort, toughness and health.
Tim Duncan and the rest of his beloved Spurs are once again denied of the chance of maintaining their championship status, and defend their NBA title against Chris Paul’s game-winner last season. Duncan won’t simply allow to leave his legacy that way. Instead, he wants to prove in his two years(or last) extension that he could win back-to-back. There’s nothing more to prove in Duncan’s fruitful career. But as a winner as he is, everyone knows, he wants to put the icing on the cake on that way.
Well, if the trend continues this season, the San Antonio Spurs will wound up to be the second team not just in the west, but in the entire NBA. They will gain homecourt advantage, wherein they are undefeated at the moment, and ultimately can book the west finals seat against powerhouses Golden State and Oklahoma City.
The Spurs have one of the toughest round-up schedule in the 82-game stretch, as 16 of their last 18 games will be against tough western conference teams, which include one game against the Thunder, and three against the defending champions GSW. However, the team will once again enter their annual rodeo road trip on the second week of February, in which they further bond their team and improve their chemistry as a unit. They usually gather in this handful of successive road games to gear themselves up in the postseason. Look out.
By that time, Kawhi Leonard probably gets his first time All-Star game recognition and continues to be conversation for league MVP. Danny Green finally breaks out of his shooting slump, while LaMarcus Aldridge fits in the system perfectly. On a side note, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, David West, Kyle Anderson, Jonathan Simmons, and Boban Marjanovic all fit the team’s style of play well, and could already be on par against other NBA teams’ starting crew.
Majority are speculation and forecast at this point. But once they peak at the right moment, this well-oiled Spurs team could get their coveted sixth ring and continue to write beautiful tales on their storied franchise. We’re nearly halfway through the season and a lot of things can happen at this point. Stay tuned.
*stats from NBA.com*