The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while the San Antonio Spurs are attempting to pick up the pieces.
At 31-6, the Golden State Warriors have the best record in the NBA. But the Warriors cannot take their foot off of the throttle as the NBA’s most consistent team is right in their rear-view mirror. Through 37 games the San Antonio Spurs are 30-7 and they are on pace for their 20th consecutive winning season. But aside from winning, it is how it has come for the Spurs as all but one season over this stretch has seen San Antonio win at least 50 games. The Spurs are a team that is full of interchangeable parts that is led by a head coach in Gregg Popovich who has consistently adjusted his coaching style which has led to five NBA Championships. And just like the last 19 seasons, the Spurs are once again in line to contend for another NBA Title.
Last summer saw the Spurs bid farewell to power forward Tim Duncan who in 19 years in San Antonio became one of the best winners in which professional sports has ever seen. There was never a season with Duncan in which the Spurs didn’t make the postseason and they were only unable to get past the first round of the NBA Playoffs four times.
It’s impossible to replace to contributions of Duncan who was a leader for the Spurs on and off of the court. But credit to Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and Popovich for going out in the off-season to sign center Pau Gasol. Gasol came to San Antonio as a six-time NBA All-Star, while he also won a pair of league titles as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. In 17 NBA seasons, Gasol has averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds. Gasol knew when he came to San Antonio that he would not be the focal point of the Spurs offense, but at 36-years of age he simply wants to win another NBA Championship.
This season Gasol is averaging 12.1 points and his 7.8 rebounds lead the team. Gasol gives the Spurs another leader, while he is one of the better passing big men of the era which is evident by his 3.3 career assists average. And if Pop needs it, Gasol can still put up quality numbers as he got the Sacramento Kings for 24 points and 7 rebounds on November 16.
The summer of 2015 saw the Spurs agree to a four-year deal with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge that is worth $80 million. The 2015-2016 NBA season was an adjustment for Aldridge as he had to get acclimated with how the Spurs go about their business. But Aldridge still managed to average 18.0 points and 8.5 rebounds as he played alongside a legend in Duncan. Aldridge is averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest, and like Gasol, you never know when he is going to explode for a big game.
Point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili may not have the explosiveness that they had when they were key cogs in four of the Spurs five NBA Titles, but they are still key contributors which includes providing a wealth of experience. The Spurs once again have tremendous depth which includes the likes of point guard Patty Mills and power forward David Lee. The Spurs also continue to find diamonds in the rough as youngsters such as center Dewayne Dedmon and shooting guard Jonathon Simmons are turning into quality role players off of the bench. But the epicenter of the Spurs success in recent years has been small forward Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was the 15th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, but by the Indiana Pacers who immediately traded him to the San Antonio Spurs. And in each of Leonard’s six seasons with the Spurs, he has continued to improve his all-around game which was highlighted by him being named as the NBA Finals MVP in 2014, along with being selected as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year twice. This season Leonard is averaging 23.9 points which leads the Spurs. Leonard has eight, 30-point games to his credit this season which includes getting 35 points against the Warriors to begin the season that resulted in a Spurs road victory. And once you put it all together, the Spurs are once again in a familiar spot.
The Spurs are not only a model franchise for other NBA organizations, but all of professional sports. The Spurs don’t have any “me” guys on their team that are worried about how many touches that they receive on offense, and you never hear about any players in San Antonio having an issue with the way that the team is structured. The Spurs preach ball movement as rarely does a possession go by in which all five players do not touch the basketball, and defensively they rarely beat themselves. There isn’t a player on the Spurs roster who cannot score 20 points on a given night which gives their opponents something to always think about. And the scary parts about this is the Spurs have not drafted in the NBA’s Lottery since obtaining Duncan as they know how to scout and develop talent. Popovich has also become the king of knowing when to rest his players in order to keep them fresh for the stretch run in the regular season and for the playoffs as his teams are always ready to perform when the chips are pushed to the middle of the table.
The Spurs do find themselves facing some strong opposition right now from the Houston Rockets for first place in the Southwest Division as they are only a game behind San Antonio for first place. However the Spurs are currently 10th in the NBA points per game at 106 per contest which includes them connecting on nearly 48% of their shots as that happens to be the second best mark in the league. Defensively the Spurs are allowing 97.5 points per game which is second in the league and that strong defense will help them in the playoffs; especially in the fourth quarter against quality teams such as the Warriors and Rockets, or the Cleveland Cavaliers should both of these teams meet in the NBA Finals.
When the Spurs were eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals last spring at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, you knew that they would be a team on a mission this season, and so far they have yet to disappoint as fundamental basketball continues to rule the roost in San Antonio.