When you see what destruction the San Antonio Spurs have done this season, and so far in the playoffs, it’s not crazy to admit that this team is very good. Actually, they are great. Gregg Popovich has managed a roster filled with veterans and youth. They have depth, experience, talent, and leadership. So just how great is this team? Since Tim Duncan arrived on the scene 15 years ago, the Spurs have been one of the most consistent and competitive small-market franchises in all of pro sports. It also helps when coach Popovich has been around for 16 years. The nice thing about the Spurs is that they have never relied on just one player to get them through games. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been around for a long time, too. All three players have been major contributors in the three championships they have won together (Duncan has four; won one with David Robinson).
But the Spurs have always been more than just three players.
When they won the title in 2003, “Capt. Jack” Stephen Jackson averaged 13 points per game in the playoffs.
In 2005, the Big Three got the majority of the attention, but “Big-Shot Bob” Robert Horry averaged nearly 10 points per game.
And finally, in 2007, when the Spurs dismantled LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Michael Finley averaged 11 points per game.
Those teams won 60, 59 and 58 games, respectively, in the regular season.
In a 66-game season, this Spurs team won 50. Parker played like an MVP while Duncan and Ginobili rested. But you would expect those three play at a high level. Here’s where “greatness” comes into the equation.
Popovich is one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in basketball, whether it’d be pro, college, high school, or traveling. Do you remember when Boris Diaw was fat and Danny Green couldn’t even play for the Cavaliers? OK, both start on this team and Green is averaging 10 points per game in the playoffs. They drafted Kawhi Leonard and he has turned into a very solid player in his rookie season. He, too, starts and is becoming the next Bruce Bowen, but a better scorer. The Spurs acquired Stephen Jackson because Richard Jefferson wasn’t working out the way they had hoped. And Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal are tremendous role players. Lastly, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair hardly play, but they are better than any 11th and 12th man in the league.
Popovich has been known as a defensive coach in his career, but he has seemed to flip the script this season. His team stills plays defense (96.5 papg) but the offense has been amped-up (103.7 ppg). They are the best three-point shooting team in the league (42%), score the second-most points per game and have a point-differential of 7.2. They have had two 11-game winning streaks this season and have won 18 games in a row (including playoffs; 8-0). They have only won 11 games by 20 or more points this season, but 22 games by 10 or more points (not counting the 11 games won by 20 or more points). This has been one of the most-efficient teams the NBA has ever seen. The Spurs are averaging 1.25 points per shot and have an effective-shooting percentage of 52.8% (effective-shooting percentage is adjusted for 3pt shots).
So is this one of the greatest teams ever?
When you talk about greatest teams ever, the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls come to mind. That team went 72-10 with Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen. They are considered the greatest team in the history of the NBA. They scored 105.2 points per game and allowed 92.9 points per game. Their team offensive rating was 115.2 (that’s a team’s points scored per 100 possessions) and defensive rating was 101.8 (points allowed by a team per 100 possessions). Three players averaged double-figures in the playoffs (Jordan, Pippen, and Toni Kukoc) and seven players, in total, averaged more than six points per game. They managed to string together winning streaks of 13 and 18 games throughout their record-breaking season and won 25 games by 20 points or more. They won also have a nine-game winning streak in the playoffs (two against the Knicks, four against the Orlando Magic, and two against the SuperSonics).
The 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers are considered among the greatest teams in NBA history, too. They averaged 117 points per game in the regular season and had six players averaged between 24 and 11 points per game in the playoffs. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy were the drivers behind the wheel. They steam-rolled their way through the playoffs, en-route to a 15-3 postseason mark. They didn’t play the greatest defense, however. They gave up 108.5 points per game, and in today’s game, I don’t think you’re going to get away with that kind of defense. They won 18 games by 20 points or more and had two winning streak that lasted atleast 10 games (10 and 11). In the playoffs, the Lakers won their first six games before they lost a game. Then they pulled-off a seven game winning streak, sweeping the Seattle SuperSonics in the Western Conference Finals.
If you look at what the Spurs don’t have and what these two teams did have, the answer is simple: a superstar. But not having a superstar is what makes this Spurs team so unbelievable. I guess you could say that either Parker or Duncan is a superstar, but I would just say that they are very good players. In today’s game, look at all the teams that have two or more superstars on their roster: Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Miami really has two and a half superstars but Chris Bosh is injured. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are struggling against the Indiana Pacers right now. Indiana is a very good, well-balanced team and plays great defense. The Knicks were bounced out of the first round because of injuries, poor play, and Amar’e Stoudemire being stupid and punching a glass case. Not to mention Carmelo Anthony will go down as one of the most DE-ficient players in NBA playoff history, for 2012 anyway. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin is all the Clippers have on offense because Chauncey Billups is out, recovering from a torn Achilles. The Spurs made Paul look like a high school basketball player out on the court. The Oklahoma City Thunder has Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two players who are capable of playing at the highest level at the same time. James Harden is the third-wheel and will be ever so important against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
But none of the teams I just named have what the Spurs have: depth, leadership, basketball immortality (Duncan), or coaching experience.
I asked you earlier and I will ask you again: Do you think this is one of the greatest teams ever?
I think so.
- 2012 NBA Playoffs: Why Spurs-Thunder Will Be Most Thrilling Series in Playoffs (bleacherreport.com)
- Spurs Flirting With History on 18-Game Streak (nytimes.com)
- The N.B.A.’s Most Boring Team, and Its Best (newyorker.com)