The Spurs seem to ALWAYS be in the mix of things. They never have a lottery pick, nor are they ever involved in a blockbuster trade. Yet, they are always in the conversation when it comes to discussing the teams that could win the Western Conference championship. What's their secret?
The Spurs have a mad scientist (head coach, Gregg Popovich) that always seems to find the right ingredients for his formula to work. So what exactly is this formula that keeps the Spurs competitive every year? He has an equal portion of old ingredients and new ingredients needed and simply continues to swirl them around until the playoffs come around and they seem to just ripe each year. His formula involves people that can play tough defense, are athletic on the perimeter and fight tooth and nail for loose balls and rebounds.
Lately, analysts and bloggers have begin to put the Spurs in the "older team" category because of the age of their stars Tim Duncan (36) and Manu Ginobli (35). Duncan's age has reared its ugly head in his limited minutes and decline in statistics. The mad scientist has strategically rested his "aging" players in games that they may not be needed to play big minutes but has them ready for the key games in the season.
Ginobli has become the older injury-prone star. He is seemingly out for some new injury every other month, but still seems to be available when the playoffs roll around.
Last season the Spurs signed athletic swingman Richard Jefferson. He didn't quite work out as he didn't play the type of defense or bring the intensity that the mad scientist prefers, so he was traded to Golden State for Stephen Jackson. Although Jackson is more known for his mouth and attitude than his multi-dimensional game, he actually meshes with the Spurs. He was a part of the 2003 Spurs championship team and has kept a good relationship with many of the teammates.
Tim Duncan has called him "the ultimate teammate" and his game perfectly compliments Tony Parker's and Manu Ginobli's. Both are great at penetrating but can also shoot off the catch. Jackson is a great spot up shooter but is also a good penetrating swingman and underrated passer. His ferocity on defense is exactly the type of player Popovich prefers.
The scientist has found the type of players to uniquely fit his formula. Two years ago the Spurs traded for 6'6" guard Danny Green from North Carolina, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is finally beginning to blossom into the player they hoped he would. He is beginning to shoot from beyond the arc with confidence showing the touch he had in college. Surprisingly, he is also turning into a great defender. He may be the perfect guard type to eventually replace Ginobli.
On the wing, last year the Spurs drafted Kawhi Leonard from San Diego State. Leonard, at 6'7", is an awesome rebounding small forward who plays tenacious defense and has insanely large hands and the wingspan of a seven-footer. He has the skills to become a good offensive player as well, and learning behind someone with the skill set of Jackson is perfect for Leonard. He is being groomed to become a new age Scottie Pippen with braids.
The scientist also found his blue-collar worker. DeJuan Blair is a bit undersized at 6'7" at the power forward position, but his wide body and tough demeanor along with his various array of post moves suits him well in this spot. When Duncan finally does sail off into the sunset of San Antonio, they will undoubtedly have to retrieve some height as the Spurs haven't been without a seven-footer in the lineup in over 10 years.
The Spurs have a player that is almost always overlooked when the "experts" are putting together their best point guards in the league lists, but he continually outplays almost every point guard on the list when going head-to-head against them. The French are always underrated and disrespected. Tony Parker continues to prove that he is one of the best point guards in the league, hands down.
He is the X-factor because of his age and experience. He's only 30, but it seems like he's been in the NBA forever. He began playing professionally in France when he was 15, so his experience versus other point guards is usually unmatched.
In the Spurs championship runs, Parker was a part of three of them (2003, 2005 and 2007) and was named the MVP in 2007 when the Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the title. Tim Duncan will undoubtedly be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, was quoted as saying this was the best championship team he had been a part of and acknowledged his subpar performance.
Five-time NBA champion Robert Horry was quoted as saying, "without Tony, we'd probably be down 0-4 in this series."
All the talk this year has been about the young Oklahoma City Thunder owning the Western Conference, a very deserving sentiment. But don't be surprised if the old-new Spurs pull an upset. I know one thing's for sure, the mad scientist won't think of it as an upset, but just all "a part of his master plan."