San Antonio Spurs: 5 Keys to Spurs' Hot Start to 2012-13 Season
Old and boring. No emotion. Don't dunk enough.
Yet, as they always do, the San Antonio Spurs have stealthily positioned themselves atop of the NBA standings, where the highlight reels have no say. And although the Spurs have gotten their fair share of attention this year, it certainly isn't due to their winning.
Let's explore five key reasons why that is the case yet again.
Healthy Big Three
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The Spurs' aging "Big Three" are doing just that: aging.
Add those years together and you've got yourself one year for every dalmatian Cruella De'ville wanted as a coat.
Luckily for them, Gregg Popovich is a basketball scientist. He has an incredibly deep bench to pull from and knows just when the elderly need to rest their bones.
Duncan is clocking in at 30.3 minutes per game. Parker 31.9, and Manu is euro-stepping off the bench with 23.9.
Despite their rest, Timmy is averaging a vintage 18.1 points and 9.8 boards per game. Parker is putting up 18.4 buckets and dishing out 7.4 assists per game.
Now, Ginobili did have to shake off some early struggles due to back spasms. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor from the pine, helping out with 11.4 PPG and 4.4 APG. He remains the teams' third highest scorer behind Duncan and Parker.
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When Gregg Poppovich sat Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green for their highly-anticipated Miami Heat game on November 29, he was sending a message—perhaps to the league, but that's another article.
The message I'm referring to is the one sent to his own reserves: I believe in you.
The fact that Coach Pop can give his old-timers the ample rest they need is due to the confidence he has in his contributors on the bench.
And that confidence is returned in the players' own deep respect for Pop. They want to do right by him.
Coach Pop is renowned for cultivating talent and bringing the most out if his role players. He is also known for treating all of his players equally.
He will scream at Timmy the same way he would Dejuan Blair or Patty Mills, with that vein-bulging ferocity we've seen him dish out to refs (and sideline reporters) Thursday nights on TNT. That equal-opportunity chastisement inspires the role players to be proficient.
The Spurs have three bench players chipping in over 10 points per game. Manu Ginobli, Gary Neal and Danny Green are averaging 11.6, 11.4 and 10.3 PPG, respectively. Tiago Spiltter is just missing that mark with 9.2
It's three-point shooting, however, that gives this bench the extra spark. With multiple options at his disposal, Pop can line up an arsenal of trey bombers on any given night. Be it Green at the baseline, Neal with the sprint and shoot, or Matt Bonner, with his goofy release and league-leading 3 PTS FG%.
San Antonio will not win a title through the hands of one or two superstars. This team wins through superb passing, ball movement and healthy contributions from its unsung heroes.
Emphasis on Defense
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Back in the lore of NBA yesteryear (2000s), the Spurs were known for their slow, methodical, grind-em-out style of defensive play.
As the saying goes, "Defense wins championships." And, for them, it did, four to be exact.
Then, a curious thing happened, Poppovich realized that as the seasons change, so must his team.
As the tempo of the entire league seemed to chug an energy drink, so did the Spurs. Pop began running his offense through Tony Parker and, all of the sudden, the Spurs were a fast-break offensive team. What?!?
Last season they nearly won that elusive fifth title. However, Pop realized that maybe "tried and true" is such for a reason.
San Antonio came mighty close last season, but if they are going to defeat the offensive powerhouses the West holds, Pop knew that good old fashioned defense would be required.
The Spurs are still an offensive team, currently second in offensive proficiency. But all good things require balance. San Antonio now ranks 11th in defense, while finishing 16th last year. And if Pop has his way, this will only improve.
With this Pop-feuled push to be relevant at both ends of the floor, this team could be very dangerous come May.
Parker Playing Like an MVP
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Like last year, the Little Frenchman (Tony Parker) is shredding through bodies like Michael Myers on a bunch of C-List starlets.
Parker is averaging 18.4 PPG (sounds unimposing? Please see bench stats from slide 2) and dishing out 7.4 assists, while playing 31.9 minutes per contest. He's shooting 51percent from the floor and his EFF rating is currently 19.6.
On any other team, Parker would be putting up 25-plus a night. He happens to also be a very unselfish player with plenty of reason to share, scoping the court and creating plays to leave one of their many three-point bombers open and happy.
For the first time in his career, Parker's name was in MVP contention last season. He's continuing to play like he belongs there again. Tony is quietly—as seems to be the way in Alamo City—establishing himself as one of the premier point guards in the NBA.
At 30, he certainly is no French spring chicken, but he remains one of the quickest players in the league and arguably the best finisher under the hoop.
If Tony keeps playing at this level the Spurs' chance of a return to the Western Conference finals remains assuredly intact.
Tim Duncan Broke His Watch
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It's hard to imagine that 15 years later, the future HOF would still be putting up numbers that would make his younger self proud. And although his disposition has remained ever steadfast and uninteresting, his game is quite the opposite.
Timmy D is averaging 18.1 PPG and 9.8 boards, along with 2.4 rejections per contest. His swagger is back. His confidence has returned. Who would of thought all it took was a medieval-looking knee brace?
That brace is doing something right, the Big Fundamental is moving up and down the court like he did when boy bands were the biggest thing around.
It's not only Duncan's numbers that make him great, it's also the fact he is an elder statesman in this league and an all-time favorite player of many of the bigs he plays against on a nightly basis.
His presence is intimidating in the paint. You can see the offense's plans change when Timmy is spotted under the rim.
He sees the court better than any big man since Bill Russell, his basketball IQ is unrivaled and he creates a sense of comfort for his teammates when he is on the floor.
While this timid superstar is perfectly happy being quiet, his numbers are anything but, and it's an absolute key to why this San Antonio Spurs team is sizzling, yet again.