San Antonio Spurs' Success Stresses the Importance of Well-Rounded Players

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San Antonio Spurs' Success Stresses the Importance of Well-Rounded Players
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

According to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, his team has become a fixture atop the league's standings for a variety of reasons. 

The dry-humored sideline virtuoso believes that the Spurs' success is a product of ''good fortune ... corporate knowledge'' and because ''they're older than dirt," according to the Associated Press' Brian Mahoney (via

What Mahoney left out was that, among the other ingredients that have made the Spurs' recipe for prosperity so difficult to emulate, the importance of a cast of two-way players who can make plays on both sides of the court is perhaps its greatest factor.

While players of different talent levels constitute the Spurs' unique roster, nearly every player is a threat on offense and defense.

In a league where teams strive to be a force on one end, Popovich has made a valiant effort to assemble a squad that can compete on both ends of the floor. When San Antonio played the New York Knicks Saturday afternoon, the vast discrepancy between well-rounded teams and specialty squads became evident, with fortune favoring the former.

The game, which San Antonio won, was decided by more than 30 points. Had the Spurs not turned to their bench for a large portion of the game, the disparity might have been even greater.

You can break down the X's and O's however you like, but the biggest contributor to the Knicks' utter failure is their glaring lack of anything resembling a defensive effort.

The Knicks' collective ineptitude on the defensive end is hard to miss, especially with an injured Tyson Chandler sidelined.

The Spurs had a field day in exposing the Knicks' faulty coverage, as Danny Green enjoyed a career game with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He connected six times from beyond the arc and was wide open for a good number of his attempts. Overall, San Antonio shot a ludicrous 53.9 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from deep.

It's been this way for awhile in New York. Even with Chandler, a Knicks roster featuring Carmelo Anthony is destined to struggle on the defensive end. Bringing in Andrea Bargnani did anything but help a starting lineup whose sole glimmer of hope is Iman Shumpert now that Chandler is out.

Giving up 120 points to San Antonio was anything but a fluke. Anthony headlines a roster of players whose focus falls entirely on the offensive end. Scoring lots of points can win games, but a ceiling will always be present.

The Knicks hit that ceiling against San Antonio, which not only found a way to limit New York's scoring, but also exploited the Knicks' thin defense.

Coaching often takes the blame for such faults, but I chalk that up to the man who assembled the one-sided roster in New York. As Spurs general manager R.C. Buford has shown, the best way to guarantee that a team is strong on both ends is to build around players who are not glaring weaknesses on either end.

Tim Duncan is both an offensive juggernaut and a defensive presence, having been featured on a fair share of NBA All-Defensive teams throughout his career.

Tony Parker's defense is never highlighted as a defining facet of his game, but it isn't weak by any circumstance. The Spurs' defensive rating of 96.5 when Parker is on the court far exceeds the 89.2 without him. Kawhi Leonard is undoubtedly a contributor on both ends, but his defensive aptitude is clear to even the casual observer. While his offensive game is a bit more unrefined, he is still a force to be reckoned with from multiple positions on the court. 

Danny Green embodies the new era of "Three-and-D" players, who excel from long range on offense and in guarding the perimeter on defense. The presence of such a player is far more beneficial to a team than another player who might be stronger on offense, but a complete liability on defense, such as Nick Young.

Effect of Different Spurs When On Court
Player Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Team Average 102.5 93.8
Tony Parker 105.4 96.2
Kawhi Leonard 97.2 93.7
Manu Ginobili 104.3 94.0
Danny Green 100.8 85.3
Tim Duncan 103.0 95.0
Boris Diaw 108.7 97.0
Tiago Splitter 100.1 89.9
Marco Belinelli 109.3 96.0

The above table evidences the lack of players who negatively alter the Spurs' ratings. No player presents a glaring weakness on one end of the floor.

Overall, though, the Spurs can compete on both ends of the floor. If someone fails to show up defensively, Popovich has no problem in removing him from the lineup. The same can be said for any Spur who fails to contribute on offense. 

Pop doesn't have the patience to experiment with one-dimensional players like other coaches. That's one of the reasons why the Spurs' model remains unique.

Even though the Spurs have yet to find their groove on offense, it hasn't mattered. A team cannot rely solely on outscoring an opponent, just as it would be foolish to try to stifle other teams in every single instance.

Each opponent must be approached in a different way, and often the best approach is a combined effort of good offense and good defense, which is better than having an imbalanced approach on the court.

Luckily, from its superstars to its role players, the vast majority of the Spurs roster can excel—or at least compete—at both ends of the court.

Besides being "older than dirt", the Spurs' collective balance has helped them stay on top for all these years.

Stats from

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