Why Are the San Antonio Spurs Still Underrated?

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Why Are the San Antonio Spurs Still Underrated?
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Everything about the San Antonio Spurs is consistent, so it comes as no surprise that Gregg Popovich's team has once again been cast off into the overlooked section.

Owning a share of the Western Conference's best record (15-3) won't change that. It never has before.

Same goes for another MVP-caliber season from Tony Parker, who's putting up 18.1 points and 6.4 assists in just 31.1 minutes a night. Or another Tim Duncan resurgence. Or the most recent additions to San Antonio's always-growing supporting cast.

Been there. Done that. Already forgot about it.

The basketball world's approach to this franchise is mind-boggling. Never before has winning been less appreciated.

But to their NBA peers, the Spurs are far from being sleeping giants. This is a legitimate championship contender. In other words, it's business as usual in the Alamo City.

 

Substance over Style

For basketball junkies, watching Pop's Spurs is like seeing poetry in motion.

It's the ballerina footwork Duncan unleashes with his back to the basket, the soft smooch as his shot kisses off the glass before ripping through the net. Or the geometrically perfect arc on Parker's trademark teardrops. The staggered screens that leave San Antonio shooters with acres of prime perimeter real estate. And the defensive rotations that always come on time.

But poetry is a tough sell in this day and age.

Casual fans want action, preferably a more grandiose display of athleticism than they've ever seen before. Who has time to pick up on nuances? Sizzle, not soundness, moves today's needle.

But this concept of the Spurs as a "boring" team shouldn't be blamed on the attention-span-deprived casual viewer. The problem really starts with the diehard viewers:

It's one of the league's worst-kept secrets, protected about as well as the New York Knicks' interior.

The Spurs aren't boring. Not in the least.

The word "boring" doesn't appear in Manu Ginobili's dictionary. You get that same feeling from relentless workers like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Or guys like Boris Diaw. Assuming, of course, there's actually another person cut from the same cloth as the rotund rebounder:

Yet that's the one story we decide to tell about this team. Over and over and over again.

Nevermind the Spurs' remarkably efficient offense (105.1 points per 100 possessions, 49.1 field-goal percentage). Or San Antonio's stone-wall defense (94.0 points allowed per 100 trips, second-best in the NBA).

For some reason, though, there's always someone willing to fuel that played-out fire.

ESPN analyst Bill Simmons took up that task in his NBA League Pass rankings for Grantland, writing, "They will never make me say, 'Oh, cool, the Spurs are on League Pass!' unless they're battling one of the contenders."

Maybe it's simply the lack of unknowns that plagues common perception. After all we've seen through the years, greatness is expected, not surprising, in San Antonio.

 

Sustained Excellence

Since Duncan joined them back in 1997, the Spurs have rewritten the book on consistency.

San Antonio's record over that stretch is a staggering 903-379. That's a .704 winning percentage over 16-plus seasons, a mark that just five teams are clearing this season alone.

The Spurs have raised four championship banners into the AT&T Center rafters over that time and made 16 consecutive postseason trips.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

So what exactly is the method to Pop's madness? It's strikingly simple; there's no madness involved.

"It's basketball," Green said, via Reuters' Will Robinson. "Play basketball, understand the game."

That's why the Spurs can plug-and-play different pieces like a fantasy owner and always expect the same result.

Marco Belinelli (.516/.563/.769) has been ruthlessly efficient since signing in San Antonio over the summer. Patty Mills (.471/.449/.833) has been expunging memories of former spark-plug shooter Gary Neal.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Honestly, the names and faces don't matter. Well, all of the names besides the one stretched across the front of the jersey, that is.

The Spurs have a single entry among the league's top 100 players in terms of minutes played. Parker's nightly dosage of 31.1 minutes of floor time leaves him tied for 79th with Steve Blake and DeMarre Carroll.

It's not as if Pop is hurting for reliable options. Four players are hitting better than 51 percent of their field-goal attempts; five others are at or above the 45 percent clip.

He's not sending any messages to his starters either. Again, it's far simpler than that; he's getting major returns no matter who he puts out on the floor.

Impossible To Go Wrong
Player MPG Off Rtg Def Rtg Net Rating
Tony Parker 31.1 103.3 92.2 Plus-11.2
Tim Duncan 27.9 102.5 92.8 Plus-9.7
Kawhi Leonard 27.3 97.1 91.3 Plus-5.8
Danny Green 23.6 101.9 89.2 Plus-12.7
Manu Ginobili 23.4 110.8 95.4 Plus-15.4
Boris Diaw 22.9 112.3 96.7 Plus-15.6
Tiago Splitter 21.4 100.8 87.0 Plus-13.8
Marco Belinelli 21.3 112.2 95.6 Plus-16.7
Patty Mills 16.3 107.7 94.0 Plus-13.7
Matt Bonner 12.1 111.5 94.5 Plus-17.0
Jeff Ayres 12.1 109.9 96.7 Plus-13.2

NBA.com.

That's just the way Pop does business. It's the way he's always worked.

If it's not broke—and clearly it isn't—then there's nothing that needs to be fixed.

 

Perception Is Not Reality

The Spurs are just fine flying under the radar. Every championship contender would love to operate this way.

But those contenders aren't built the same way.

D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

San Antonio has a superstar collection, a group that's more than happy without the glitz and glamour.

Parker could demand more touches. He doesn't. Duncan could demand more minutes. He won't. This team is solely focused on a title. It walks the walk other teams just talk about.

Fans say they want this, but seeing it in action almost makes them uncomfortable. They don't know how to react to this selflessness. They reach into the deepest depths of their emotional banks, but the Spurs' cabinet is barren.

Do the Spurs have enough to make another title run?

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So, they say this team is boring. That sustained success is no longer enough.

Fans can't find a superhero in San Antonio. "The Big Fundamental" doesn't exactly fly off the comic-book shelves.

But they don't see a villain, either.

All they see are the Spurs. That remarkably consistent, masterfully executed, well-oiled machine that's been successfully humming for the better part of two decades.

Fans don't need to discuss the Spurs. But failing to appreciate the franchise's championship ceiling is an egregious error of judgment.

Trust me, the basketball world isn't making that same mistake.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

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