Grading Gregg Popovich's Season for the San Antonio Spurs so Far

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Grading Gregg Popovich's Season for the San Antonio Spurs so Far
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is having a great season, but how does it grade?

Gregg Popovich is leading the San Antonio Spurs into the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season, but how would the longtime coach's 2013-14 performance so far appear on a report card?

Pop's season is separated into three categories—motivation, player development and game management—and given an overall grade.

A bit subjective? Sure. But Popovich is managing to direct the Spurs in an elite fashion once again, and the grades certainly reflect that.

 

Motivation

Because the Spurs are so fluid on the court, it does not always appear as if San Antonio is remarkably motivated.

However, Popovich has easy ways to boost his team's energy. While talking with reporters, Pop dropped a bomb about how he interacts with his players, as noted by Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.

Sometimes in timeouts I'll say, 'I've got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody's holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.' And I'll get up and walk away. Because it's true. There's nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls, and act like I'm a coach or something, but it's on them.

For any of us who have played sports, we have likely had a coach who always had something to say, and it probably grew old quickly. But to hear a future Hall of Famer like Popovich say he tells the team he can't do anything is intriguing.

But Pop has a reason for getting up and walking away; he continued:

I think that communication thing really helps them. It engenders a feeling that they can actually be in charge. I think competitive character people don't want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do.

Similarly, when a coach listens and takes the team's thoughts into account, players respect the coach even more, and that exact situation is evident in San Antonio.

Popovich gets the most out of every player who steps on the floor, and it's clear each of the Spurs both respect and want to play for him.

Grade: A

 

Player Development

Darren Abate/Associated Press/Associated Press
Popovich continually teaches every one of his players and is often more visibly frustrated with his stars, like Parker.

The Spurs do not have any rookies, but Pop has continued to develop younger players on the San Antonio roster.

Third-year small forward Kawhi Leonard is earning a reputation as an elite defender, but Popovich is still working the quiet player to become even more aggressive. While Leonard has picked his spots well, aided by Pop's schematic brilliance, he is never called upon to shut down a player like LeBron James without help.

Prior to the season, Pop was looking for veteran Boris Diaw to defer to teammates less, per Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. Five months into the season, Diaw has improved his per-game stats in every major category save for steals.

Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster perfectly summarized the San Antonio way, citing Pop's ability to hold every player accountable.

Popovich has long been praised for his ability to hold players accountable, whether it's his star or 15th man. That's inspired a sort of egoless culture in San Antonio, where the concepts of team basketball are fully at work.

By not allowing a top player to get away with mistakes, Popovich sets an effort benchmark for the entire team, and each member knows exactly what to expect from him: Correction and guidance.

Grade: A

 

Game Management

Even when battling a slew of injuries to pivotal players while dropping three straight games, according to McDonald of the Express-News, Pop refused to make excuses. "It doesn't matter who's hurt or what your schedule is, you just go play," Popovich said. "All that matters is the win or the loss."

He has a fascinating ability to identify the best lineup to counteract opponent's strengths, using a scheme that utilizes his team's best talents.

Before a significant clash with the Miami Heat in early March, Popovich made a simple switch to the lineup. Starting center Tiago Splitter was swapped with reserve power forward Boris Diaw because of the Frenchman's offensive and man-defense prowess.

To no one's surprise, Pop's move paid off during the 24-point victory. Diaw logged 37 minutes, scored 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, dished five assists and was a team-high plus-23. 

As for schematic intelligence, the Spurs are the second-worst offensive rebounding team in the league and have the fifth-fewest second-chance points, but it's all by design.

San Antonio runs a pick-and-roll offense, looking for space near the rim or an uncontested outside jumper before sprinting back defensively to thwart transition opportunities. Consequently, the Spurs allow the seventh-fewest fast-break points per game, and the reducing easy buckets is a major reason San Antonio is the fifth-most efficient defense in the NBA.

Popovich refuses to let circumstance dictate the Spurs' collective mindset, denying excuses and overcoming hardships by using available players in a resourceful way.

Grade: A

 

Overall

At this point in time, the only way Popovich's overall grade can improve is if the Spurs win championship No. 5. Bleacher Report's Josh Martin discusses why the 2013-14 season could be Pop's best coaching job yet, and it's hard to disagree.

How will San Antonio finish the regular season?

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Through 64 games, the Spurs have used 24 starting lineups, and according to Bleacher Report and SB Nation contributor Matthew Tynan, "that's as many as the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder have used combined, and only the Los Angeles Lakers have used more (29)."

Yet on March 9, San Antonio claimed the best record in the NBA, including a 24-point win over the Heat. After failing to beat the league's top teams before the All-Star break, the Spurs have topped the Portland Trail Blazers twice and the Los Angeles Clippers once.

Plus, San Antonio has a few more opportunities to knock out top opponents, squaring off with the Golden State Warriors twice while getting another shot at both Oklahoma City and Indiana.

But as the Spurs prepare for these final key games, the team is at a disadvantage. As seen during San Antonio's win over Portland, Pop let the secret to the Spurs' success slip.

"Play well." All right, Pop. We see you.

Grade: A

 

Note: Stats taken from NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com and HoopsStats.com. Accurate as of March 12, 2014.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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