If you're a big fan of playing fantasy basketball, you've probably learned to be weary of selecting anyone from the San Antonio Spurs. It's not a reflection of their talent—it's just that they don't put up huge numbers. There's a reason for that.
I always think about our guys sometimes, and their stats. They really get screwed sometimes, playing for me. If you win 62 games, and some of them are by a decent margin, I bet our guys play fewer fourth quarter minutes than most good players on any team. I’d be willing to bet that. It hurts their stats, without a doubt, but luckily I’ve got players who don’t think about that.
Popovich earlier noted that limiting minutes wasn't an especially new policy for the Spurs, saying, "We want minutes down during the year, in some cases to prevent injury and have minutes there at the end, but as players have gotten older, it’s become more important."
In other words, there's a combination of factors at play. The team looks to deliberately limit minutes, but it's also a function of numerous blowout victories curbing playing time in the fourth quarter.
At first glance it might seem like the Spurs are just too old to play big minutes. The playoffs have suggested otherwise, however. Tim Duncan, for example, is leading the team in postseason minutes with 33.5 per contest. The 38-year-old also scored 27 points in Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The fact that Duncan is so fresh now is probably a testament to the way Popovich conducts business.
During the regular season, no one averaged 30 minutes. Tony Parker led the team with 29.4 per contest.
The minutes distribution worked just fine, even if not especially when the Spurs were at the very best, per Project Spurs' Stephen Anderson:
During the [19-game winning] streak, Kawhi Leonard was the only Spur to average over 30 minutes per game and the Spurs’ big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili logged under 30 minutes each night. Head coach Gregg Popovich was able to keep his stars minutes down all while San Antonio kept on winning.
The big question going forward is to what extent it will continue benefiting the Spurs in the postseason. Thus far, San Antonio has looked fresh and energetic for most of the playoffs, but the toughest test will be keeping that edge against the younger Thunder.
Injury-wise, the Spurs have remained pretty lucky as well. Excepting Parker's minor hamstring strain during the semifinals, San Antonio's veterans have managed to stay healthy.
Given that the Spurs have become no stranger to deep postseason pushes during the Duncan and Popovich era, the minutes policy probably won't change anytime soon. It may become increasingly popular around the league as well. With only so many teams having the requisite superstars for hero-ball, more balanced minute allocations could be the trend of the future.