NBA 2010-2011: 5 Reasons the San Antonio Spurs Are Serious Contenders
Before the season, the San Antonio Spurs were officially written off by the overwhelming majority of talking heads as finished.
The team was still, inaccurately, reported as being old/decrepit, and those that didn't classify themselves as San Antonio Spurs' stalwarts overlooked the Spurs as even being in the discussion of championship contenders.
As I picked up the latest issue of the New Yorker and realized Thanksgiving wasn't having an off-year, I deduced that the Spurs are, indeed, on an 11-game winning streak as we near the Thanksgiving holiday.
Attention: it is now acceptable to take your fork out of the Spurs' collective roster, NBA fans.
Following a 12-1 start, the Spurs are again in the discussion as one of the premier NBA contenders.
I will discuss five reasons why the Spurs have gotten off to such an impressive start to their 2010-2011 campaign and are again in the discussion as one of the serious contenders for the NBA championship.
A Change of Pace
The Spurs are no longer a lock-down defensive ball club.
With DeJuan Blair, a player who is active, albeit extremely undersized, starting and Matt Bonner coming off the bench, the Spurs simply can't control the paint as well as they did during their previous championship runs.
Tiago Splitter has done a solid job taking charges as he becomes fully acclimated to the NBA game, and Antonio McDyess provides solid physicality off the bench, but the Spurs don't have the shot-blocking or rebounding in the frontcourt to be an elite defensive team.
So the Spurs have changed pace.
For years, the Spurs have carried the stigma of being a boring team. With Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on the team, this couldn't be further from the truth, but the pace the Spurs played at created less possessions per game and usually kept Spurs games under the 100-point threshold. Hence the idea that the Spurs were a boring team.
This year the Spurs are second in the league in an unexpected category—points per game—netting over 107 points per game.
This change of pace allows Ginobili, Parker and Richard Jefferson to thrive in the open-court and stretch the floor for the array of three-point shooters on the Spurs' roster.
Last year Richard Jefferson looked unsure in the Spurs system.
If you simply look at the stats, Richard Jefferson is averaging the same number of shot attempts per game this season, which would lead to the conclusion that he still is uncomfortable picking his spots to be aggressive in the Spurs system.
Jefferson's dedication to attacking the basket this season, which has resulted in a noticeable jump in free-throw attempts per game (from around three to nearly five per game) and his increased efficiency on all areas of the floor shooting the basketball—a consequent result of his willingness to be aggressive with the basketball—has seen Jefferson improve immensely this season. Jefferson is looking comfortable in the Spurs' system.
Instead of looking like an extra body on the floor, Jefferson is taking the offense in to his own hands and showing increased activity instead of waiting in the corner for an opportunity to shoot the three.
After averaging 12.3 points per game last season, Jefferson already has six games this season scoring 18 or more points.
Manu Ginobili Starting
Since Manu Ginobili has come in to the NBA, Gregg Popovich has mainly used the Argentine All-Star as a sparkplug off the bench.
This season, Pop and Manu decided a change was needed to ensure a better start than the 6-6 record the Spurs had through 12 games in 2009-2010.
The result: Manu is starting and the Spurs are 12-1 through 13 games.
The Spurs have the liberty of a deep bench this season and can enlist the services of Manu Ginobili as a starter or as the primary ball-handler with the second-unit alongside George Hill.
The change has gotten the Spurs off to a lot of first quarter leads that have allowed Tim Duncan to play less than 30 minutes per game this season, which may prove to be invaluable rest that will ideally keep Duncan fresh once the playoffs begin.
Strength of Schedule
So far this season, the Spurs have played the following NBA juggernauts:
Los Angeles Clippers (twice)
The Spurs have impressive victories over the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, but a good portion of their games have come against mediocre competition.
Essentially, if the NBA went by the BCS rankings, the Spurs may not make it to the championship game.
The Spurs have admittedly taken care of games against some of the lesser NBA teams, but a lot of their early-season success has to do with their fairly easy strength of schedule.
If you were to describe the Spurs in one word over the past decade, youth would not be a common answer.
With the additions of rookies Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal and James Anderson—all integral parts of the Spurs rotation—along with 24-year-old George Hill, who is in his third year with the Spurs and 21-year-old DeJuan Blair, who is in his second year with the Spurs, there is a youth movement occurring in San Antonio.
The addition of talented young players gave the Spurs the confidence to give Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili long-term contract extensions to keep the core of the team, now surrounded by a deep group of talented, youthful, exuberance, intact.