San Antonio Spurs: 15 Reasons Tim Duncan Will Win His 5th Ring This Season
After 13 grueling NBA seasons that include four championships, 13 playoff appearances and 11 trips to at least the second round, Tim Duncan has more miles on him than just about any other 14-year veteran in the NBA.
Many have taken this into consideration when ruling the San Antonio Spurs are no longer capable of competing for an NBA championship.
However, besides the fact that Duncan knows how to stay in shape and take care of his aging body building up to the playoffs, the Spurs have many other ingredients in place to make one, or even two more runs at a championship before arguably the best player in team history retires.
In no particular order, here are 15 reasons why the Spurs can help Duncan win his fifth championship this year.
The Spurs have already met one goal they had set heading into the 2010-11 season: Start fast and win early.
They have definitely met that goal by starting off with an NBA and franchise-best 12-1 record, but there is a major factor that has helped them get there: The big three are healthy.
The last time Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all entered the season healthy was the last time the Spurs won a championship, in 2007.
With no lingering injuries from the previous season or playing during the summer for their national teams, the big three are refreshed and ready to go with a new bounce in their step and determination in their eyes.
2. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
As stated perviously, both of these three-time Spurs champions are healthy and ready to go. However, unlike previous years when everything revolved around Duncan, they seem to be emerging not just as the two best players on the team, but also the best backcourt duo in the entire NBA.
With such a deep bench this year, Manu is seeing more minutes as a starter and has combined with Parker to form a lethal weapon that can cover all parts of the floor with driving layups and three-point shooting.
The two of them playing together has also allowed the Spurs to play at a faster pace, resulting in the second-highest scoring average in the league.
3. Rise of Second-Year Spurs
It has always been said that it typically takes at least one season before players become comfortable with the Spurs' complicated but effective system, and are typically better off during their second season (Roger Mason being one of the few exceptions).
Such has been the case so far with second-year Spurs Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess. Both are definitely far more comfortable on the floor compared to last year.
Jefferson's summer workouts have paid off big-time, and he looks better than ever in a Spurs uniform. He's playing without hesitation, driving to the basket instead of settling for jump shots or passing the ball off, and he is always in the right place at the right time—resulting in less turnovers and more points.
McDyess has been very steady off the bench with his outside shooting, rebounding and defense in about 20 minutes of work per night. While those minutes will probably decrease as Tiago Splitter gets to know the system better, McDyess will always be a reliable big man off the bench.
Thirteen games into the NBA season, the Spurs are in very unfamiliar territory as the second-highest scoring team in the league with nearly 108 points per game.
They have passed the century mark 10 times so far, and that includes games against perennially strong defenses like the Orlando Magic. Many factors have contributed to this massive rise in scoring.
The Spurs have been able to play at a quicker pace compared to previous years, primarily thanks to the influx of young, quick players and a healthy backcourt.
They lead the league in three-point field goal percentage (44.4 percent), are third in attempts made (8.9 per game), and have three players in the top 20 in three-point FG percentage, with Matt Bonner at number one.
This either helps spread the floor to allow more one-on-one post-ups or drives through the lane, or, when teams decide to double-team, leaves the door open for the team's many reliable three-point shooters.
While the Spurs defense has not quite been its staple of success so far compared to previous championship years, it still ranks in the upper third in most defensive categories and has shown signs of improvement with each passing game.
With everyone else contributing on offense, Duncan has been able to use more energy on the defensive end and not have to worry about scoring as much.
Despite the huge rise in offensive productivity, the Spurs will never take defense for granted and assume they can just outscore everyone to win.
There is still some work to do, and they need to adjust to having to get back on defense quicker if they're going to play a fast-tempo game, but coach Greg Popovich will make sure they have it down come playoff time.
The Spurs bench is proving to be one of the deepest in the league, even without Ginobili playing the role of sixth man. It's a great sign when you can count on anybody to come off the bench and make something good happen.
There's a good variety of players at each position ranging from three-point specialists to defenders and scorers.
With reliable players such as George Hill, Bonner and McDyess leading the way for rookie sharp-shooters Gary Neal and James Anderson and the Duncan-like Tiago Splitter, the Spurs can rely on just about anyone to fill in at anytime.
Certain players will see more time in certain games depending on the style that is needed, but there will always be someone to choose from.
7. Youth Movement
Every anti-Spurs fan has been quick to write off the Spurs due to their aging stars, especially Duncan. What many don't realize is how many young, talented players the Spurs have quietly brought in over the last few years.
With their astonishing ability to find diamond-in-the rough draft picks and free agents, the Spurs have brought in Hill, DeJuan Blair, Anderson, Neal and Splitter, all with the intention of adding some energy and athleticism to the program while also building for the future.
Each of these players are talented and have several years of experience on the court either from college or playing in professional leagues overseas, leading to more maturity, a higher work ethic and a quicker learning curve.
As good as all these players are, they will only continue get better over time with some excellent veteran leadership to rely on.
8. Rest Time
Here's a simple equation: Talented youngsters + deep bench = more rest time for starters.
The fact that the big three are already healthy and fresh does wonders for the team. Add on the fact that the Spurs have so many other players they can rely on at each position, and older players like Duncan can easily play fewer minutes per game and possibly have some nights off without much fear of a setback.
The healthier and fresher he is in the playoffs, the better the chance the Spurs have of winning a championship.
9. Chemistry and Unity
If there is one thing the Spurs have more of than any other team, it's a sense of team chemistry and unity: something that was missing much of last year due to the difficulties Jefferson and McDyess had trying to fit in. Now that they have the system down and know their roles, the Spurs have gelled into a solid, cohesive team.
No one is selfish and out to be the best player on the team, and everyone shares the ball and contributes to the game.
This is all evident in the Spurs being ranked third in the league in assists, and it's no surprise that they rank right up there with other contenders such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
As they and the Spurs have proven, it's better to have 10 good-to-great players than three "superstars" to do all the work (looking at you, Miami).
Coach Popovich has proven himself one of the best coaches in league history. He has already been labeled as the best when it comes to drawing up plays out of timeouts and making halftime adjustments.
He knows when to give a player an earful for a mistake or when to let him fix it on his own. He's not afraid to bench even his best players when they are making mistakes.
Most of all, he is not afraid to switch game plans to do what it takes to win. A prime example would be him allowing the offense to run a little more freely and score more points this season.
The "old" Spurs are full of veteran leadership, with no one more important than Duncan. He is a quiet player who leads by example. He doesn't cry and complain. He doesn't fret about previous plays and allow it to affect his game.
He simply moves on and does what needs to be done.
Unlike some egotistical stars who would rather win games themselves for the glory than share with their fellow comrades, Duncan always has advice to give that will do whatever it takes to help his team win.
All the young players coming in looking for guidance need all the help they can get, and they have it in the Spurs' group of savvy veterans who will be ready to hand over the reigns when the time comes.
12. The Next David Robinson
Speaking of leadership, no one had better support coming in than Duncan had from David Robinson.
David won just about every award imaginable during his prime and was one of the best players of his era. Yet, when Duncan came in, he stepped aside with gratitude to let Duncan take over his team and lead them to two championships in his final years.
Now, Duncan is following in his mentor and best friend's foot steps. It is obvious he is past his prime and is not the same player who won two consecutive MVPs back in '02 and '03. He is now happily stepping aside to let Parker and Ginobili take over the team. He has no problem with a drop in minutes or points.
All he cares about is the good of his team, and that's what being a great leader is all about.
13. Last Chance for a Back-to-Back
If there is one thing the Spurs cannot be credited for in the last decade, it's winning back-to-back championships.
They have certainly had their chances, but it just wasn't meant to be. In 2000, Duncan couldn't even play in the playoffs due to injury. In 2004, Derek Fisher's 0.4 shot ruined it all. In 2006, it came down to one deadly four-point play that sent Game 7 against Dallas into overtime.
Finally, in 2008, it was one blown fourth-quarter away from a 2-0 lead over the Lakers before everything fell apart.
Many have pointed out their inability to repeat as a reason not to label the Spurs as a true dynasty. Now may be the last chance to put that argument to rest, assuming there won't be a full-season lockout next year.
Duncan only has two years left on his contract and is not expected to extend it, so the Spurs will make the most of the time left.
14. Looming Lockout
With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement made back in 1999 about to expire and NBA Commissioner David Stern looking to cut paychecks, a lockout seems all but confirmed next season outside of a miracle.
One would hope it doesn't swallow up the entire season, but if it does, Duncan is not expected to return the following year. That being said, this season truly could be his last shot at a fifth championship, and he will not let it go to waste.
All this put together brings me to my final point...
15. Send 'Em Off in Style
One of the more overlooked aspects of the Spurs' several championships has been their ability to send old veterans out with a bang.
For David, it was a final farewell salute, a category Duncan would fall into.
For others like Steve Smith and Kevin Willis, it was all about winning it for those who had given their best throughout their careers and deserved it: a category Antonio McDyess is more than worthy of falling under.
Should this or the next be their last seasons, the Spurs will give everything they have to send these worthy veterans out with a bang.
In the end, the Spurs have a healthy, talented team with all the necessary tools and motivation to win another championship this year. It will take a lot of hard work and perseverance, but they've proven before that it can be done.
They've already met one goal with their 12-1 start; now it's time to see if they can meet the ultimate goal: a fifth championship ring for Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.