The San Antonio Spurs have easily been one of the most surprising teams so far this season and currently have the NBA's top record at 36-6.
Head coach Gregg Popovich has put together a very good team, and when many people said the team was too old and not deep enough (myself included), the team has become the best so far.
With the mid-point of the season approaching, Pop should start playing his stars more so that by playoff time, they are ready to play big minutes.
Read on to see my reasons why Pop will increase his stars' minutes after the All-Star Break.
I realize that looking at the records of the Western Conference teams shows that the conference has not been down, but all the teams except the Spurs have had both bad and good times.
Some examples are the Los Angeles Lakers and their four-game losing streak that started before Christmas and had people wondering if they were title contenders, and the Dallas Mavericks have lost10 out of their last 13 games and have fallen to fourth place in the West.
With top teams like Los Angeles and Dallas both going through cold streaks this season, maybe San Antonio could continue their strong play and be the constant in the West.
With an increase in minutes to their stars in March/April, they could remain as the top seed and secure home court throughout the playoffs, which helps dramatically. When Game 7 is in your building, it always helps.
There is no denying that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are the heart and soul of the team. They have been through it all and come March/April, their playing time should go up.
Currently Tim is averaging 29.4 minutes per game, Tony is averaging 32.9 minutes per game, and Manu is averaging 31.7. This is perfect for this point of the season, since Duncan and Ginobili are over 30 years old and Parker is getting close to 30.
Realistically, the team could go through the regular season like this, but come playoff time they need to lean on their stars more. The team will go as far as these three take them.
Matt Bonner, George Hill, Antonio McDyess, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter are the main bench players for the Spurs.
Combined, they have 134 playoff games played, at first glance that looks like a decent number but those games are from only three players (Bonner, Hill and McDyess) and 94 games are from McDyess alone.
Other than those three guys, the bench is extremely inexperienced which means heavy leaning on the Big Three.
It comes down to the fact that Popovich knows exactly what he will get from Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili in the playoffs and he really doesn't know what to expect from people with less playoff exposure.
The Big Fundamental has been one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history but has started to decline. He is currently averaging 13.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.05 blocks, and 29.4 minutes per game. These are solid numbers but for Duncan, they are the worst of his wonderful career.
If his stats were to stay as they are now, he would have his worst statistical season in points, rebounds, and minutes played. In no way am I saying he is playing badly, but rather just not as good as he was playing before.
Come late March, I expect Popovich to start running the offense through Duncan in preparation for playoff time. The team will need him when they go against the Lakers or the Mavericks and all the size both teams have.
As I said earlier the team has the best record so far this season at 36-6 and has shown no signs of slowing down.
In my opinion, if Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan play around 32-35 minutes a game in the playoffs and their bench continues to produce, then the Spurs will at least go to the NBA Finals.
The team has improved drastically on offense and their defense has stayed strong, which indicates a deep playoff run.
This is the first time since the 2007-08 playoffs, when they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, that they have a legitimate chance to win a title.
The team is currently averaging 104.7 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league, and that is with Duncan playing a career low in minutes.
This is a drastic increase from recent years and the scary thing is they aren't sacrificing defense to score more. My guess is the team's increase in three-pointers made per game from 6.5 last season to 8.5 this season.
It makes me wonder how the team would be doing if Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker were playing more minutes, I feel like the team would do better. The defense would have to focus on them and it would allow people like Richard Jefferson and George Hill to thrive.
The starting lineup of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, and DeJuan Blair have a combined 517 playoff games played. Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, and Duncan alone have 507 of the 517 games played.
This compares to 595 playoff games played by the Los Angeles Lakers, who have 397 combined games played from Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant. If the Spurs would start Antonio McDyess instead of Blair, then they would have a total of 601 playoff games played.
That experience is invaluable. Ask any NBA coach if they would rather trust Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter in the playoffs and I'm willing to guess that 100 percent of the coaches would say Duncan.
And that's nothing against Splitter, it's just a testament to Timmy.
Duncan is easily having his worst statistical season and by playoff time will be 35. That doesn't spell many more years unless he pulls a Shaq and tries to play for a couple more years.
Personally, I can't see Duncan playing after his contract expires concluding the 2011-12 season. Which means he has two more opportunities to win another title.
He doesn't show it, but he wants to win as much or more than the next guy.
Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the NBA and has been so for over a decade. He has won four titles and knows what it takes to win.
He isn't afraid to make big decisions and usually he gets very good results. One surprising fact is that Popovich has only won one NBA Coach of the Year award.
He will no doubt make the right decision regarding playing his stars and should get the maximum effort out of a talented lineup.
The Spurs are built to win now with players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson. They have all the tools to win and are extremely talented. General Manager R.C. Buford is one of the best in the business and has built a winner.
The front office wants to win and knows their window to win with their current big three is fading. They have built for the future with players like George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal; and when they are mixed with older veterans, the mixture has been special so far.