It’s counterintuitive to say we don’t quite know who the Spurs really are. This edition of San Antonio, after all, relies on the same core principles and parts the organization has for so many record-breaking years: commitment, continuity, and talent on the court and sidelines that’s the envy of every team in basketball.
Still, these Spurs – a league-best 62-20 and 20-4 since March 1st – are a different beast, unlike any previous iteration we’ve ever seen. The awesome two-way balance isn’t new. San Antonio is among the league’s six best units in both offensive and defensive efficiency after ranking top-seven on each side of the ball last season. And the general philosophical means behind that success hasn’t changed, either. The Spurs lead the league in assist rate, and stand second in opposing fouls drawn and number of three-point attempts allowed after nearly identical ranks in 2012-2013. It’s the same-old San Antonio we’ve finally grown to love.
But then there’s this:
The Spurs will be the first team since the ABA-NBA merger not to have a single player average 30 minutes per game.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 15, 2014
The gravity of that accomplishment, while appreciated, is still mostly lost on us. The Spurs won home-court advantage throughout the postseason by a ho-hum three games. They were the only team in basketball to rank top-six in both offense and defense, and enjoyed a season-best 19-game winning streak that spanned three calendar months.
And they did it all without a single player – not Timmy, Tony, or even 22 year-old Kawhi Leonard – averaging 30 minutes per game. This is a feat that deserves to be remembered for years to come; we might never see a team like this one again. But more importantly, it’s something that should scare the hell out of the rest of the league.
Rotations shorten in the playoffs as teams are no longer victim to back-to-back peril and stakes are higher than ever. Despite San Antonio’s collective age and unique depth, it hasn’t been immune to that inevitability in the past. Just nine Spurs averaged at least 12 minutes per game in last year’s playoffs after 12 players did during the regular season, and Leonard, Parker, and Duncan all notched over 35 minutes a night.
So while Popovich won’t subject any of his guys to 43-minute outings like other coaches will be forced to on multiple occasions in the next few weeks, the length of his leash for core players will no doubt increase. And based on the regular season, the Spurs should be even better as a result. In games that Leonard, Parker, or Duncan played at least 35 minutes this season, San Antonio was a sterling 20-6. And naturally, the quality of those opponents was sky-high: wins against Memphis, Portland, Dallas, Golden State, and Indiana highlight the list. Also of note: Manu Ginobili played more than 30 minutes just twice(!) all season long.
More minutes for top players doesn’t automatically equate to winning basketball, of course. Popovich carefully managed his rotation this way for a reason. But it’s certainly logical to suggest the spring-fresh Spurs could be better than ever in the playoffs. And given their effortlessly dominant regular season, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the league.
*Statistical support for this post provided by nba.com/stats.
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