Tuesday , Nov , 02 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Just the Spurs

Words by Jordan Rivas, as a special to HoopsVibe.com.

Just the Spurs. If ever there were such a true sentiment. After all, what could possibly be interesting or compelling about the San Antonio Spurs? No exciting, boisterous star who constantly makes headlines, no coaching or management controversy, no hot shot young gun who refuses to be someone’s “sidekick”, and no disgruntled vet not ready to give up a primary role. So why write? Why give a team like the Spurs pub? The answer to this is simple; when it’s all said and done the San Antonio Spurs will win this season’s NBA title. Bold prediction, eh? Well somebody has to stir things up on the Spurs’ behalf.

Just the Spurs

First thoughts that come to mind when thinking of the Spurs: boring, defense, low-scoring, one-dimensional, dull. Some of those are clich├ęs of the past, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have allowed the Spurs to shed the “boring as hell stagnant offense” label they’ve been tagged with for the past few years. Both have added a scoring punch and a unique flair their team has lacked in recent memory. However, some of those initial thoughts concerning the Spurs are simply what make them good—even if they aren’t particularly thrilling. I’m referring of course to the Spurs trademark defense (one which is second only to Detroit’s “Wallace Maximum Security Prison”) and oh so boring star player. Defense wins championships, no matter how much a fan of the run n’gun style, anyone can admit that. But Duncan? Come on. A team throwing the ball to its star player isn’t supposed to make fans yawn and reach for their drink. No matter how much the basketball fundie, you’d be lying if you stated anything other than obvious—Tim Duncan is boring. Almost no flair, everything done strictly by the book, fundamental to the core (just like everything else in Texas). All he does is whoop ass in the low-post like opposing defenders tried to score with his sister. Year in year out 23, 12, and 2.5. Year in year out the Spurs make the playoffs as one of the top seeds. Year in year out they’re considered a western conference contender. And year in year out, no one outside of south Texas cares or watches (even if they make the Finals, how can people rather watch the Tony Awards?!). Because the Spurs franchise is dripping with redundancy and blandness. Ask NBA teams around league, and plenty would love to take a swim in that Spurs juice.

Things only get better this year. TD is sure to make his usual rounds, banking, jump-hooking, and perfectly drop stepping his way to great numbers and another MVP type season. Tony Parker (new ink or not), is sure to continue improving and blurring past opposing defenders. If he ever gains consistency in his jumper, a spot on the All-Star team is his for the next decade. Manu Ginobili[!!!] has got 56 million reasons to continue to make Spurs fans smile, “oh”, “ah”, and “what the fuck did he just do?” all season long. Bruce Bowen will play kickass defense because, well, if he didn’t do you really think he’d be in this league? Yeah. They still have a solid bench and people keep telling me that big pasty guy in the middle is a capable NBA center. Their coach is good enough to take his team to the playoffs and mold young players, but apparently doesn’t write enough books to get publicity. The cast of capable players who blend seamlessly is once again assembled in the Alamo City.

But who’s the Achilles heal? The choke job instigator? You may not be able to find one. With the Lakers dismantled, who is the rival out west? And does is matter? The Spurs, despite possessing an almost eerily cohesive unit, at times flat out suck in playoffs, if only in spurts. I’m not quick to forget the gigantic egg laid in the 2001 playoffs by the Spurs against the Lakers. They not only got swept, but were done away with in the most embarrassing manner. Just a season later, again against LA, shooting and offensive help for Duncan was no where to be found. The Big Fundamental was doubled and tripled to no end leaving the other Spurs to make outside shots or sink. This defensive tactic, and not any one team, is the true Achilles heal of the San Antonio Spurs. It has simply been Phil Jackson and the Lakers who have employed it best in recent years. No doubt teams have already picked up on this, anyone who saw the Spurs-Phoenix series a couple years back can attest to that. Yet even through a swarm of defenders crowding Duncan, the Spurs prevailed thanks to some timely shooting from the supporting cast. Unfortunately the Spurs don’t possess truly good shooters, but more accurately, streak shooters who can get hot at opportune times or just the same fall off the radar in a key playoff series (hey there Hedo Turkoglu, how’s the rebuilding in Orlando treating you?). Enter Brent Barry. The Spurs’ key off season acquisition and the apparently the consensus “sleeper” move of the summer.

By know you know Barry’s rap sheet, great shooter (40% for his career from 3), nice passer, dunk contest and 3-point shoot-out winner. Now understand why he is being considered such a huge addition to this Spurs team. The Spurs don’t have a consistent outside shooter (until he can learn to make from more than one spot, Bruce Bowen doesn’t count), they have a group of perimeter players who if left alone will hit a decent percentage if only because they’re wide open, but can just as easily go cold at any moment or when the right amount of pressure is applied. Barry doesn’t fall into that category. He is a pure shooter, open, guarded, spot up, around a screen, off a pick, he moves the nylon. As long as he is on the floor, Duncan will find him when the D sags, and opposing teams will pay. And shooting is just the beginning. In addition to being able to stroke it from out, Barry is a solid play maker who can create his own shot as well as shots for others. That can’t be valued enough on the Spurs. Parker can Ginobili are great, but Parker and Ginobili can’t pass to Parker and Ginobili. With Barry in the mix pressure is now taken off of the starting backcourt to be scorers, distributors, and spot up shooters. If all goes wrong and TP and Manu both go cold, the Spurs still have some support for Duncan. And talk about an insurance policy in case of injury. It’s reasons like these that Stephen A, Greg Anthony, Chuck, Kenny, and every other TV personality is making such a big deal about Barry. It isn’t just trite hype (well, it is becoming trite), this is truly a big addition for the Men in Black.

So you’ve got a great shooter added to your already stellar supporting crew, and your two euro guards aren’t too shabby either. Is that enough? Well they’ve got Tim Duncan, too. The easy challenge to that is, the Lakers had Kobe and Shaq and still were man handled by the Pistons. How can one superstar do what two couldn’t? Well for one, number of “superstars” isn’t what wins championships. After last season’s Finals you’d think that would be established as fact by now. The Pistons have no superstar, Rip Hamilton is a great straight up scorer and Ben Wallace is a defensive beast, but neither is a legit superstar and certainly not in in the sense that Duncan is. What the Pistons have is a great cohesive unit that defends hard every night and is capable of producing an adequate amount of points. Similar to the Spurs. Both also have depth, and great coaching. What separates them is the seven footer wearing #21 who happens to be one of the top 2 or 3 players in the L every year. The Spurs work well around their cornerstone, they are built to win around Duncan. The Lakers were not built to win around four players looking for a quick fix at a ring. The Spurs are as a cohesive and binding defensive team in the league, and yes, when push comes to shove they’ll beat you down the stretch because good things happen as soon as Duncan touches the basketball (even if it’s so subtle and dull you don’t notice it).

Minnesota is nice, but it looks like they’re about to go through some chemistry growing pains as a contender. Spree, Sam, and Wally all either want re-upped deals, or a ticket out of town. Sacto is always going to seem threatening in the first 82, but come postseason and injuries along with lack of everything else will leave them out after two rounds. Indiana is tough, but they can’t make it past the Pistons. This leaves the two favorites as San Antonio and Detroit. They share many similarities, and a Finals meeting between the two could prove to be epic. But I just love being right, and the mere thought of telling people “I told you so” in June is too much for me to pass up (even at the risk of looking like a fool). The Spurs win and TD gets his third ring.

There have to be questions thought right? Tim Duncan’s knee, and his energy after playing in the Summer for Team USA in the Olympics. Duncan shrugs the idea off immediately. “Not at all” he says, “I’m ready for this season.” The sentiment seems to omnipresent in the Spurs training camp. The Spurs may not be entirely thrilled with the “favorite” tag, but they do seem ready to start running for their third ring since 1999. “We may not be in the best shape.” head coach Greg Popovich says, “But we are close.” Indeed they are, pieces like Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili to lead the way, and a talented group of role players highlighted by the newest of them, Brent Barry. “He’s more comfortable now,” Popovich said of his new sharp shooter. “He’s had enough games at the SBC Center to get a feel for the depth perception. He feels comfortable. He understands more and he’s not thinking as much. He’s just playing basketball.” Nothing in the Spurs camp is complicated, the core group returns, one of the top 3 players in the league still wears sliver and black, and new additions are brought in. ” I am extremely happy to know the season starts next week.” Duncan says. “We are all excited by this new Spurs’ team. We are ready for real games and not pre-season.. (laughs). A few good players arrived this summer and with Brent Barry and Beno Udrih, I believe the that the team is stronger than last year.” Simple statement. Surely it won’t cause any controversy, it’s just true. Just like Duncan and his Spurs, they may not excite you, but they get the job done. ~::JR::~

Read more articles from Jordan Rivas on NBAline blog.