Wednesday , Nov , 08 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Still Just the Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the NBA.

Do I have your attention, now? Good.

It’s statements like that, and perhaps only statements like that, which can bring some measure of attention to the Spurs. I’ve said it time and again, and I’ll continue to echo the sentiment until it’s untrue: the San Antonio Spurs are the least talked about great team in the league, and have been for the past few years.

Still Just the SpursIt’s not their fault, they’re just boring. You’d think after a few years of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili that would have changed, and it has to some extent; the Spurs are a bit easier to watch thanks to their speedy backcourt, but there’s still no ‘snap’, no ‘crackle’, no ‘pop’ when you watch the Spurs play.

    If you’ll notice, even my title is boring. In fact it’s a rehash of a title on a piece I did about the Spurs a couple of years ago. It’s not even intentionally boring like that first time I used it either, this time I just couldn’t think of anything better. And then it hit me, there is no ‘better’.

    Despite residing in the South Texas area my whole life and considering myself a Spurs fan growing up, two years of writing for this site and others has only produced the one article on the Spurs, previous to this one. That fact owes in large part to my preference as a writer. Like any good columnist I like interesting angles, I enjoy bringing a unique stance or outlook on a team, player, or issue. The problem with that in regards to the Spurs is that there’s only one angle to take, every time: this team is boring, but they are a damn good team that knows how to win championships.

    So here I am, making the same statement now that I made then because it needs to be said more now than it did then, and perhaps even more than it ever did previous to then… or now. You get the picture.

    If you’ll recall, the statement made in that piece wasn’t that the Spurs are boring, that was just the angle, even if it was an obvious one. The real statement, the one that no Spurs player, coach, or front office member would ever state as a proclamation like I did, is a statement I’m making again today – the San Antonio Spurs will win the NBA championship this season.

    Understand, this isn’t about some need for me to make a prediction, or call one for the home team. This column, in its conception, was supposed to be about the Dallas Mavericks. Looking at the league, I saw the Mavs and Spurs as the top contenders this season to win a championship (apologies to Miami), with a narrow edge going to Dallas for obvious reasons.

    But I wasn’t sure if I could make a call on the whole season in favor of Dallas. So I mulled over it a couple of weeks, arguing points and counter-points in my head for each team, making sure that if I made a call it would be the right one. What was realized in this process is that I had fallen victim to the very thing I’m writing about now. I had essentially forgotten about the Spurs, dismissed them, figured they’re good, but not that good.

    There are more persuasive arguments to be made for other teams, the defending champs, and the crew from Big D included. But fancy rhetoric aside, when the Spurs are healthy and Tim Duncan is on the floor, San Antonio wins.

    The first point to be made in the Spurs favor is the one I just made. In case you missed it, the Spurs are healthy. Or at least more so then at season’s end last postseason. The only thing that stopped Duncan’s dominance in game seven of last season’s duel with Dallas was his obvious worn down wheels. Duncan’s left knee and right ankle were an issue all of last year. It may be early, but thus far Duncan looks rejuvenated and all signs point to this being a comeback year for him.

    Manu Ginobili was also banged up. It was obvious he wasn’t nearly as aggressive or fearless as he was the previous season, when he made his first all-star team. Maybe it’s just because he was only all-star caliber for one season, but I think people are forgetting just how good Ginobili is when he’s healthy. When everything is in its proper order physically for Manu, he’s a top fifteen player in this league. Now that’s he healthy, I think he’ll make sure you remember that.

    And some how mentioning Ginobili and Duncan doesn’t feel right without making it a triple and bringing up the French constituent of the Spurs’ big three. Tony Parker was the only one of the three to be healthy last season and it showed as Parker averaged a career high in points and led the team in scoring. It briefly looked like the script might be flipped when Parker injured his shooting hand over the summer while playing for France, but surprisingly his shot looks better than ever.

    With respect to Dallas, had the Spurs been healthy last season, we may have seen a different Finals match up, and therefore, with respect to Miami, may have seen a different Finals outcome.

    Beyond just a restored health to the core unit, the Spurs made some subtle and potentially decisive pickups over the off season. Most notable of these is that of Francisco Elson. I had my initial doubts about Elson, but after the preseason and just three regular season games, it appears Elson may have been one of the best moves of the off season. His energy and hustle around the basket make him suitable for the center role left by Nazr Mohammed. But even better is his mid-range jumper and mobility away from the basket.

    In the Spurs’ season opener against Dallas, Elson recorded 12 points and 6 boards, but his numbers weren’t what caught my attention. What did was his ability to defend Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not about to nominate the guy for Defensive Player of the Year just yet, but his length and mobility made him a better match up against Dirk than anyone else on the Spurs’ roster not named Bruce Bowen.

    Again, there are arguments to be had for other teams, and good ones – I acknowledge that. But one also has to acknowledge that perhaps the only thing that prevents the Spurs from repeating as champions, is repeating as champions. I’m not sure if anyone can explain it, but the Spurs are like a leap-year champion – win one, skip a season, win another one. It’s only happened in the ’03-’05 stretch, but it feels like that’s just what they do. And if that’s the case, then they’re on target for another ‘chip this season.

    So just forget about last season if you must. But don’t forget about the 2005 championship season, because you’ll be seeing that type of Spurs team again. The Spurs will be focused, determined, healthy, and on a mission to retake their spot atop the NBA – even if they are still boring.