Wednesday , Mar , 04 , 2009 C.Y. Ellis

We’re forgetting about San Antonio again?

We're forgetting about San Antonio again?In the Western Conference, you hear the Laker chatter very often, mainly because of the eight-game separation in the standings between them and the second seeded Spurs. But, in reference to championship predictions, you seldom hear the Spurs being talked about to make noise. Isn’t this a bit ridiculous though?

Think about it…

Four NBA Championships under Head coach Greg Popovich, a guaranteed hall of famer in Tim Duncan,(arguably the greatest PF/C of all time) add to that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to play off of Duncan in what has become one of the model franchise, and model core of the NBA.

There’s just one problem. Nobody wants to notice it. Don’t get it twisted for a second, I’m not a Spurs fan. Although, I do have a problem with the casual fan who doesn’t want to appreciate what he’s seeing. What you see with San Antonio is execution, something people like to call “boring”. Yes, there may be a lack of insane dunks, but they play the game the way it should be played. They take what the defense gives them, the sets are run beautifully, and they never hesitate to make the extra pass. The Spurs have been flat out getting it done for a long time. And when the offense goes through a draught, then San Antonio relies on their championship level defense to get them through trouble.

How can we sleep on San Antonio time after time?

I know the Lakers’ kool aid tastes pretty good right now, even with Bynum injured because of the recent play of Lamar Odom. I’m not saying the Lakers aren’t a serious contender. If I did, that would sound strait up drug induced. My point is simple, you can’t allow yourself to forget about San Antonio. Sure, you can’t forget about the Hornets, Nuggets, or teams like the Jazz or the Rockets, but teams like this are missing something to warrant the confidence in them.

Opps, here comes those four NBA Championships again..

It’s these reasons, plus a possible addition to the roster that will give San Antonio as good a chance as anybody to get to the NBA Finals:

Don’t underestimate the value of great defense-Forget about the trio of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan for the moment. Defense has been the rock in which the Spurs have relied upon. Duncan anchors the defense down low, which in turn takes the pressure of the Spurs perimeter defenders. You also have some obvious variables that have been key cogs in the Spurs winning titles. One notable is Bruce Bowen. He’s a very important factor because of his willingness and effectiveness to get under opponents skin. And when I say opponents, I mean he’s usually guarding the opponents best player. His time has been cut down this year because of age and newly acquired youth, but don’t be befuddled if Greg Popovich turns to him in a big spot. Ime Udoka may be the air apparent to Bruce Bowen, but he certainly doesn’t hold the experience, nor the ability to sit in the corner(his favorite spot) and keep the defense honest from the three point line.

Also, you can put good individual defenders aside for the moment, because the Spurs play great team defense which is a term that is often discarded and not appreciated enough. It’s about being on the floor and talking to your teammates, forcing opponents to certain spots on the court because you’ve done your job in scouting, or making a simple choice of who you’d prefer to shoot the ball. Defensively sound from all angles, why don’t we ask the Suns?

Youth incorporated into the Rotation
Roger Mason has been “The” addition to the Spurs that has kept them above ground despite injuries to Ginobili and Tony Parker. I know Tim Duncan is the rock of the team, but what Roger Mason did for this club early in the season can’t be denied. There has also been some youth added through the draft that has not only made San Antonio younger, but has added significant dimensions to the team. The Spurs have always done a great job in their scouting department, finding gems in the lower rounds.(Ginobili/57th pick, Parker/28th pick). The latest, George Hill, was taken with the 26th pick. Hill is a defensive minded point guard that’s an upgrade to spell Tony Parker as opposed to veteran Jacque Vaughn. Hill needs to work on his distributing, and overall point guard savvy, but his wingspan and high basketball IQ have fit in with what San Antonio likes to do.

Lastly, I must touch on Matt Bonner contributions this season. Could Bonner be the new Robert Horry? That’s probably stretching it in terms of the clutch factor right now, but the big similarity between the two is the size, and range on their perimeter shot. Bonner has been in a comfort zone all season. Greg Popovich sat this guy down and gave him the right message in order to get his confidence elevated. That message is don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to shoot. It’s safe to say Bonner got the message. He’s shooting a ridiculous 49% from the three point line. The 49% means a lot, because it takes the opposing big man away from the basket, clearing up the lane, and giving Tim Duncan more room to operate down low.

Healthy core means A lot, but everything? 
I have no qualms about sitting here and predicting the Spurs to end up representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. I’m saying it under the presumption that the core of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan will be healthy enough to compete at a high level through out the NBA playoffs. Currently, Manu Ginobili is sidelined for a couple weeks with a stress reaction in his ankle. But does this mean doom in regards to leading up to the postseason? Definitely not. Because it allows the other guys to get extended playing time. Roger Mason can come in and fill the void like he did early on in the year. You could look towards George Hill and his solid defense, and give him more playing time in hopes of getting him ready for the playoffs. Not too mention, perimeter defender Ime Udoka.  Luckily, for San Antonio, the depth is a lot better equipped to handle an injury like this as opposed to last year. For this, you must credit R.C. Buford.  Before I move on though, back to Ginobili. His health was a big factor in San Antonio being eliminated at the hands of Los Angeles last year. It’s imperative for Ginobili to get back into his rhythm, but be totally healthy by playoff time.

Drew Gooden is on his way
Drew Gooden is headed to Texas for a nice bargain. Words can not express how much I like this move. Because if you didn’t trust Matt Bonner with key minutes for the stretch run or post season, you now have a guy who won’t need the ball a lot, but will help do the dirty work for you. I wouldn’t count on too much offense from Gooden, regardless of the numbers he put up in Chicago, since the Spurs don’t need that from him. With that being said, I can see Gooden filling in as a “Kendrick Perkins light”. Maybe not as good as a strait defender, but offensively will slip into the lane at the right times and reap the benefits just enough to keep a defense honest.

Gooden is a cost effective solution. San Antonio was close to dealing for center Marcus Camby, although the downside of the deal was losing George Hill, and being over the luxury tax because of Camby’s contract.

Final Words

Honestly, I’ve hated the Spurs for years. (They knocked off my team in the Finals) But it doesn’t mean I don’t respect them. Lately, I’ve thought about Duncan’s age, and how long the Spurs will remain as a legit contender. As just somebody who loves basketball, and specifically good basketball, I’ve been watching the Spurs lately with appreciation. The game is played the right way. The offense is executed with such a crisp feel, the defense WILL stop you when it needs to, and Duncan will make almost any shot you need from him at the biggest of moments. The Spurs have been the model franchise of the NBA, and before it’s all over, I want to get the longest look possible.