Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two

The Extra Pass: The Spurs and time


The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the San Antonio Spurs. 

You don’t have to scrounge for reasons for why the San Antonio Spurs have such great success. A quick point of the finger to Tim Duncan works just fine; an additional point to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili works even better. There probably can’t be enough praise heaped on head coach Gregg Popovich, and attributing credit to the top of the organization won’t warrant many complaints. The Spurs are a world-class organization with all-world players. It can be that simple.

Maybe it’s so simple that it’s easy to look past. Every year the Spurs get older, and every year the concerns about time pop up and we forget everything else. Every compliment includes a caveat — the Spurs are great, but they’re old. Fact is, time is undefeated, and we tend to side with the champion over the challenger in that regard. In the eyes of many, the Spurs are up against it more and more every year.

But when the Spurs inevitably tear through the league like they always do, we say that they’re defying time. We praise their ability to fight time. Every year we do this and act surprised.

It makes me think that we’re looking at it the wrong way. The Spurs aren’t fighting against time. They’re using it.

Forfeiting Time

It starts by giving it up. Manu Ginobili has done it for years, coming off the bench and taking less minutes while not shying away from recuperation time from the bumps and bruises his reckless style of play welcomes. Tim Duncan, meanwhile, has played less than 30 a minutes a night for the last three years. It’s not that Duncan can’t play that much anymore — his playoff average usually hovers around 36 minutes a game — it’s all about pacing. Duncan is playing some of the best basketball of his career and putting up career per-36 numbers, but no team better understands how long an 82 game season is than the Spurs. They are always the tortoise.

That said, thinking that the Spurs sit their stars simply for the sake of rest is a classic mistake. Monday night’s trip to Chicago was a perfect example. Could some combination of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Stephen Jackson could have played? Probably, but suiting up those guys for tired or rusty minutes in the middle of an 82-game season serves no real purpose. Popovich went with none of the four, and the Spurs reserves got a ton of minutes they don’t usually receive. That move paid off, as the shorthanded Spurs beat the Bulls easily, 103-89.

And what’s the result? Another banked experience for guys who might not get many shots at it. When the day comes for Kawhi Leonard to be the Spurs’ top scorer, he has 26 points against the league’s best wing defenders to draw on. That confidence gleaned is more important than anything Parker, Duncan or Ginobili could have done. No coach puts their team in more no-lose, low-risk situations during the regular season than Popovich.

Organizational patience

You would think a front office with an aging core would be in a huge rush to win in their championship window, but the Spurs have gone the opposite route.  Tiago Splitter was drafted way back in 2007, playing overseas for three years of Tim Duncan’s prime before coming over. Nando de Colo was drafted in 2009 and is a rookie this season. George Hill was a mature, useful player at both guard spots for the Spurs, and he was swapped for a raw 19-year-old rookie in Kawhi Leonard last season.

Is it a coincidence that the biggest moves the Spurs have made have been for a center and a small forward?  By waiting on Splitter and developing Leonard into a killer corner scorer, the Spurs might be better than ever. After all, it’s the Spurs — not the Lakers or the Heat or any of the other “super teams” — that have the most effective starting lineup in all of basketball. The Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter lineup has a 106.9 offensive rating and an 87.1 defensive rating. The window is as open as it ever was.

The system

Most of San Antonio’s offense revolves around motion. Guys move with a purpose. There are very few plays for individuals, which eliminates turn taking and bad shots off the dribble. The next time you hear about a player under Popovich complaining about not getting enough shots will be the first time. If you cut hard, you’ll get it. If you screen hard, you’ll get it.

The Spurs may have been missing their stars in Chicago, but their biggest star was undoubtedly the system. The reserves executed in the halfcourt flawlessly, running everything with the same crispness the starters would. Popovich demands his players to follow a lot of rules on both ends, but he doesn’t dumb things down or limit the possibilities. He trusts his players to make the right decisions because they’re his players. Again, that comes with time.

And that’s really the point. We like to consider time as the one great enemy to the mighty Spurs empire, but no other team has used it to their advantage quite like the Spurs have.

Dwyane Wade serious as mentor, teaching Justise Winslow post moves

Third day of Miami Heat camp 10/1/2015
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Dwyane Wade has earned his status as an elder statesman, the E.F. Hutton kind of veteran who speaks and everybody listens.

Rookie Justise Winslow is listening.

Winslow (who should have gone higher in this draft) is a perfect fit for the Heat and he’s going to be part of their rotation off the bench from the start of the season (along with Josh McRoberts and Amare Stoudemire). Wade has already fully stepped into the mentor role with Winslow working with him on post moves, reports Jason Lieser at the Palm Beach Post.

“As his career develops, hopefully he’s able to do multiple things on the floor, but right now there’s gonna be certain things (Erik Spoelstra) wants him to do, and some of those things I’m good at,” Wade said. “I’m just passing down knowledge to someone who I think could be good at things that I have strengths at. It’s gonna take a while, but if he figures it out at 21, he’s ahead of the curve. I figured it out at like 27.

“All of us are where we’re at because someone before us helped us. They helped by letting us sit there and watch film with them or having conversations with them. If he’s a student of it and he really wants to know, I’m a pretty decent teacher in certain areas.”

This is what you want out of a veteran leader and some of the young teams out there have done an excellent job adding this kind of mentor — Kevin Garnett in Minnesota may be the best example. Someone who can pass on his wisdom and show the team’s young players how to be a professional and win in the NBA.

It’s a little different for Winslow, he and the Heat are more in a win-now mode, but he should be able to contribute to that.

NBA All-Star, champion Bill Bridges dies at age 76

ATLANTA - 1968:  Bill Bridges#10 of the Atlanta Hawks poses for a portrait circa 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1968 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photo Library/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bill Bridges, a star as a Kansas Jayhawk who went on to have a 12-year NBA career that included being part of the 1975 Golden State Warriors championship team, has passed away, according to the University of Kansas.

Bridges was an undersized power forward at 6’6″ but he was a beast on the boards who averaged 11.9 rebounds a game for his career and more than 13 a game for six straight years at the peak of his career. That 11.9 per game average is still 27th all-time in NBA history.

A New Mexico native, Bridges was a three-time All-Star (all as a member of the Hawks), two-time All-NBA Defensive team, and was part of the 1975 Warriors title team. Besides the Hawks (St. Louis and Atlanta) and Warriors, Bridges played for the Sixers and Lakers.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.