San Antonio Spurs would be the most-balanced NBA champion of all time

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When the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA title, they were hailed as the first superstar-less champions since the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics. It was a decent attempt honor the Pistons, an ode to their teamwork and balance.

But now that we’re on the verge of the most-balance NBA champion of all time, there’s hardly a peep.

Yes, the 2014 San Antonio Spurs have no superstars. (I’d argue the 2004 Pistons had one.) San Antonio has overcome its lack of elite singular production through depth and Gregg Popovich’s masterful coaching. The Spurs’ ball movement and spacing are second to none, and their defense is among the NBA’s most-versatile. On both sides of the ball, their success is a tribute to their balance.

San Antonio being only team in NBA history without a player who averaged 30 minutes per game was a telling stat entering the playoffs. Now that the Spurs, up 3-1 on the Miami Heat entering Game 5 of the NBA Finals tonight, are on the verge of an NBA title, their place in history due their balance deserves closer inspection.

Most NBA champions – by nearly a 3-to-1 margin – have an All-NBA first teamer. The Spurs did not, though Tony Parker made the All-NBA second team.

Parker is the closest player the Spurs have to a superstar.

Tim Duncan, with his continued late-career brilliance, has solidified his place as the best power forward of all-time. But he’s no longer one of the NBA’s top players based on current ability. He didn’t even make the All-Star game this year, and he’s missed all the All-NBA teams three of the last four years, including this one.

Manu Ginobili had the lowest peak level of the famed trio, and that occurred years ago. Like Duncan, he’s still a very valuable piece. But superstar, even by the most liberal of definitions? No way.

Kawhi Leonard could get there some day – again by the term’s widest scope – and his recent scoring binge suggests he’s closer than most think. But he’s not there yet. Though he led San Antonio in win shares, his total (7.7) would be the lowest to ever lead an NBA champion – and that includes lockout-shortened seasons and other years with few than 82 games, when there were fewer wins to divvy up.

No, the only contender is Parker, who, in addition to representing the Spurs on the All-NBA teams, was their only All-Star this season. But that’s just the bare minimum. Every NBA champion in a season with an All-Star Game had a player in it.

To better judge balance, I created a stat called Balance Rating.

Balance Rating is the standard deviation of the win shares of the top 10 players plus standard deviation of the win shares of the top nine players plus standard deviation of the win shares of the top eight players… all the way to top two. As opposed to just using standard deviation, this method emphasizes the place of teams’ top players.

The LOWER the Balance Rating, the more balanced a team is.

Here are the Balance Ratings for every NBA champion plus the 2014 Spurs:

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Year Team Balance Rating
2014 SAS 8.8
1989 DET 12.8
1978 WSB 16
1990 DET 16.6
1979 SEA 17
1974 BOS 17.2
1968 BOS 18.1
1977 POR 19.5
1948 BLB 19.9
1999 SAS 21
1951 ROC 21.4
2005 SAS 21.6
2010 LAL 21.6
1988 LAL 22.1
1969 BOS 22.3
1957 BOS 22.4
2004 DET 22.8
1976 BOS 23.1
1981 BOS 24
1966 BOS 24.3
2011 DAL 24.5
1995 HOU 24.5
2008 BOS 25
1973 NYK 26.8
2007 SAS 27.4
1961 BOS 28
1985 LAL 28.2
1958 STL 29.1
1963 BOS 29.2
1959 BOS 29.4
1955 SYR 29.8
1982 LAL 30.4
1975 GSW 30.4
1954 MNL 30.7
1984 BOS 31
1960 BOS 31.4
2002 LAL 31.9
2009 LAL 32.7
1983 PHI 35
1962 BOS 35
1994 HOU 35.5
1972 LAL 35.6
1986 BOS 35.7
1980 LAL 36.2
2006 MIA 36.5
1987 LAL 37.1
1953 MNL 37.7
1970 NYK 38
2012 MIA 38.1
1998 CHI 38.9
1956 PHW 38.9
1952 MNL 40.5
2001 LAL 40.6
1964 BOS 42.6
1965 BOS 43.1
2003 SAS 43.5
1997 CHI 45.2
1993 CHI 45.3
1992 CHI 46.5
2000 LAL 48.3
1947 PHW 49.4
1996 CHI 50
2013 MIA 51.5
1991 CHI 55.1
1971 MIL 59.8
1967 PHI 62.6
1950 MNL 62.7
1949 MNL 66.3

The Bad Boys deserve more credit for their teamwork. Between their 1989 and 1990 championships, the Pistons had only one All-NBA team player – Joe Dumars, who made the 1990 third team. That means the 1989 Pistons were the only champion since the NBA added an all-league third team with no All-NBA players. (The 1978 Washington Bullets and 1979 Sonics did it, but there were just two All-NBA teams then.)

By the time he won those titles, Isiah Thomas had suppressed some of his individual skills to empower his teammates. That made the Pistons better, even if he was not quite as efficient in the regular season.

But Thomas elevated his game in the playoffs, which differentiates those Pistons from these Spurs.

The Spurs are who they are. They share the ball, defend on a string and take turns doing it. Stylistically and strategically, this is the same team that finished with the NBA’s best regular-season record. San Antonio no longer turns to Duncan, Parker or Ginobili to carry the team in pressure situations as the Pistons did with Thomas. The Spurs just keep playing their beautiful balanced game and watch where it takes them.

If it wins the championship, San Antonio will not be remember as a superstar-less champion, because Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were so excellent in their primes. Those peak years, which have already come and gone, would get conflated with this title.

But, in 2014, the Spurs are a team without a superstar.

They should get credit for it.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.