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Know thy Enemy: San Antonio Spurs

Know thy enemy: San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs: 50-32 (56-26, 3rd Western Conference, 2nd Southwest Division)

Key Additions:
Roger Mason Jr., George Hill
Key Losses:
  Brent Barry, Robert Horry

"Don't trust anyone over 30"
                                         - some hippie                                                                          Me_cane_2

While the offended may counter with a point along the lines of life beginning at 40, when it comes to professional round ballers, it's generally agreed that the further an NBA player travels across the "30 years of living" threshold, the more worries there are about his athletic prowess.  Which brings us to the San Antonio Spurs. 

Any team that made it to last year's Western Conference Finals can't be poo-pooed, particularly one with as many smart, "been there, done that" and jewelry rocking dudes as the Spurs.  But I also couldn't help but notice how long in the tooth this crew looked at times.  Yes, that "step lost" can be offset by vet savvy,  Yes, an argument can be made that Greg Popovich is the best coach.  Yes, a trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli- once he's back in a projected mid-December return- is deadly at the top of its game.  But just the same, the role players surrounding them are getting up there and I'm wondering if this team will collectively hit a wall similar to what happens when Luke Walton is playing at 50-75% health: Any "high basketball I.Q." (for lack of a better and less beaten-to-death cliche') gets canceled out by a body that can't make the most of it. 

Of course, that's just one man's prognosis, so I decided to seek out another.  I threw a few questions at AusTechSpur from the fine "Pounding the Rock" blog.  Check out what he's got to say, and then I'll offer a few more thoughts. 

1) In my mind (and I'm aware it's not a stunningly original thought), the biggest question mark for the Spurs is age.  Save Tony Parker, they don't have one important/proven player on the good side of 30.  Manu Ginobli has been getting nicked up (as we speak, even).  Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas and Bruce Bowen may still be effective role players, but they're also at a career twilight.  Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan, but he's also 32 now and, perhaps more importantly, may not have the cast around him to remain as effective.  Then again, this team is exceptionally disciplined, experienced and smart, which helped them beat a younger (and in my opinion, better) Hornets team in the semi's.  How big a concern is age in your mind?

  • AusTechSpur: Pounding The Rock -  I don’t give one rat’s ass about the Spurs age.  This is a Kovemanu team that made it to the WCF last year and was a Manu injury from competing in it.  I won’t say we would have won it, that would be insulting to Lakers fans, but we would have competed.  We are a year older, so what?  So are the Lakers.  So are the Suns.  So are the Mavs.  I think the age thing is a strange media talking point that really shows they don’t REALLY know the game.  If Marc Stein of ESPN, for instance, said something like – “The Spurs perimeter players have lost a step and are no longer able to play the defense that Gregg Popovich’s system requires from perimeter players”.   Or, “Tim Duncan doesn’t have the lateral movement to provide the help defense necessary in the system”. Then I might think twice.  But their analysis comes down to two things:  1)  The Spurs are old.  2)  It is an odd year. 

    Neither of those points make a damn of a difference in analyzing how good a team is.  The Spurs last year lived and died by their outside shooting.  If they shot well, they won.  If they didn’t, they struggled mightily to get a win.  End.  Of.  Story.  So, the thing that concerns me the most is “can the Spurs knock down outside shots at a high enough rate?”  Manu, Tim, and Tony can all score inside, but can we knock down outside shots?

2) How long can the Spurs keep a positive pace without Manu in the lineup?

  • I think having Manu out won’t hurt us much.  We’ll probably lose 2-3 more games than we would if we had him, but there are a couple plus sides.  Manu will be fresher for the second half of the year – Pop will seriously limit his minutes for the month after he gets back – and it will give the other wing players a chance to develop.  Those 2-3 games though, is the difference between 2nd/3rd and 5th /6th probably.  Not necessarily good, but that’s where we are headed I think.

3) A lot of casual fans (or at least ones on the west coast) may not be familiar with Roger Mason, Jr., but he's coming off a pretty good year with Washington, works hard, and can shoot.  But he's also hardly proven.  How much do you think he can make an impact for the Spurs, whether providing scoring or just some fresh legs.  And if it's not Mason, which player not named 'Tim," "Manu" or "Tony" needs to step it up to help keep this team at this decade's level?  Or, in the end, is it really about those three?

  • I’m not sure what he will give us, but I don’t think it will be athleticism.  My guess is that MasonManu_tim_tony_3 will be a very solid player.  He’ll be successful if he can knock down 3’s, occasionally drive to the basket, and play semi-harassing defense.  Make no mistake though, it’s about Tim, Tony, and Manu.  Nobody else on the team is capable of carrying the Spurs offensively for stretches.  But, either of those three can do it for long stretches and not many teams can say that.  However, they will need other guys to step it up in the rebounding and hustle departments.  I think the rookie George Hill will be a surprise.  He won’t score much, but he may give us a lot of everything else.

4) My brother and I think- and you can feel free to disagree- the Spurs are so experienced (not to mention, well, old) that they look to conserve energy early on, keep the foot off the gas and not worry much until February and March.  From there, they look to hit stride and peak right around the playoffs.  If you agree, are they still capable of pulling it off?  Also, what should we be looking at until then to get some kind of idea what this team is about?  Individual performances? How they close games?  How healthy everyone appears?  The sincerity of Pop's confidence (or concern)?

  • Absolutely the Spurs wait to turn it on.  I think the Spurs plan, much like the way Phil Jackson coaches, is to focus on getting better throughout the season.  It’s a long season and the goal is to win the last game, not the first game.  For the Spurs, with their surplus of experience, it’s about working new guys into the system to see what they can provide.  Then, when February comes around, Pop decides who can provide help to a championship drive and goes with it.  Yeah, I think they are capable of pulling it off this year.  I pay attention to two things during the first half of the regular season to gauge our chances:  1)  How well we perform in the last 4-5 minutes of close games.  This is when we see our ability to execute with our best personnel.  Pop will play a mish-mash of lineups during the game, but in the last 4-5 minutes he’ll play to win.  2)  How well the second unit guys develop.  We’ll need 1 or 2 of those guys to make a step forward this year.  If it’s Udoka or Mason hitting 3’s or Mahinmi/Tolliver/Hill playing defense and rebounding.  We will have to get something out of them. 

5) When in doubt, do Spurs fans ever just remind themselves that it's an odd numbered "every other" year, which puts history on your guys' side?  Can that magic maintain this season?   Has destiny made this a "numerology done deal" of sorts?

  • I know some Spurs fans fall back on the “odd year” thing but, as I said earlier, I think that’s about as much crap as the age thing.  Again, how many prognosticators have said the Spurs are Rounders56 old but you can’t rule them out in an odd numbered year?  Of course, maybe they are all numerologists and I have some learning to do.  I think a lot has more to do with the Spurs preparation and philosophy than age and numerology.  The Spurs enter every year just like a professional poker player enters a No Limit Hold ‘em tournament.  You prepare, you make good decisions, you execute, and you need luck.  How many Spurs players are overweight?  How many come to camp out of shape?  How many are overly muscular?  None.  The Spurs come to camp ready to play.  They don’t play their way into shape.  Players who are overweight or over bulky are prone to injury.  Players who don’t maintain their health are prone to injury. 

    Winning a championship is about being good, being talented, being healthy, and being lucky.  It’s about making a lucky shot.  It’s about a twisted ankle and not a sprained ankle.  In 2000, Tim Duncan missed the playoffs.  In 2001 (or 2002), Derek Anderson – the Spurs second option on offense – got hurt in the Mavs series and was a no-show in the Lakers series.  Last year Manu was hurt.  The Spurs benefitted from Joe Johnson fracturing his eye socket one year and another year Nowitzki hurt his knee in the second game of the series.  Those are all potentially series changing injuries.  So, it’s like Hold ‘em.  It’s about improving your odds from beginning to end. Getting lucky.  Taking advantage of other people’s misfortune. Executing your game plan.  Health in the West this year will be huge. The Spurs will need Tim, Manu, and Tony.  The Hornets will need Paul, West, and Chandler (they won’t be worth a damn without Chandler).  The Jazz need Williams and Boozer.  The Lakers are loaded.  They need Kobe, but they could lose Gasol, Bynum, or Odom and probably still make a run.  The Mavs need Nowitzki, Kidd, and Howard.  The Suns need Shaq, Nash, and Amare.  Houston needs Yao and McGrady.  None of those teams can go deep into the playoffs without their guys healthy.  Any of them, with their guys healthy, are dangerous

Bonus question: While it might unintentionally serve to remind fans that this team ain't getting anyGreggpopovich_2 younger, how freaking awesome is Greg Popovich's beard?  No matter how the season shakes out, if he keeps it through 82 games and the playoffs, the season was an undeniable success, in my opinion.  Agreed?

  • Pop’s beard is awesome.  That’s my avatar at PtR.  Unfortunately, he trimmed it Wednesday and it looks rather ordinary.  I really wish he grew it out all year because it would have been fantastic.  I mean, I can’t grow that much hair on my head as fast as he grew a beard.  Think about it.  He grew an inch plus of beard in 5 months.  Just think what he could have done over the next 8.

(AK's note: I didn't find out until after sending out these questions that Pop cleaned up his ZZ-Top look.  Very disappointed, but I'm hoping that upon seeing that at least two members of the media think his beard length could make or break a season, he'll do the sensible, right thing and let his freak flag fly again)

Clearly, my man Aus and I don't see eye to eye on the age issue (or that it is an issue).  But even if I concurred that a month and change without Ginobli ain't no thang, AusTerSpur's acknowledgment of the sixth man's importance to the big picture makes his fragile ankle a scenario less than ideal.  But still, these guys have proved themselves to the point where at least some doubt benefits must be extended.  Thus, I still consider them an upper-echelon opponent.  But I'm predicting this will be the year we see definitive evidence that Father Time may be the ultimate unschoolable foe.

Prediction: A win total in the low 50's and 5th in the west.      



Comments () | Archives (24)

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I hate the "odd year" thing that a bunch of writers resort to as well. I mean, why not just cancel the whole season and give the Spurs the title. It's silly and the laziest "analysis" ever.

I disagree that the Spurs will only lose 2-3 more games without Manu than they would have with him. The Spurs only had 3 guys who could score last season and they just lost one of them for a month and a half.

Second half scoring was a big problem in the second half of last season for them that cost them several wins, and also ended up costing them against us.

The Spurs age is definitely an issue for them and it's an issue I don't think they addressed well enough. They'll still be a team to be reckoned with, but I believe their championship days are done.

"That's pretty fun. We all got pretty used to having players to complain about. It's amazing how quickly we've gotten rid of Kwame, Smush, Cook and to a far lesser extent Mo Evans."

Xodus lol. I agree that it is truly amazing how we got rid of the 2nd biggest bust in NBA history (only Chris Washburn is worst and even the Kandi Man had better years than Kwa-may), a thankless scrub who can't even get on the Denver Nuggets roster (Smooosh), and a guy who couldn't defend, rebound, block, and was very lazy who could only shoot 3 pointers when hot and was worthless when shooting ice cold (Cook). Evens had his positives and was better than Kwa-may, Smush, and Cook though Trevor really replaced him in every way save for his jump shooting.

Spurs is still an elite team in the West though GINOBILI!'s injury will set them back. I wouldn't go too far down as 5th seed and instead place them at 4th seed and still get home court advantage in the 1st Round of the Playoffs.


The Spurs might as well rename themselves the measuring sticks - because that's what they've been pretty much this entire decade. If you're worse than them, then you're probably not a contender - if you're better than they are, you're elite if not on the cusp of being elite. They have, arguably, the steadiest foundation of any team. Their core has been together forever and any players they lose are just easily replaceable cogs in a system proven to be successful. Everyone checks their egos, contract situations and drama at the door b/c the culture there just won't tolerate it. The current Lakers can't say they're even at that point yet. That'll come hopefully after the next couple of Championships.

btw - When I was a kid, I was convinced that the Spurs were the arch-villains to our super-hero Lakers. Just like Superman had Bizarro, Kareem had Artis Gilmore and Magic had The Iceman.

Aus Tech Spur,

"We’ll probably lose 2-3 more games than we would if we had him, "

Yeah, 2-3 games in a playoff series!


"We are a year older, so what? So are the Lakers."

That was an odd retort. I think aging is working FOR the Lakers right now.


I agree that the Spurs could end up in 4th place, but I think people are doing the same thing they always do with former champions and give them the benefit of the doubt when they're clearly not as good as before.

It happened to us in 2003 a lot when we were clearly not as good as years prior and Miami last season. Even when it was clear Miami sucked people were still saying they could make the playoffs.

Obviously the Spurs aren't nearly as bad as Miami, but I see them as a second round and out team like we were in 2003. They should have been out in the second round last year but Chris Paul's youth came through in Game 7 and he looked terrified in that game.

Well -- I've been waiting for opening night since June and its 72 hours away. This team can be one of the most devastating teams in history --Yeah, bill walton style. When you have 4-5 players that can score 20 on any given night and dominate rebounding by a large number on any given night, there's not much the opposition can do. If they can hold opponents to under 100 consistently, I can see them getting the best record in the NBA, but the reality is that the Celtics can pad their wins against 7-8 teams in the east. I'll predict 63 wins, which is very high considering the level of competition in the WC.

Just stay healthy. That's the only issue I see.


Nice job on the Spurs. I agree with your individual analyses but see the Spurs as falling behind the Lakers, Hornets, Rockets, Jazz, and Blazers this year to finish with a 6th seed in the West. If the Suns get a better effort from Shaq, the Spurs could even fall to 7th. Also, anybody who thinks that losing Manu for any period of time is not going to hurt much is just plain disrespecting the best and most clutch offensive player on the Spurs. Age has caught up with San Antonio and they no longer are a competitor for the championship. JMNOHO.


It's all about Duncan. Watching him last year, he just didn't seem to have quite as much juice left. It's subtle, and it's not yet showing up in the stats. The guy has been a remarkablle workhorse but there's one undeniable fact - he's a big that has played hard and physical for 11 very full seasons, including 155 playoff games. Time is the avenger and they cannot do it without him.


the Lamar Anthem is all in good fun of course. I'm sure I will be able to post it many more times this year, because we all know, LO will do some bone-headed thing to warrant its re-release.
Here's to Lamar, Laker for Life.
We all need to laugh sometimes.

FYI, the 2-3 more losses was in the scope of the 20-25 games he's expected to miss. If he's out longer, it will be worse, much worse.

Thanks for having me on your blog.



you wrote: Not to trade barbs again but I disagree on Trevor.

Trevor is still the same Trevor as last year (not the finals Trevor).

He still is a great stealer, Slasher. His jump shot was solid as it was last year.

He still isn't a great passer as his inbound passes really turned the ball over quite frequently (though Lamar as 2nd unit could be doing it).

When he started as SG his limitations were exposed as teams simply clogged the lane and denied his penetrations. He worked much better with Jordan because Jordan's penetrations opened up even more opportunities. (Bruins work together I suppose).

His defense with Jordan shined. His defense at starting unit? Still good just not as good and against SG he struggled when they did their off the ball moves.

Radman showed a commitment to defense and his offense is still there that's why he is starting. (We were both wrong on that one).

Lamar shined better with 2nd Unit. Jordan had more scoring opportunites.

my response:

re: Trevor. Feel free to disagree. You were also the one
who spoke about Lamar doing lateral quickness drills. :)
From my perspective, his jumpshot is solid and it wasn't
last year. It is hard to remember because he was hurt
for most of it. It's also noteworthy that Phil was pleased
with how Ariza & his game arrived in camp.

re: Ariza and his turnovers. I'm ignoring those because it's
preason. PJ indicated that his teams take longer to jell. We
also saw this last year. Turnovers diminish when it's not

re: Ariza and defense with Jordan. *everybody* seems
to play well with Jordan.

re: Ariza and SG. He's a SF. I'm not super interested in
his play at SG. PJ might care, but from my perspective our
SG's are Kobe and Sasha. period.

re: Radman. I'll believe Radman is better defensively
when it's april and your still talking about his defense.

re: Lamar shining with the bench mob. He's now in his
proper place as 6th man. I told you he shouldn't be
starting SG, SF or point forward. :)

Just a reminder to those who signed up for the Good Times
fantasy league at espn, the draft is tomorrow at 10 am pacific
time. Good luck.

Well -- I've been waiting for opening night since June and its 72 hours away.

Posted by: HmrHed | October 25, 2008 at 05:58 PM

I know how you feel. This is going to be a special team to follow this year, especially with the crazy talent we have at the center and power forward positions. This team is going to be very aesthetically pleasing; very fun to watch. The two seven footers in the starting lineup, dynamic finishers like Kobe, Farmar and Ariza, a sixth man who can play all five positions and shooters like Vlad and Sasha make this as interesting and exciting a Laker squad as we've ever seen. And we’re on the precipice of the new season.

I'd like Bynum to start off the year as option 1a with Gasol second and Kobe third. This would get so much accomplished and make everyone happy. Kobe could rest, Bynum and Gasol could showcase his talents while working out all the kinks through sweat and effort.

Can’t wait.


And Isiah,

Buddy, you need to apologize for lying about your daughter like that. That's terrible. And to think that the Knicks had a guy like that running the franchise. I guess the buck stops with his children.


"I hope we get a Belichek like way of going about business and back off some of the Phil Jackson arrogance.
Doc Rivers took Phil behind the woodshed and paddled him royally. Phil has a TON, I mean a TON to prove."

rotflmao ... yup he sure did give phil an ass whooping. Doc Rivers is like the anti-zen, he's approach to coaching is I dont have to outsmart the other team, my guys just need to work harder ... Phil let the 2nd unit give up a good chunk of our 24 point lead in game 4 to a boston squad that just kept working us hard, urgh the memories

To me Boston is the enemy, that's the villian we need to know ... everyone else is just a stepping stone to them ... I hope they come out of the east, cuz we're more talented this year and when you've got talent, zen beats boston's blue collar work ethic ... doc river's paddle is gonna get shredded by zen master's light saber


this is for you about Ariza:

But the X-factor in all of this might be Ariza, who was horrifyingly unready when he turned pro in 2004 after one year at UCLA but has developed into a superior defender and a guy who can get to the rim quickly and effectively. He's not considered a great shooter, but that part of his game might be coming, too.

"Offensively he runs the floor, he knows how to play without the ball, and he's knocking down shots with consistency," Farmar said.

Here is my formula. Everyone, including the Spurs, who we beat after Bynum left, has no chance against us now.

The only team that really beat us after Bynum were the Celtics. The question is "Are we now improved enough to beat the Celtics?"

Since no other team could beat us in a series without Bynum, I don't think we need to worry about them now.

AND, I wear my lack of sophistication as a badge of honor as it helps me see the obvious.


So are we retaining Coby Karl?



Yes - it is that simple. We want the Celtics in June!! Thank you for clarity. Now - pass that bottle over here.

This is back from the other thread, but I really think that we could keep most of the important players for 85-90 million, if we win the championship this year. I don't think Jerry Buss wouldn't be willing to spend more bucks for what could be a great dynasty. And I think Kobe would sttle for 20 million, knowing that he has the chance to surpass MJ in terms of championships. What do you think is more important to him, getting a 25-30 million dollar contract, or getting 18-20 million and being able to win championships for years to come. If he wins more, too, his endorsements only keep going up and that means more money anyway. Lamar has already said that he loves this team and would be willing to take a pay cut. I said before that he could be signed for 9 million, which isn't a stretch since he's getting 11 million now (as AK or BK clarified some time ago). As for Jordan and Trevor I think they could sign something similar to what Sasha did, more money obviously, but close. That means 18-20 million for 3 years. Like I said Mihm is expendable. He can be replaced by a draft pick. The only player I'm really worried about is Bynum because his agent seems like an idiot. I really think 60-70 million for 6 years is good. I just don't know if his agent will accept that. Still, there's always the option of letting Lamar go.

The Spurs even when healthy, are a notorious, slow out of the gate team. Minus Manu for 6-8 weeks and it gets worse.

The West is tough and the Spurs division is by far the toughest.

In the past, they new they could rack up wins and close strong. This year, it won't happen.

Last year they were 22-19 on the road, this year could be below .500. Back to backs, with an older team,are very hard to win.

I have them 4th in their division and 6 to 7th in the West.

This winning every other year is why they will win is absolutely stupid. Only an idiot would use that solely as a predictor, like some old superstition that has them winning. It had more to do with injuries and competition as to why they have not been able to repeat. And this year, they are starting with injuries AND they are relying on even older players for key contributions.

Spurs depth chart is weak. When Duncan sits, they will drop off noticeably, without Manu to pick up the slack, which was last years plan.

I have Manu missing up to 30 games. Spurs will play .500 ball and be 7-9 games behind the Rockets and NO.

A bad seeding in the playoffs will lead to a first or 2nd round exit. An injury to Timmy may mean no playoffs. The West is that good and is not a very forgiving place.

The Spurs are a great team, but the L.A. Lakers are the better team. Nobody can stop the L.A. Lakers. With Gasol, Odom, and Bryant, they are an offensive force.



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