Spurs Confidential: The Best Team No One Is Talking About

The tsunami that is the Golden State Warriors has obliterated just about every other team that is a serious contender for the NBA title and it makes sense when you consider no NBA team has ever gone 20-0 to start the year and this is the 68th season of NBA basketball. The fact that the Warriors are doing this after (a) a championship season, and (b) everyone considered them an example of time and circumstance but not much else, has turned the team that plays in Oakland into something short of a phenomenon.

Special seasons come every decade or so. All the attention on Curry and his athletic three point happy crew is warranted by the numbers. But just because other teams are not being examined through the micro lens doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

The second best record in the NBA belongs to the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won the off-season by adding David West and LaMarcus Aldridge, by re-signing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and by the way, didn’t anyone pay attention to Gregg Popovich’s contract extension?

Of course not. It is the Spurs ongoing narrative that has been a staple since Tim Duncan won his second title in 2003. In the media ecosystem of good vs. evil, chaos vs. sensationalism, the Spurs stability and excellence is always overlooked because there is nothing dramatically hedonisitic about what they do game after game, night after night.

The Spurs have had great regular seasons that have not led them to the Finals. So there is a pause that is understandable. 63 wins in 2005-06. They lost in the semi-finals. 61 wins in 2010-11. They lost in the first round. It’s hard to tell how this season will unfold, it is way too early. But here are the trends no one is paying attention to.

1st in opponent points. 1st in defensive rating. 1st in rebounding. 3rd in field goal percentage defense. 3rd in 3-point field goal defense. 3rd in blocks. 6th in steals.

This is the best defensive team the Spurs have had since they ranked first in defensive rating in the 2005-06 season but in that season they weren’t first in rebounds. They were 12th.

The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge was supposed to effect the Spurs on the offensive end but it has done the opposite. They are a better defense from last season, particularly behind the arc.  It’s the reason why the Spurs can score less than 100 points a game and be the second best team in the West.

 Spurs Defense Opponent Points  Field Goal Percentage  3-Point Percentage Defensive Rating
 2015-16  88.5 (1st)  41.6% (3rd)  31.1% (3rd)  93.9 (1st)
 2014-15  97.0 (3rd)  44.4% (13th)  36.0% (24th)  102.0 (2nd)

On offense, the Spurs ball movement is an exercise in selflessness. They average 25 assists a game which puts them behind the Warriors and the Hawks and ties them with the Celtics. Consequentially, they score the ball at a high rate, 46%.

Once Aldridge became a Spur, the three point shooting numbers were going to dip as Aldridge is a mid-range God but whatever the Spurs do, they do well. They take 19 three’s a game which ranks 23rd but they make 36% of them which ranks 6th. They don’t take a lot of free throws and are at the bottom of the metric for offensive rebounds because when you don’t miss a lot of shots there aren’t a lot of offensive rebounds available.

The Spurs lost to the Thunder on opening night. They lost to the Bulls a week ago. Both were road games. They have yet to play any of the other contenders: Warriors, Pacers, Cavaliers, Heat. To their advantage, the Western Conference has badly regressed. The Warriors and Spurs are at the top and everyone else is in a slip and fall, get up, slip and fall gravitational pull. It gives the Spurs the breathing room to pace themselves and to rest players. Last season, they found out the hard way what happens when you enter the playoffs as a lower seed.

The current PER numbers of the Spurs lifers is what makes the team gifted.

  • Tony Parker: 20.2
  • Manu Ginobli: 19.8
  • Tim Duncan: 19.5

It’s December and the Spurs are doing what they always do, winning without attention. The earth is round and the Spurs win games. Their excellence lacks the accompaniment of brain numbing repetitive highlights on ESPN, national magazine cover photo shoots and social media trending timelines.

The Spurs are who they are. It’s true. People don’t change. So expect a 60 win season and the playoffs before anyone notices exactly what is possible: championship number 6.

photo via llananba