It’s not surprising to hear – over and over again – that the San Antonio Spurs are boring. Not surprising because most people don’t really understand basketball. These people confuse team play with instantaneous excitement. Unfortunately, for purists (a great many of whom are dinosaurs), the purpose of the game has changed from a group of players working together to beat their opponent to select individuals “breaking ankles” and making flashy, albeit impressive, dunks. And then letting everybody in the arena and listening world know about it.
Today, guys are faster, quicker, stronger. Nutrition, strength and conditioning, flexibility, even the mental aspect of the game have all improved by leaps and bounds. Coaches are brighter when it comes to using the rules to gain an advantage. The best ones have learned to connect better with their players, especially the team leaders whose trust they’ve gained. Moneyball has come to basketball as it no doubt will to every sport, creating entirely new and different methods of evaluating players. Years, maybe decades, from now we’ll find out whether the high tech ideas brought to the game significantly improved it. Or whether it will be exposed as another beat-the-system, “new jack” operation that was no more, or possibly even less, effective than the “old-timer” way. Stay tuned for that answer.
As far as the here and now, let’s discuss some things the Spurs do and why they’ve been able to win so consistently. It’s not because they play “the right way” – a rather presumptuous saying that permeated the hoops world about 10-15 years ago. The “right way” is the method that produces wins – whether it’s the glitzy “Showtime” Lakers or the nasty “Bad Boys” of Detroit. So long as it produces championships and stays within the rules (or ventures outside them as long as no one gets caught – another issue that bothers dinosaurs), whatever produces championships is the right way.
Here are a few examples of the “Spurs Way.” Tony Parker dribbles left toward the top of the circle off of Tiago Splitter’s high screen. As soon as he does, he’s immediately double teamed, so he passes to the left wing to Manu Ginobli. As soon as the ball touches Ginobli’s hands, he throws a two-hand, over his head bullet, cross court to Danny Green on the right side who is all by himself. Consider what the defense has done. First of all, the two guys in the trap are accounted for. Ginobli’s man is guarding him. The guy assigned to Tim Duncan has to zone off against Splitter rolling to the basket and Duncan coming up to replace him for a free throw line jump shot. That leaves the man guarding Green.
He began on Green but as the ball moved left-to-right, he adjusted his stance toward the ball (and away from Green). He also has to help on the Splitter roll, Duncan fill action moving a shade more to the left, meaning when Ginobli rifles the ball to Green, he has no chance to close out in time from preventing Green to take an easy, pregame three. Unless he flies at Green, who just might give a shot fake and step back for an uncontested three, or put the ball on the floor for a shorter shot, or take advantage of the numbers opportunity and possibly get himself or one of the big guys an “and-1.” Yeah, boring.
How about when they run pick-and-roll with Parker and Duncan and TP passes to TD for a short jumper – that Duncan forsakes to pass the ball to Splitter whose man has rotated up to guard Timmy? Splitter lays it in. Or mildly dunks it. More boring. Defensively, they force baseline, understand rotations, stay on their feet on shot fakes and usually get a body on each offensive rebounder. Additional boredom.
There are many occasions in which the Spurs don’t have a single guy attempting to get an offensive rebound. Is it because they have so much faith in their shooters? It’s probably more so because 1) they get good shots which usually means a good percentage or 2) more importantly, because their other players are sprinting back to balance the floor so as to take away fast break points by their opponent. Nothing sexy about that, either.
The answer to whether you think the Spurs are beautiful or boring can be found in a quote from Henry David Thoreau:
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”