Spurs Struggle to Repeat in 2015
Very few teams have been able to sustain continued success like the San Antonio Spurs have enjoyed over the years. The Spurs boast one of the most successful trios with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, along with their longtime coach Gregg Popovich. Since Popovich became the head coach in San Antonio in 1996, he has led the team to winning records in every year other than his inaugural stint at the helm of the Spurs. After he boasted a 17-47 record in 1996-1997, Popovich and the Spurs selected Tim Duncan first overall to change the direction of the franchise. Every year since, the Spurs have made the playoffs. The Spurs found Ginobili late in the second round of the 1999 draft, and then selected Parker in the backend of the first round two years later. With Popovich, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili on the team, the four of them have been, for a lack of better words, dominant. With these four individuals, they have won four NBA championships, and represented the Western Conference five times in the finals. However, this year they will not win the 2014-2015 NBA Championship.
Depth in the Western Conference
At the time of this article, the Spurs are 21-14 and are currently the seven seed in the Western Conference. The Western Conference is loaded and it will be a challenge for any team to make it through the West. The teams that create the biggest obstacles for the Spurs this season in the West are the Warriors, Mavericks, Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, and Grizzlies. The Golden State Warriors have taken a big jump this season and have depth at each position. They are tall, extremely athletic and create matchup problems for every team. The Mavericks made a significant acquisition in star point guard Rajon Rondo in pursuit of attaining the championship trophy this season. While they have a star studded lineup with the likes of Rondo, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tyson Chandler, their limited bench could hold them back. Since acquiring Rondo, the Mavericks are 4-3 with him coordinating the offense. While the Clippers have enjoyed constant regular season success with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, they tend to struggle mightily in the playoffs. In the past three years, the Clippers hold an unimpressive 12-18 record in the playoffs, but their talented lineup could allow them to push through the West. The Thunder battled injuries to superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant early in the season, but they are back and playing better than ever. The slow start and the deep West will leave the Thunder with a lower seed in the playoffs, but they will be a threat as they are a solid basketball team when healthy. Much like the Clippers, the Rockets tend to struggle when postseason basketball rolls around. However, this Houston team is better than the 2013-2014 Houston team that was ousted by Portland in the first round last year. The bench is deeper, and the role players are more of a factor this season. The signing of Josh Smith, the elevated defense by James Harden and company, and the future return of Terrence Jones make Houston a legitimate contender for the title this season. The Spurs tend to struggle against teams that play at a slower place, which plays right into the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies boast a solid defense, and the elevated play of point guard Mike Conley provides this team with another outlet in the offensive game plan. In regards to many of the aforementioned teams, they all boast a rather dominant guard, which the Spurs have been unsuccessful in stopping so far this season. For assurance on that, Ellis (DAL) went for 38 points, Westbrook (OKC) scored 34, Harden (HOU) dropped 28, and Conley (MEM) bucketed 30 against the Spurs, all in the month of December. If the Spurs continue to struggle guarding dominant guards, they could be ousted from the postseason earlier than they would like.
Decline of the Big 3
For what seems like years now, reports have surfaced that this is finally the year that the Spurs’ big 3 start to decline. However, year after year they refute that point, and tend to not decline. It’s hard to grasp a good feel on the Spurs, as Popovich is notorious for resting star players frequently throughout the season to keep the old men fresh for the playoffs. As of January 1st, in 34 games on the year, the Spurs do not have a single player who has appeared in every game. Boris Diaw and Danny Green have played in a team-high 33, while Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph are tied for second with 32 games played. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have appeared in 29, Tony Parker in 21, and Kawhi Leonard in 22 games. This is the year where the Spurs notice a decline, especially in their big 3. If the season were to end today, Tony Parker’s season averages of points, assists, rebounds, and free throw percentage will have declined every season since 2012-2013. Ginobili’s peripherals are below his career totals, and he too is succumbing to father time. Duncan, at 38 years old is enjoying a great season, but he needs frequent rest as his knees can’t hold up as well as they once could. The big three in San Antonio aren’t quite as explosive as they once were, and San Antonio’s bench is expected to carry a more prominent role. Kawhi Leonard is emerging as a great NBA player, but he has missed time this year due to an eye injury. Father time always wins out, and this could be the year that the Spurs lose the battle.
Early Season Results
The Spurs are 9-1 against one conference and 12-13 against the other. Yes, the Spurs have dominated the East so far but have struggled against the West. Many Spurs enthusiasts will say that this is because they didn’t have the full lineup out there as Coach Popovich insists on resting his regulars. Regardless, the Spurs have struggled so far against teams in the Western Conference, and that is a big thing to watch moving forward. They are settled in arguably the toughest division in the entire NBA, the Southwest division. In 10 combined games against the Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, and Pelicans, the Spurs are 4-6 so far this season. Last season, the Spurs went 38-14 against the Western Conference, and 12-4 against fellow members of their Southwest conference. Two years ago, the Spurs went 33-19 against their conference and 12-4 against their respective division. As you can see, their loss totals from this season are approaching or have already surpassed those numbers from recent years. This is yet another sign that San Antonio will not win the title this season.
While the Spurs aren’t the flashiest or most exciting team to watch, their old-school brand of basketball is poetry in motion. Duncan, the Big Fundamental works the post masterfully, and the entire Spurs team demonstrates how ball movement beats isolation. High school and college coaches can use the Spurs as a primary example to how a cohesive unit can beat star-studded lineups (see 2013-2014 NBA Finals).
Here are the dates and median ticket prices for some of the Spurs top remaining games.
1/16/2015 Spurs vs. Trailblazers $33
2/6/2015 Spurs vs. Heat $52
3/27/2015 Spurs vs. Mavericks $49