Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE
The San Antonio Spurs reinvented themselves in 2011-12, and peeled off a 20-game winning streak and the No. 1 seed. Is that sustainable?
Were we as NBA observers smart, we would stop predicting what in God's name the San Antonio Spurs would do any given year. But we are weak in modesty and healthy in confidence that we can sort of the kernels of truth from the institutional bluster, that we can surmise whether Manu Ginobili will be all-powerful or mortal any given season, whether Gregg Popovich will coach to win everything or to win in the end. So we predict.
FEATS OF STRENGTH
The Spurs finished with the No. 1 offense in the NBA in 2011-12 (yep, above the Thunder) and the No. 10 defense. That's darned elite, and it's the opposite of the team we used to know in San Antonio. Back in the mid-Aughts, the Spurs were consistently No. 1 or No. 2 in defense, with an offense ranging from around No. 10 to middle of the pack. But the Spurs went up tempo, Tony Parker took over the offense completely and San Antonio scored beautifully on most nights.
It was all about shooting for San Antonio. The Spurs led the league in shooting percentage (.478, well above the .448 league average), three-point percentage (.393, well above the league average of .349) and effective field goal percentage (.528, leaps and bounds better than league average .487). In an average game, the Spurs' elite shooting was by itself worth a 7-point advantage over a league average offense. That type of efficiency is just murderous. The team was also No. 3 in turnover rate, meaning it got a lot of shots, and made more of them than anyone else. A killer combination.
That the Spurs' defense was solid, too, is almost unfair. The Spurs were No. 1 in the league in defensive rebounding, conceding few second chances. They also didn't foul much, with the second-lowest rate in the league. This allowed San Antonio to survive defensively despite a mid-rung shooting defense and no institutional interest in turnover creation (No. 24).
No wonder the Spurs went 50-16.
One more Feat of Strength: Pop thinks Kawhi Leonard is a star in the making. Y'all should be hiding right now. Why are you even out of your bedroom? HIDE.
AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
Of course, for the second straight season, that impeccable regular season record didn't do much for San Antonio in the playoffs. Oklahoma City wiped them out in the West finals. The Thunder were just overwhelming in their talent. That doesn't bode well for San Antonio this season: not only do the Thunder remain devastatingly talented, but the Lakers have coalesced some trouble. The Spurs come into the season as distinct underdogs to each rival, and frankly, the Clippers aren't far behind. The nasty little Memphis Grizzlies always loom, too.
Have the Spurs turned into a team more effective in the regular season than the playoffs, like, say ... the old Spurs teams under David Robinson? If so, it's because San Antonio is built to cut you to death with its tiny knives of efficiency -- they are just better than most teams in so many categories that they'll likely come out on top by the end of a 48-minute game. In the playoffs the past two seasons, they've been disrupted, first by Memphis' bizarre throwback East Coast style (and Manu's injury), and last spring by the Thunder's hyperaggressive offensive onslaught. The Spurs are susceptible to being punched back, and that rang through in the West finals. You know Pop and crew have a plan to counter the Thunder, Lakers ... whoever. But we need to see before we believe in it.
It will be miraculous if ...
Tim Duncan doesn't begin to look more and more like Albus Dumbledore.
Nando de Colo doesn't win the Name of the Year Award from organization.
Manu Ginobili fails to attack a rogue rodent in the AT&T Center.
Gregg Popovich is completely cordial to Craig Sager all season long. (Wait ...)
Gregg Popovich is cordial to Craig Sager once all season.
Tony Parker doesn't drop 40 on Steve Nash at some point this season.
THE HUMAN FUND
Let's get sincere.
Team MVP: Tony Parker
Team X-Factor: Kawhi Leonard
Team Finish: 1st in Southwest | 3rd in West
Best Championship Hopes: Serge Ibaka Foul Trouble
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.