I wanted to call this article, "Symptoms of a Team Attempting to Come Together but Struggling to Get There," but decided it was as ridiculous as Dirk's hair/face; it's too ugly and long. Last time I wrote, I know it's been a while, I predicted 11 wins in a row. Well, we have won 6 of 7 so I'm not complaining. Despite the wins, I've noticed some symptoms that this Spurs team possesses that previous Spurs teams did not suffer from and thought I'd elaborate on them after the jump.
With the additions of RJ, McDyess, Bogans, Blair and Theo, virtually every lineup that the Spurs put on the floor is brand new. These new pieces have resulted in four negative growing pains that I will speak of shortly. In order for the Spurs to reach their potential, the Spurs will simply require time to get acquainted with one another. I think we are already seeing improvement in their play, but they still have a long way to go.
Passes that sail out of bounds.
Now, I'm not referring to save attempts where a guy dives after a ball after a bad bounce and they throw it up for grabs at the last second. I'm referring to all the passes that sail out of bounds when the Spurs are running a set play out of their half court offense. I counted three that occurred against the Clippers, and if you have been following the Spurs, you know what I am talking about. This is the best example of their growing pains. The players are still getting to know each other. They do not have a feel of where their teammates are going to move. Think about how Manu used to play with Oberto. How Manu knew where Oberto was going to be before Oberto even began to cut. That comes from a decade of playing with each other. What we are witnessing is the opposite of that kind of connection. The good news is that with more reps, this issue should disappear. And with Bonner out, the coaching staff will have no other option than to give the new guys more minutes, which should speed up this process. (I decided to be nice to him in this article. If you want some Red Rants, read my previous articles here.)
I have seen the Spurs commit more silly fouls this year than I have in the last decade of following the Spurs. Untimely fouls stem from poor defensive positioning. Either the rotation is late or the defender forces his opposition to an incorrect location. For example. the Spurs have set defensive rotations that are altered throughout the game to keep the offense honest. For this to be effective, the entire Spurs team must be on the same page because these are all dependent upon team defense. Many times this season you may have noticed our opposition getting uncontested dunks or being forced to foul to prevent one. This is all again due to the new blood. They are not yet acclimated to our defensive schemes and are a step slow. Players like DeJuan Blair, who most likely never had to think on the defensive end, are constantly in foul trouble because they still are not quick enough to get in good defensive position. This issue should also dissipate as the new lineups get more reps.
The Inability to Get Key Stops
Previous Spurs teams lived off of the ability to get key stops. Our current team is greatly having to outscore the opposition in close games, which obviously has not ended well. This issue greatly stems from the previous two. Turnovers that lead to more possessions for our opposition and untimely fouls that put them on the free-throw line do not allow the Spurs to get crucial defensive stops. We have lost 6 games to playoff teams by an average of 5.3 points. If the Spurs were able to get crucial defensive stops in these close games, our record would be much improved. If the first two symptoms are cured, this one should follow.
Given that most of the Spurs' issues are due to a lack of reps with one another, the many different lineups that we have witnessed do not help us. How are the new players supposed to get acclimated with one another if their minutes vary so widely from game to game, as do the players that they play with? Injuries have contributed to the many lineups, but the coaching staff seems to be constantly "searching for a lineup that works." How many times have you heard Sean Elliott say that this season? Any of the lineups will work once they get to know each other, but that will never happen if they do not get consistent playing time. The Spurs are deep and loaded with talent. I feel that we just need to ride these growing pains out and give lineups consistent playing time that make sense on paper. Recently, it seems that the lineups have become more consistent.
Losing the Close Games
The first four symptoms are the reason for this disease. It is simply impossible to beat a good team in a close game with poor execution, because good teams will not make mistakes down the stretch. Obviously, with more reps I feel that the disease will be cured and the Spurs will reach their potential. Although, I will caution you. This will take time and is a process. The Spurs will still experience many bumps on their way to the playoffs. Just try to remain calm and keep in mind the overall goal of winning a championship.
I will conclude by likening this to something I think we all can relate to. In Episode 1 of the Jersey Shore, Mike introduces us to "The Situation." "The Situation," as he calls it, is his abs. He is very proud of them and we are all very impressed. During the course of the season, however, "The Situation" becomes Mike himself. Mike evolves into "The Situation" because of his abs, which previously held the title, "The Situation." I like to think things end well for Mike, as "The Situation" achieves his goal of getting laid by many "Guidettes." Coming into this season, the Spurs' "Situation" were the additions of all these new stars like RJ, McDyess, and Blair. We were all very excited and impressed with "The Situation," as we were with Mike's first "Situation." However, due to "The Situation," a negative "Situation" evolved and replaced our good "Situation." Mike's "Situation" caused turmoil in the house because apparently, "Guidettes" love guys that are "tan and juicing" and other residents did not like this. The Spurs' "Situation" resulted in close losses to good teams, which became our current "Situation." Just as Mike's "Situation" improved with time, I feel that the Spurs' "Situation" will improve. Mike's current "Situation" has evolved into his goal going in, which is to nail every "Guidette" within a 1 mile radius. With any luck, the Spurs' "Situation" will result in one more championship trophy.