Is this still Timmy’s team?
First, here is a one line summary of my answer: Yes it is still Timmy's team, but it is complicated.
If you are in a hurry, you got your answer, so can now leave and get on with your life. Talking of which...
Life is kicking my butt right now, much like the Celtics are abusing the Heat. I am running around all day doing random things, yet when I list the things actually accomplished at the end of the day the list is awfully small. Not sure what is going on, but obviously the first step is to learn to do the opposite - run around less, get more done. The interesting part is that I keep buying toys to make up for the fact that I am so stressed, which makes me even more busy researching those toys, buying them, configuring them, then finally getting even more stressed about money spent on things I don't have time to use. Kinda like the fact that I am now a bit overweight and eat ice cream to alleviate my stress about being overweight. Gotta love my logic. For those interested in the toys: the Xbox 360 + Kinect setup stays, but the iPad is going back. For those interested in the ice cream: It's It sandwiches rock. Dove ice cream bars rock. Godiva ice cream rocks really hard, but is getting difficult to find.
(sadly the bit about making a lot of money does not match my life. The rest does though)
Anyhoo, the reason I brought up my busy life, other than to give the perception I actually have a life (stop laughing!), is that I have not been watching that much basketball so far this season, watching parts of games and even completely missing a couple of games. So much of what I am talking about in this post
has been pulled out of my a is speculation.
Normally missing basketball this early in the season is not a big deal. Especially when you are talking about the Spurs. We have a crazy confident coach. All the games until the RRT are basically an extended preseason to Sir Popovich, so he will just be fiddling with crazy lineups and throwing games to teach esoteric lessons. The season kinda starts after the RRT, but nothing is taken seriously until the playoffs.
But this season is different. I do wish I had caught more of the games, and thanks to the magic of David Stern's league pass my wish will come true if life provides me a little more schedule flexibility.
What is different? Where to begin?
First, the (re)emergence of Richard Jefferson. That, of course, I predicted. And would you also like to buy a bridge in NY? Seriously though, I did expect him to be a lot better, but not to the point where we legitimately have a big four.
Second, we are playing fast ball. Sure, Pop said we would before the season started, but who actually took him seriously? Certainly not me. Shows you how much I know and how foolish you are for reading anything written by me.
Third, Tim has not been a big factor so far this year, and yet we are winning. This is the biggest surprise to me by far. I am far too lazy to look up the numbers but do not believe he has been one of the top players in any of the games so far. And yet, we are 8-1. A defensively sloppy, ugly, cardiac-arrest-inducing 8-1, but still a pretty good record.
Trust me, those three points are all related. In fact, the first caused the second and the second led to the third.
Let's look at our players. The first point means that we now have a genuine big four. Timmy, Manu, Tony, RJ.
In years past Tim Duncan was so dominant that there was no choice but to build the entire Spurs system around him. The Big Three were really the Giant One and the BigTwo. Manu and TP could possible thrive even more in a faster game, but you absolutely had to run the system around Tim. Now, however, the gap is closing. Tim is still great, but not as dominant as before. He will get double teamed at times, but teams are just as worried about Tony, Manu and RJ2.
So you have four great players, three of which probably thrive better at a faster pace. But we are the Spurs! Slow grind it out pace with relentless defense based on funnelling everyone towards the huge shotblockers in the middle. Anything else is blasphemy. Discussing RunNGun is grounds for excommunication. With Tiago we possibly could continue that system and hope that he becomes dominant enough to keep winning that way. Of course we have to limit Tim's minutes at times, but hopefully we will not get too behind at those times. You also have to pause the system when Blair and Bonner are in. And we are missing a Bruce Bowen. But otherwise such an obvious winning system. Pretty much any of us would keep running it, combing drafts and free agents for the next Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan to help out.
One of the many things I love about the grumpy old geezer is that he is not afraid to break tradition and take risks. Spurs have always been amongst the first to try out things. Analytics. New training techniques. And now, NellieBall. But not quite NellieBall - an improved version that also plays great defense. Yes, I know we haven't seen the defense part yet, but I do believe it is coming. Pop is still screaming about sloppy D when players screw up.
As noted above, three out of the four stars thrive in a faster game. Add the fact that we have a deep bench with lots of young players, and a promising big man that is undersized, and the fact that we should limit Timmy's minutes for most of the season, and suddenly the new system seems the obvious choice.
Funny. I say "the obvious choice". As if I would have thought of it and tried it out. Let's face it - after last year all of us were clamoring for the return of grind it out basketball despite having the wrong personnel for it. And Pop, who has more reason than anyone else to keep playing the old system, looked at his players and designed the best system for the players he has, not the players he wishes he had.
The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want (Live 1969)(The Flying Dutchman) (via 01019999)
LatinD raised this question in his recap after the Warriors played the Sixers on Saturday. Excellent question. The offense is now built around the other players, primarily Manu and Tony. While I would not say Timmy has struggled in the new system - he is still a great player after all - he has certainly not shined in it. He looks slim and trim and capable, but has not played that sharp and has certainly not been his dominant Hall of Fame self. Normally that means the Spurs are losing a lot of games, but in this bizarro upside down run and gun world they are 8-1. The leaders appear to be Manu and Tony. RJ is playing awesome, Dice is playing well, the rest of the players are chipping in pretty well for the most part (I am looking at you Blair and George), but Timmy is just there.
And that is perfectly normal. Every year, game in game out you think Duncan is "just there" with a quiet game then realize he actually had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his understated efficient manner. But this year is a little different. He really is having quiet games.
Then we think back to when David Robinson passed the torch onto Tim Duncan. DR was slowing down a bit, perfect time to hand things off. Maybe we are witnessing the same thing for the next generation?
Tim Duncan is not David Robinson. DR is one of my favorite athletes of all time. To be honest, I did not follow NBA at that time, I am basing this on his time at Navy. Yes, I actually remember his senior year. As LatinD will tell you, I am indeed that old, though it was while I was studying and was not quite an adult. Of course LD will also point out I am not exactly an adult now. It is quite a sobering thought to realize that some of the hotties cavorting in skimpy outfits on the sidelines were in diapers while I was old enough to admire David Robinson's guns.
(Check out the definition on that arm. Wow. Just Wow.)
Anyway, back to the point. What, me, ADD? I have no idea why people keep sayi... look at those pretty lights.
Anyhoo, really back to the point.
First, TD is not David Robinson. DR was a great player and is one of the finest human beings to walk the earth, but he did not care about winning the way Timmy does. Timmy has that killer instinct, the desire to win, the type of leadership that not only wants to be an example of how to do things, but wants to shake people up if they are not winning. He is content right now to let the team play this style and for everyone else to score, but I always get the feeling that if we start losing he is going to take control. Even if we don't start losing, he is going to be a serious factor come playoff time no matter what the pace is.
Second, and more important: Whatever the system, whoever is scoring the points, you better believe that Tim is the quietly intense spiritual leader of this merry band. I do not define the leader as someone who scores the most points, but as someone who sets the tone in the locker room and on the floor. And that is Tim Duncan.
i.e. Even though the system is not designed around Timmy any more, it is still his team.
I think a perfect finish to this post are some eloquent thoughts from freshtunarightofftheboat . He always has some great points.
I wouldn’t count Timmy out so quickly. Every time he has a stretch of single-digit games, I start wondering "Is he ‘Groundhog Day’ any more?" "Can he be the consistent 20/10 18/10 15/10 double-double player he was?" — and then he has performance like that 25/17 one against Phoenix where he reminds us, "Don’t stick a fork in me yet… I’m not done."
As you point out, this year’s edition of the Spurs is stacked with offensive firepower. Timmy doesn’t have to score 20 points per game for this team to win… in fact, I’ll go further and say that the team benefits more over the long haul when different players are able to take over different games, or different parts of games. They wouldn’t feel empowered to do so if the team offense was geared to generate 20+ Duncan points per game.
Towards the end of David Robinson’s career, I was surprised to see how he started deferring to the young Mr. Duncan on offense, and started focusing more on defense and rebounding. I didn’t understand the game very well back then, so I couldn’t understand why a former league-leading scorer would simply stop scoring and let his protege take over. I think something similar is going on now; as Timmy said in pre-season, he’s been given a pretty good blueprint to follow from David’s example.
As Sean Elliott pointed out yesterday, every NBA player likes to run on offense. It makes for a fun game, the points are easy, etc. If "French Boy" and "Crazy Boy" (Tony and Manu) had their way, this team would out-Sun the Suns, out-gun D’Antoni’s Knicks. Actually, I remember games in past seasons where the Spurs beat "run and gun" teams at their own game (Phoenix for one game in a playoff series if I’m not mistaken), proving that they could win that way too. But we Spurs traditionalists fret that the team this year is turning into Phoenix East, or playing a SW version of NellieBall.
That should tell us something. It suggests to me that, subconsciously we fear that Timmy’s team isn’t his anymore. But every time we celebrate the Spurs team D improving, or the extra pass leading to the wide-open shot, or the right defensive rotation, or the simple beauty of 4-Down, or our guards channeling their slashers into our bigs, or kicking the ball out of the double team to the right spot-up shooter, or any high BBIQ play/hard work/hustle/good fundamentals, every d*mn time, I think we’re saying, "Yes, it still is Timmy’s team." Because as Pop might say, "It all starts with the big guy."