Even though the NBA season is past the halfway mark, the All-Star break is a great time to take a look back at the season that has been and a look forward to the season that may be. So join us after the jump for a conversation about our beloved Spurs. Remember, some of these topics were brought up by you £ers.
The Spurs are off to their best start in team history. Is this record a fluke or is it a true barometer of how good the team is?
Josh: This is a fluke that gives me intestinal flukes (Google it, you'll be depressed knowing this exists). Our team is playing good basketball when it matters. When we need that game winning stop, we get it. When we need someone to pick us up from a 10 point deficit, someone does. It's been a lot of fun while we win, and a required double-dose of Prozac when we lose.
Hirschof: No matter what team, every great season has been a combination of talent depth, hard work, coaching, and luck. The Spurs have, so far, big fat check marks on each one of those requirements. Luck has really given the Spurs that extra edge on their great play. San Antonio has stayed healthy for the most part while playing a handful of games against tough opponents who aren't so fortunate.
Big50: As Bill Parcells once said, "You're as good as your record". That's not a completely accurate statement, but I think it holds true in the regular season for the most part. This team is beating good and bad teams alike and they are doing it a lot.
SpursfanSteve: I think the team is this good. We've had "some luck" playing teams without their best players, or with their best players and none of their role players, but in recent history those are the games we used to lose. When other teams win the games they are supposed to, nobody questions them. When the Spurs do it, "we get lucky." The record in comparison to everyone else - we've played head and shoulders above everyone except Boston who has had half their team miss significant time this year, and they are still right behind us.
CapHill: Yes and yes. The team is this good, but their record in close games could be viewed as fluky. This season, the Spurs have a record of 8-2 in games decided by 5 points or less. Rather than "lucky", I view it as evidence of the change in collective mentality towards the regular season. The team dropped too many of these games last year.
jollyrogerwilco: One argument that I've heard to dog the Spurs' record, is that they have played a ton of games against teams who were missing their best players(s). So what? The same thing happened last year and yet they still found a way to lose a lot of those game, and they probably lost them at about the same rate that they lost the rest of their games. Flip that around for this season, and we see them winning not JUST those games, but all of the rest of them at an 82% clip. You can only play the games on your schedule, and so far the Spurs have done that better than every other team in the league.
What about the Spurs has surprised you the most this season?
Josh: When the Spurs are in charge of a game, there is no doubting it. For example, the question isn't, "how will we manage to pull this one out", but now, "how early do we get the 10+ point lead and cruise into the night?"
Hirschof: The distribution (and consistency) of minutes and scoring from top to bottom. The depth of this roster is evident in the season stats.
Big50: Well, besides winning a ton of games and not losing very many, I'd say the improved play of Richard Jefferson. He was bad last year. It hurt my eyes to watch him play at times last year. Yet through hard work and a better understanding of his role he's been great for this team! His shooting in the 4th Quarter is amazine and he's just been really solid. Shocking solid.
SpursfanSteve: The record. Manu starting full time. Blair starting full time (a move I support). Tiago not getting consistent playing time. Gary Neal.
CapHill: The starting lineup. Pop has used the same starters in all the games but one (and we all know that was just a CIA Pop move). Unlike last year, when no player, except for Timmeh, knew his role, every player on roster this season knows exactly what is expected. There are no questions about chemistry.
jollyrogerwilco: Popovich's continued willingness to trust rookies/youngsters with non-trivial roles. I remember everyone busting on Pop after the playoff loss to the Mavs in '09. Particularly the Free George Hill contingent. Pop said he handled the situation badly, but I didn't really think anything had changed for the long haul. It has. Last year, DeJuan Blair got minutes. This year Gary Neal, James Anderson (before the injury), and Tiago Splitter (albeit to a lesser and less consistent extent) have all played parts that have me believing that Pop won't play the new guy won't be a complaint we'll hear going forward. -- Also the record. Wow.
What problem(s) that you anticipated at the beginning of the year is now a non-issue?
Josh: I was concerned about our bench. I mean, who honestly knew Gary Neal, James Anderson, and George Hill would make things work so well? No one knew that, and if you did, you're a liar.
Hirschof: A combination of health and team depth - I didn't believe the bench was going to be much better, if at all, than last season. I expected more minutes for the starting five which would have left the vets worn down and beat up come playoff time.
Big50: Well, besides the health, I think the biggest concern was the play of the big 3. Could Parker bounce back? Could Manu continue his torrid play? Could Duncan do it again for another year? Yes, yes and yes. Without those three guys playing as well as they have and hopefully continue to do, this team isn't close to what we see now.
SpursfanSteve: Health and depth. If Tony misses a couple games, Hill can step up and fill in short-term. If Manu goes down, Neal can do the same. If RJ goes down, we can play our three guard lineup. Bonner hurt? McDyess hurt? Duncan goes down a couple games? We've got it covered. I'm not saying we can live without any of them, but we can survive short term if any individual has to miss some time. Our depth, which we didn't have last year, has gone from a problem to our greatest strength.
CapHill: Inexperience and depth. Yes, the Big 3 are still here, but other than RJ, Matty and Dice, the rest of the team is young. I expected Hill to be solid, but Blair has improved by leaps and LOLbounds, and Neal has been a revelation. The depth has been able to overcome the injuries we've had, while still allowing Manu and Timmeh to rest.
jollyrogerwilco: The outside shooting. I recently reread the PtR Season Preview (the last joint staff piece we did) and what really jumped out at me was the concern everybody had (and after last season, rightfully so) about the Spurs' three point shooting. Turning that weakness into a strength has really set the offense up in a way I didn't expect, and it's one of the main reasons that San Antonio is scoring like never before.
Is this Pop's best coaching job ever?
Josh: I'm going to give credit to the Spurs great start this season to all of the coaching staff. Naturally, Pop runs them all, so he gets all the credit to the schema that we are using. But all of the coaches, including strength and conditioning coaches, and assistant coaches, have turned the sport from basketball to muscle memory. Our Spurs went from offensively offensive to offensive juggernauts. It's incredible.
Hirschof: This is the team's best all-around coaching job. You really have to watch and compare the Spurs non-game work to other teams in order to fully appreciate the amount of work/focus from the coaching staff; from off-season to pre-game.
Big50: Probably, if for no other reason than he's changed himself in front of us. I'm guessing here, but I doubt he wanted to care as much as it appears he does about winning all these regular season games. He's molded his coaching style to fit the players he has and that is truly the mark of a great coach. Winning in different ways shows adaptability and very few coaches have that.
SpursFan Steve: Yes. While this team is probably the most talented team he's ever coached, he's done a great job of keeping everyone in rhythm, healthy, and productive.
CapHill: Yes, if for no other reason than he listened to his players. When Manu came to Pop before the season and talked about getting a better start, The Bearded One could have easily ignored the suggestion and continued with the "Regular Season Games don't mean Anything" philosophy. But Pop didn't. And over the long course of the season, that decision will reap major rewards - just ask the Lakers. (And his inbounds plays don't suck.)
jollyrogerwilco: I think both blame and credit should be shared across the board; players and staff. Pop has done an excellent job so far, but this isn't a question I want to answer until at least the regular season's over.
What issue worries you the most going forward?
Josh: Those games where we don't just lose, but get our asses handed to us. It's as if the Spurs don't come to play. The offense is equal to a High School gym class and the defense could be ran better by a YMCA. It freaks me out that they can be so effective one night and so careless the other.
Hirschof: Consistency from the bench in the playoffs. I know this has been one of the best depth charts the Spurs have ever had but the playoffs are whole different animal. Hopefully they can keep in step with the big three.
Big50: Health is obviously the number one thing. I think that if Anderson and Splitter can start contributing more it will help Manu, Duncan and McDyess a lot to be able to play less minutes and more importantly less meaningless minutes. Our bench is good, but the depth at SG/SF and with the bigs hasn't been great requiring Manu, more than the others, to play a lot of minutes.
SpursfanSteve: Nothing with our team worries me, except health. And Matt Bonner retiring to make more instructional videos.
CapHill: The aliens come back to kidnap Manu. Seriously, other than the obligatory health questions that dog every NBA team, my biggest concern going forward is minutes. As in, decreasing them for Manu and increasing them for Tiago and Anderson (whenever he gets back). Even though the two Jameses may not play much in the 2nd half of the season, it's imperative that they be fully integrated come playoffs.
jollyrogerwilco: Health: it's the one thing out of anyone's control, so it's what most concerns me. That said, if anything CAN be done to reduce the possibility of injury, it's monitoring playing time. Pop's doing a great job of that, so it's not a HUGE concern for me. But it's there.
Which team(s) presents the biggest obstacle to the Spurs in the playoffs?
Josh: Boston and Orlando.
Hirschof: For me, it’s a toss-up against Dallas and Los Angeles. Both series are usually physical and laced with some type of controversy. Each club has a player (Dirk and Gasol) that provides serious match-up problems for the Spurs but I don’t believe either team has the depth (or health) to beat the Spurs in a playoff series.
Big50: Well, in the West, it's still the Lakers. I think the team that most concerns me is Boston. They are good enough defensively to cause us real problems and are very difficult match up for our defenders. To me, the Celtics mentality and talent put them above any other team as far as a problem for the Spurs.
SpursfanSteve: The Boston Celtics. Everyone talks about LA being big, but Boston is bigger. And they have strength where our strengths are - PG, SG, SF, and PF/C. We've got better backcourt depth, but that's our only advantage in a series with them.
CapHill: Boston. The Green Men are big and physical, plus their road through the playoffs will probably be slightly easier in the East. Dirk has always been a nightmare matchup for us, but there is no 2nd banana on the Mavs to help score. The Lakers are an enigma - they could win it all again this year or flame out in the first round. Their length is a problem for us, but so is their health (for them).
jollyrogerwilco: I have to say L.A. If the Spurs get into the Finals, I like their chances against any team in the East, but you can't even talk about that until they make it out of the West, and to do that, they must make it past the defending champs. I don't care whether they're playing well or not right now. By the time the playoffs come around, I fully expect them to be hitting on all cylinders, which makes them the biggest obstacle.
Prediction time - what will be the Spurs' record at the end of the season?
Josh: A very acceptable one.
Hirschof: I made a prediction on Feb 1st that the Spurs would go 26-9 the rest of the season to finish 66-16. They are 6-3 since then.
Big50: 66-16. I don't see the Spurs slowing down too much. I think they'll drop a few more games than what we've see so far this season, but I don't see a huge drop off.
SpursfanSteve: That depends on how close the race for homecourt is. 65-17 is what I think is likely. But if Boston/Miami keep the pressure up, we could win a couple more and hit 67, or if they start to drop off Pop will rest the starters even more and we could level off around 62.
CapHill: Over 60 wins, with HCA in the West.
jollyrogerwilco: Less than 70, with home court throughout the playoffs.
Bonus Question: Is Matt Bonner the greatest ginger of his generation?
SpursfanSteve: On offense, yes. On defense, it's a toss up between him and Scalabrine, who Tom Thibodeau valued so much he brought Brian with him from Boston to Chicago. Bonner is, actually, an above average Ginger Perimeter Defender (GPD). I recall a game against the Lakers last year he was guarding Odom, Odom drove to the basket, and Bonner not only stayed with him but cleanly blocked the shot. He's almost like a rich man's Red Headed Dwight Howard, minus the foul trouble and silly cape.
Josh: Bonner is a great perimeter defender, and the Spurs do an awesome job of making sure he doesn't get posted up. Cause if he does, There Will Be Blood. Ginger blood.
Big50: Haha Ginger blood. I can't think of any other gingers besides Scalabrine to even compare Bonner with. That match up isn't really close. Bonner is the Real Deal Red Rocket. He hustles, he's smart, he loves sandwiches, but most of all he runs with the mud butt. There is none greater.
CapHill: Not only is Matty the Greatest Ginger of his generation, I submit that he is the greatest ginger of all times! Bill Walton was an all-time basketball great, but did he have a 47" vertical and a shyhook? No. Napoleon struck fear in the hearts of his enemies, but not near as much fear as flutters in the collective heart of the Spurs fans when Bonner dribbles and drives the lane. Galileo used the telescope in his search of the skies, but that's nothing compared to The Sandwich Hunter's search for the perfect lunch. Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in expanding rights to the masses, but is that anything compared to Matty's ability to expand the previously limited range of unathletic big guys? I think not. Lucille Ball was one of the preeminent comedians in modern history, but she couldn't use both hands like Coach B. Even Chuck Norris approves my theory.
jollyrogerwilco: He is, but it's not like there's much competition for him.