Insult & Injury

I’ve been waiting for a while now to post this. I waited, because I’m okay with forfeiting the mantle of prophet if it helps get the point across. The point is this:

The 2010-2011 Spurs have gotten off to a franchise-record, league-leading start … DESPITE being ravaged by injuries.

Yeah, that’s right. This year’s apparent meme-of-choice to explain away San Antonio’s success – "oh, the Spurs are doing well … but they’re healthy, while the other (better) teams have all had injuries" – is both insulting and stupid. Woulda-coulda-shoulda is a game for fans to play when their team gets bounced from the playoffs. It’s not a crutch for pundits who, for the tenth straight year, have been surprised to find that excellence wears silver and black. What’s worst about it, however, isn’t that it’s a pointless counterfactual … but that it’s a pointless counterfactual based on a lie. If we, as Spurs fans, allow the lie to stand unchallenged then we are all complicit. The Spurs have not been healthy this year. In fact, the Spurs have suffered more from injuries than virtually any other team. How many other teams had to wait until February before they got a full game from their starting center?

Let me introduce you to a guy named Splitter. Sure he’s never played in the NBA before, sure he’s technically a "rookie," but he’s not some lottery pick college freshman with a sweet stroke and ridiculous upside – he’s a four-time MVP with four gold medals in international competition. He’s a superstar in the best league outside the US, a thoroughly proven veteran professional who has consistently performed at an elite level against undeniably formidable competition.

Copypasta from Wikipedia:

Spanish Supercup MVP (2006, 2007)
All-Euroleague First Team 2008
2× All-Euroleague Second Team 2009, 2010
Spanish League MVP 2010
Spanish League Finals MVP 2010

Are the Euroleague and the ACB the NBA? No, they aren’t. But it’s worth noting that people who win Spanish League MVP and Finals MVP tend to have names like Pau Gasol, Andres Nocioni, and Luis Scola. And don’t forget – when you say "Tiago Splitter won the ’06 and ’07 Spanish Supercup MVPs," you’re also saying that Anderson Varejao, Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez and a Mr. Luis Scola didn’t.

What we saw against Sacramento was not some scrub having a career night against a weak opponent. Splitter’s first game in which he played the kind of minutes he’s been accustomed to throughout his career was no more and no less than what he’s led the world to expect in over a decade of professional basketball. It would be optimistic to expect him to be an All Star in the next few years – though not in any way out of the question – but there is no legitimate argument that Splitter shouldn’t be starting in the NBA.

So, why isn’t he?

One downside to success (as Spurs and their fans know all too well) is that if you keep winning, you have to keep playing. Last year, Splitter’s golden season kept him in action all through the NBA offseason. As a result, injury kept him out of the Spurs’ training camp, which meant that he simply wasn’t a piece that Pop could use going into the season. That injury is, beyond any doubt, the reason that we had to wait until February to see Splitter play meaningful minutes in a game. Injury cost us a man who leads teams to championships … and who knows what else it cost us into the bargain?

Are you telling me that there hasn’t been a game so far this year in which the Spurs could have benefited from having a healthy Tiago on the floor? Add a seven-foot defensive specialist to the Spurs’ lineup, I’m not sure Dirk goes 12-14 against us on 11/26. Add a savvy lane-clogger who draws charges the way MC Escher drew staircases, I don’t think Griffin drops 31 points on us on 12/1. And isn’t anybody a tad curious to see whether we’ll still have such a problem with long midrange shooters (West and Aldridge, I’m looking at you) when we add Splitter’s 7’2" wingspan and celebrated quick feet? On top of everything else, Splitter is another unique gadget in Pop’s utility belt, another way to break opponents’ game-plans, spirits, and hearts. Thanks to a horribly-timed injury, we haven’t had him all year and may not be able to fully use him all season. That’s why my response to anybody who attributes the Spurs’ record to our alleged good health is as follows:

If it weren’t for injuries, the Spurs would be 49-1.

Yeah. I don’t think even Tiago would have made the difference in that awful game against Orlando. But I could be wrong about that.

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