For the past 3 seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have represented a sort of higher basketball power. They have emphasized team play, often pinballinng the rock around the floor without hesitation.
It was this style of play that lead many to compare the Spurs' offense to a finely tuned machine. Tony Parker, the engine, driving the ball into the lane relentlessly, forcing defenses to break as the other offensive components revolved around him. The team's high-level of focus and play was constant, not even slowing down when the second unit was inserted; the affectionately-known "Foreign Legion" playing with just as much confidence and purpose as the starters.
This activity from the whole team, the whole "machine", every part, from players to coaches, led to levels of offensive efficiency that only the best teams in the league reach year-in and year-out. But San Antonio's approach was different than most. There wasn't the sheer individual wonder that teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or last year's Cleveland Cavaliers had. They weren't gritty, or blue-collar like the Memphis Grizzlies. In the 2014 postseason San Antonio produced a historical onslaught of points, but it in a season-long fashion like the defending champion Golden State Warriors just did.
No, for the most part, the Spurs' play was very mechanical. It was brilliant in scheme. The aesthetic, beautiful. The passes and cuts were creative. As it usually is with the Spurs, outside of a Gregg Popovich sideline interview or an HEB commercial, there's no character, or flair to it. The machine just from one function to another, finding holes in the defense, exploiting them systematically, droning on all the way to victory.
The San Antonio Spurs team that has started this season, though, is different so far. The character is still lacking (As long as Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are the franchise cornerstones this will be the case, which is completely fine), but because of the LaMarcus Aldridge addition, things have changed. The offensive attack no longer always begins with Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili high pick-and-rolls trying to open the defense up. Instead, there's now more early post-entries to either Aldridge, Leonard, or Duncan, and then attacking inside-out.
Because of this difference in style of attack, it's taking time for the players to get used to executing it, which is why the offense has sputtered a bit in the first few games. Once everyone becomes acclimated with this style of play, though, Popovich and the holdovers from the past few years will begin to balance the new inside-out approach with the heavy spread-pick-and-roll and extra-pass attack of old, and the offense will flow well.
Think of it as this Spurs machine getting a program update. This is the time for all new information to get programmed in and for bugs to be fixed. Specifically how long the update will take is an unknown, but by looking at recent examples of big-name free agents getting acquainted with their new teams, an estimate can be made.
The one thing we know is that it is past examples, it took a lot of time for players to get acquainted. This isn't something that just happens overnight. Although they were favored to win championships and were feared by fanbases from Day 1, the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh-led Miami Heat teams took a couple years to fully blossom into the monstrous team that crushed the souls of it's opponents. The Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Kobe Bryant core of the Los Angeles Lakers never worked out, and ended in injuries and playoff embarrassment. The current Cavs team with LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love became an offensive juggernaut after half a season, but it's misuse of Love and playoff injuries have left some potential yet to be realized.
The Spurs and their newcomers are a bit different than the examples given in the paragraph above. In the previous examples, there was always one star player on a team with nearly nothing else, and then two more stars were acquired, and other role players followed suit for less money afterward. In the Spurs' case, they had more balance. They already had a formidable core ready, and then added Aldridge and the other roster components in.
San Antonio is adding in less than what Miami, Los Angeles, and Cleveland all did to their teams; and, because their opportunity to win a championship is considerably shorter, the hope is that players will adapt quicker. Instead of waiting a season or two for everything to click, the hope is that it will happen by around January, or February when the All-Star break hits.
Until that happens, we're going to see a lot of what happened against the Celtics. The offense will struggle for period of time. There will be somewhat heavy amounts of crunch-time post isolations for Aldridge, and Kawhi saving the day with jumpers. It may not be the machine of old right now, but when everything is finished updating, it's going to be even more efficient, even more brilliant, even more lethal than before.
MVP OF THE GAME
LaMarcus Aldridge - 24 points on 8-18 shooting, 14 boards, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
As did seemingly everyone else, Aldridge got off to a slow start scoring wise. He looked a bit lost in the flow of the Spurs' offense in the 1st half, and as a result, missed a ton of shots. Even though he wasn't scoring well, his activity level was great, as he racked up boards all throughout the opening half. After the break, Aldridge was able to find his rhythm; as he scored 10 points in the 3rd quarter. When the game became close with few minutes left in regulation, the Spurs dumped it down to him in the post for some crucial points on a few consecutive possessions.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
- 541: The number of wins amassed by the basketball trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. This win versus the Celtics moves them ahead of Boston's own 80's Big Three: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish; to become the winningest basketball triumvirate of all-time.
- 36: Total turnovers committed by both teams. This game was far rom the pinnacle of offensive basketball.
- 23: The combined percentage of both teams from 3, on 48 total attempts. Again, the offense in this game: Not great.
- 1: Minute played by Kyle Anderson. He checked into the game, messed up his role in an ATO Hammer set (Anderson was supposed to be the shooter in the corner, but as soon as the guard drove opposite baseline to get the ball to him, he drifted away from his spot aimlessly), then got benched for the rest of the game in Rasual Butler's favor.
- We should wait a little while to get a good enough sample size, but early indications are that Kawhi Leonard has completed the jump to becominng a legitimate offensive lead. After an incredible start versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, and another good game versus the Brooklyn Nets, Leonard was one of the main catalysts again versus Boston. He made some important baskets, including a huge sequence late in the 4th. Leonard hit a corner 3, Marcus Smart matched on the other end after a timeout, then Leonard came right back down and hit a midrange jumper that seemed to put the game out of reach. It wasn't a glorious, hyper-efficient performance (Leonard went 8-18 from the field and only had 2 FTAs); but he did score steadily throughout the game, and put the ball inn the basket when San Antonio needed them. Over an 82 game season, that is what matters most.
- There is a very real need in San Antonio to find a 3rd player who can play the 5. Coach Gregg Popovich does a good job staggering the minutes of Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge well enough, but there are points over the course of the season wherre both will not be on the court at the same time. When that happens, the usual post duo that comes on is Boris Diaw and David West. Offensively, that's fine, as both can make shots and find teammates. Defensively, this duo has issues. They both do a solid job defending on-ball, but when in help, neither is a true rim protector, leaving the paint to be attacked by capable wings. In addition, Diaw and West are both too vertically challenged to keep up on the boards with the 7-foot centers they come across. They can't protect the rim, and can't end defensive possessions, and that creates a huge problem for the Spurs. This is where the losses of both Tiago Splitter and Aron Baynes en route to acquiring Aldridge come back to hurt the team a bit. A possible solution could be throwing some playing time to first-year giant Boban Marjanovic, who looked solid in limited minnutes versus the Nets. If that doesn't work out, though, the Spurs are bare in the cupboard, and would have to move pieces to solve the issue.
Lawler's Law states that the first team to score 100 points wins unless that game is on Sunday afternoon then it's actually just 10 points— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 1, 2015
update: pic.twitter.com/QKoN1br4xK— Friendly Bounce (@FriendlyBounce) November 1, 2015
Tim Duncan just eradicated David Lee’s shot from existence. It has been erased from the multiverse.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 1, 2015
Tim Duncan with a classic, extremely casual "I'm getting to old for this" block and recovery. https://t.co/UwsaZY3Waf— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) November 1, 2015
Only six points for LaMarcus Aldrdige in the first half but he has 10 rebounds and four assists. He's a bit lost but playing with energy.— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) November 1, 2015
Forget being on the same page. Sometimes it doesn't look like this Spurs starting group is reading from the same book.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) November 1, 2015
16 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists for Aldridge. Hey, maybe he was worth $84 million after all.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 1, 2015
LaMarcus have it Alldridge.— David McGinnis (@dav_mcg) November 1, 2015
The Spurs are playing isolation basketball. And it's working.— Tas Melas (@TasMelas) November 1, 2015