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The Spurs do it again, again

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The Spurs have scraped the bottom of the free-agency barrel to steal some gems from right under the rest of the league's noses.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly every year the San Antonio Spurs win a title, some players on the roster turn from relatively unknown additions to role players.

The 1999 team was largely a veteran squad, but it did feature some decent minutes from a 4th-year Malik Rose, who went on to be a key role player in San Antonio for the next 5 years.

During the 2003 run, Manu Ginobili, then a wild 25-year old rookie from Argentina, put himself on the NBA map. That team also featured breakout seasons from the likes of Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen, and Speedy Claxton; all of whom would have big moments in both that playoff run, and for years to come in the NBA.

In 2007, the Spurs had just traded away their starting center, Rasho Nesterovic, and were in need of big men to take minutes. So they signed seldom-used Francisco Elson, and gave out more minutes to a 2nd-year Fabricio Oberto. They split minutes next to Tim Duncan, and performed well enough to be part of a championship run.

And in 2014, of course, they got a fantastic year from Patty Mills, and Kawhi Leonard put his stamp on the league.

Not all of these players who have made their mark in San Antonio's championship seasons got a ton of minutes, but the fact that the front office found players that seemed to come out of nowhere, put them in a position to succeed. From there, those players went on to make the most of their opportunity.

In this 2015-16 NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs seem to be at it again. Not only are they winning, but the front office has once again made some fantastic additions. Obviously, there's LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, both of whom have been key contributors from the jump. Deeper than them, the Spurs have found two diamonds in the rough in Boban Marjanovic and Jonathon Simmons.

When the pair was signed in July, they were seen as afterthoughts. Simmons was a D-Leaguer who had almost quit basketball, and Marjanovic only had one Euroleague season as a top-tier player. They were unknowns; roster filler that wasn't even guaranteed to make it through training camp.

They eventually pushed through and survived the offseason, even forming a little buzz for themselves in the process. Simmons had a fantastic Las Vegas Summer League, and Marjanovic made some headway in preseason action. Now that they had some notoriety, it was time to do something with it.

Marjanovic began the season as a folk hero, his 7'3", 290 lbs. frame and godly per-36 stats in garbage time made him the stuff of legend. It began as a joke, but then something unexpected happened: He started to play well. He gained confidence through his garbage-time trials, had a breakout game versus the Philadelphia 76ers, and all of a sudden the Spurs had a mountain of a basketball player who knew how to use his size to dominate opponents on the glass, and move gracefully in the post.

Conversely, Simmons seemed to fizzle a bit at the beginning of the year. He lost minutes to Rasual Butler, and also lost his momentum in the process. But there's a positive for playing for San Antonio that most other clubs can't offer. Because they always end up at the top of standings, and because they see the big picture, they rest their starters to save their legs. Because they rest players, the guys on the end of the bench get more opportunities to show what they can do.

The 26-year old out of Houston kept getting chances, and eventually found his way. Now, Simmons provides solid wing depth. He has the shooting proficiency to knock down the open 3, uses his jaw-dropping athleticism to unleash powerful dunks when attacking close-outs, and can well in spot duty.

While both Marjanovic and Simmons are playing well, and look to have a future wearing silver-and-black, it is hard to project how much time they'll see when the games really start to matter. They'll get a lot of run in the regular season due to the team's minutes balance, but in the postseason, the rotation always tightens.

As of now, I'd estimate that only Simmons seems likely to get any consistent time when things start to heat up. When the battle for playoff seeding comes around, defense becomes a top priority. Simmons has the ability to defend in spurts due to his great athleticism, and has figured out how to position himself decently within the Spurs' schemes.

Marjanovic, as captivating of an offensive talent as he is, can be a defensive liability. He's a solid rim protector when he's allowed to just camp out at the rim, if only because he occupies so much space in the lane. However, the NBA's defensive-3-seconds rule, coupled with the fact that offenses love to force immobile post players to defend pick-and-roll, puts a damper on any effect he'd have on the game. With all this being said, if the Spurs were to play a team that Marjanovic creates a mismatch with, you'll be sure to see him get at least a few minutes.

Clearly, though, there is still have a long way to go in the regular season. These guys are just going to get more repetitions, more consistent minutes, and become more familiar with their teammates. Then, when the bright lights do come on, be on the look-out, because these two just might make some key plays.

GAME MVP

Tim Duncan - 18 points on 8-13 from the field, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors out of the lineup for the Jazz, Duncan went to work early and often. He used one post move after another to get his point total up to 18 in only 26 minutes. He also fed his teammates, running high-low with bigs and finding cutting guards on give-and-gos.

NUMBERS ON THE BOARD

68: Points in the paint for the Spurs. Again, the Jazz not having either Derrick Favors or Rudy Gobert hurt them down low. The Spurs were able to get whatever shots they wanted, and converted time and time again.

34: Total assists for the Spurs on the night. Ball-movement was a team effort, as 8 different Spurs had 2 or more assists. Since they were able to score in the paint so well, San Antonio had a good inside attack going, which led to Duncan and Boris Diaw leading the team with 6 assists each.

2: Danny Green's position on the Spurs' all-time 3-pointers made list. He made 2 of 2 attempts against Utah, moving him past Bruce Bowen with 662 threes while wearing the silver-and-black. He now sits only behind Manu Ginobili, who currently has 1,311 career threes.

Game Notes

  • The Spurs played extremely well tonight, but due to injuries, the Jazz never really had a chance. I've already discussed how missing Favors and Gobert hurt them. Utah is also without Alec Burks, their very talented 6th man, and Dante Exum, their talented 2nd-year guard who tore his ACL before the season started. Maybe the Spurs would have won this game anyways, but at full strength, the Utah Jazz form a tough-nosed squad capable of getting into the playoffs in the West. The Spurs weren't at full-strength either, as Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge sat out for rest. But, that was voluntary, and the Spurs are deep enough to not be hurt by players missing time. Injuries are a part of the league, but it's a shame we missed out on what could have been a really fun matchup.
  • San Antonio had such balanced scoring tonight, with 8 players in double-figures. Their ball-movement was on point, and players were able to convert on the open looks they got. They scored early and often, getting up to a 20-point lead by halftime. From that point on, it was a wrap. The Spurs have made a habit out of jumping on teams this year and never letting them back in the game. Part of this is due to their schedule. As good as they look, San Antonio has had the lowest strength of schedule so far. More so, it feels like they just have another gear. At this point last year, they were going through injury. This year, it's been smooth sailing so fair (*knocks on wood furiously*) on that front. That, in addition to the offseason additions and Kawhi Leonard's improvement, have made them better, and probably quicker than a lot of folks expected. The Spurs are always contenders in the West, but in my opinion, it even feels like a better team than what they had for most of 2014. Obviously, it's still early in the season, and a lot can happen. But so far, this feels increasingly more like a special year.

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