For the past several years, and especially after the wondrous, magical and yes, perfect 2014 playoffs, the Spurs were rightfully praised for playing the "Beautiful Game". On YouTube and elsewhere, you can find tributes to that Beautiful Game.
I live in Los Angeles, and when I tell people I am a passionate Spurs fan and write for this blog, people tell me they love how the Spurs play. They love how the ball moves constantly from player to player. They love how the ball never "sticks" with one player. Watching the Spurs this season, I wonder how many of those compliments arise from the Spurs of 2012 - 2015, and how much still applies to this year's version of the team. I wonder if the Spurs no longer play the Beautiful Game.
This is not to say that the 2015-2016 Spurs offense is a muddled mess like my local team, the Lakers, with Kobe's farewell tour devolving into Kobe "teaching" the youngsters to get shots up, regardless of the outcome. The Spurs are certainly not a "broken team", as the Rockets new head coach described the Harden - Howard mishmash. And the Rockets can't blame everything on the fact that Harden dated a Kardashian - though as Lamar Odom can tell you, that never ends well.
No, despite the fact that the Spurs do not consistently play the Beautiful Game, they remain one of the best offenses in the league. Which is why I describe the new offense as the Reasonably Attractive Game. It is just no longer the movie star/model-esque look of 2014. It's more like a reasonably attractive person who you see in the supermarket frozen food aisle.
But that reasonably attractive person is getting the job done. The Spurs have intentionally revised their offense to accommodate the new players, primarily LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, while accounting for their emerging superstar Kawhi Leonard.
The primary modification has been to allow the ball to "stick" with LMA and Kawhi, and Boris Diaw for that matter, especially when they get the ball on or near the low block. When each of these players gets the ball with an advantage, the other four Spurs often vacate that side of the court - and the ball "sticks' with LMA, Kawhi or Diaw, who take their man one-on-one. Why? Because it works. San Antonio currently has elite post scorers who can produce, and they're letting them.
And at the end of the day, Pop and the coaching staff care little about whether it is Beautiful, if it's effective.
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I went back and compared this season's team statistics to the 2013-2014 team. The shooting percentages are similar -- .486 overall, .397 from 3 in 2013-2014, compared to .491 and .393 this season. Free throws per game were identical, at 20 free throws per game. The Beautiful team did shoot more threes, 25.6% of all shots that year, 22.4% this season. During the 2014 playoffs, that percentage of threes inched up to 26.6% of shots.
In the Finals against the Heat, which we all remember so fondly, that number of 3s exploded to 32.5% of all shots - making 46.6% of those 3s in the Finals. Because of the efficiency of 3s, the Spurs had four players (Danny Green, Patty Mills, my Man Manu, and Kawhi) with an effective shooting percentage above 65% -- capped by Kawhi at 75%. Beautiful basketball indeed. (Tiaggo Splitter's effective shooting percentage was also above 65% but he did not shoot any threes. Thankfully.)
Will this year's Reasonably Attractive offense be able to match that output? Can anyone -- even that team in Oakland? This writer does not believe anyone in the near future can match the Spurs offensive production in the 2014 Finals, especially the wondrous, magical, and yes, Beautiful Games Three through Five.
So far, I've focused on the offense, which is what most think of when they refer to the Spurs' Beautiful Game. People forget how good the 2103-2014 defense was, especially in the Finals against the Heat. But that team's defense did not compare to this year's. The Reasonably Attractive Spurs are back to movie star looks on defense, holding opponents to less than 43% overall, 32% from three. The only downfall is their free throw line defense, allowing opponents to shoot 80% from the free throw line - more burping and coughing during opponent's free throw might help -- or this.
So while this year's offense has not matched the artistry of 2013-2014, the defense has. As demonstrated by this year's Super Bowl, no one other than coaches describe great defenses as beautiful.
Finally, I wanted to comment on the Big Three's rankings in ESPN's Top 100 NBA players list. For those of you who missed it, My Man Manu was rated 61st, the Oui Frenchman 58th , and Tim Duncan 8th.
Despite a career average of 14 points and 4 assists per game, and only two All-Star game appearances, Manu was ranked above such players as David Thompson (22 ppg), Billy Cunningham (21 points, 10 rebounds per game) and (most satisfying) 10-time all-star Chris "Voldemort" Bosh.
TP ranked just above Manu. TP's career has had more all-star games and better stats - plus a Finals MVP. I am OK with him being just above Manu.
Finally, TD came in at no. 8. The best way to look at this ranking is to look at the only 7 players in the history of the league who ESPN ranked higher: Michael Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Wilt, Lebron and Bill Russell. All legends of the game. As is the Big Fundamental, best teammate ever.
And I believe that TD probably is more proud of being the best teammate ever than all the other accolades. Which is Beautiful.