The Amazing Spurs: "Starring" Kawhi Leonard

The Spurs are incredible; their recent win only cements that. Both the "boring" stats and the advanced stats agree that the Spurs were the best team in the NBA this season, and the narrative-building playoffs added even more icing to the cake. Watching the Spurs win was great for me as a "sports-stats history buff". Here are some of my favorite tidbits from their amazing season.

Minutes - Regular Season

No player on the Spurs averaged more than 30 minutes per game during the regular season. Let that sink in. No player on the Spurs averaged more than thirty minutes a game! That doesn't happen! The Spurs also had the league-best record at 62 wins!

The NBA is a star driven league. As Stan Van Gundy noted at Sloan this year, yes, you can reduce player minutes to keep them healthy, but don't think it's not going to impact your wins. And yet the Spurs won while keeping their players' minutes under control. When players got injured, they let them sit. This shouldn't work unless you have a solidly built team. And the Spurs did. No player that got more than 500 minutes of playing time was that much below average.

Minutes - Playoffs

Here's where it just gets loopy: no player on the Spurs played more than 33 minutes per game in the playoffs! In the Finals, only Tony Parker and Boris Diaw cracked 35 minutes a game. This is not normal! I know, I keep saying that. One of Arturo's earliest works was looking at playoff strategy. In the regular seasons teams keep a longer bench (this season the Spurs kept an absurdly long bench). But in the playoffs the top six players in a team's rotation get most of the minutes. That means it's not atypical to see players crack 40 minutes a game in the playoffs. Not the Spurs though. Their team was strong enough that even though they did give their stars more minutes, they still kept their mileage down.

Most Valuable Team?

Two games into the Finals and Kawhi Leonard was a no-show. The pundits were on his case. Of course, winning cures everything. Even after a 30-10 game, LeBron was getting the blame when his team was losing. The Spurs won, and Kawhi got the accolades that come with it. It's not to say they weren't deserved. His last three Finals games more than compensated for his lackluster first two games. However, his Finals MVP was remarkable for a few reasons:

  • At 35.2 minutes per game, only Willis Reed (1973) has won the award with fewer minutes!
  • At 17.8 points per game, only Cedric Maxwell ('81), Willis Reed ('73), Magic Johnson ('82), and Wes Unseld ('78) have won the award with fewer points per game!
  • With Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs now join the 1989 Los Angeles Lakers and the 1984 and 1986 Boston Celtics (thanks Kenny Pickett for catching this!) as the only teams to employ three Finals MVPs at the same time. Also, only the Spurs and Lakers have three Finals MVPs that won their awards for their active team.

Again, the Finals MVP is supposed to go to the top scorer on the winning squad. What did we see here? A player with as few minutes and points hasn't hoisted the MVP since Willis Reed over forty years ago!

An Amazing Team

Let's be clear, the playoffs are not the best barometer of greatness. The Spurs were half a minute from a title last year. Are a few clutch threes from Ray Allen enough to "prove" that LeBron and the Heat were the superior team last year? However, the playoffs have proven something about the Spurs: this is a unique team. We have never seen a squad like this – regular season or playoffs. Could this be a sign of things to come? It might be. It could also be like the 2004 Pistons, and simply written off as an anomaly. That said, you just witnessed something historic. Remember that!

I'm interested to read which player you would have named Finals MVP. Surely KL was not a 'bad' choice & quite possibly he was the right choice but, given the minutes played, I suspect it was rather close. In theory, Lebron might have been a decent candidate despite his team losing in 5.
Allen deserves credit for a shot at the end of game six last year but, if memory serves, there were three crazy offensive rebounds that led up to it. That's the beauty of the game. Have the Spurs cracked the Half-Baked Theory? There was a Pop soundbite during game one about keeping the pace up and Lebron was on the bench near the end of the first quarter of game five shaking his head. The Heat had a sizable lead but I think he knew they couldn't maintain that pace for 48 minutes. Although the Heat were leading, they were playing right into the Spurs hands; it stands to reason that you can beat a team with a short rotation by stretching the floor and making them run.
The 1986 Boston Celtics had 3 Finals MVPs on the roster in Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird, and Bill Walton.
I thought that Lebron should have gotten Finals MVP... he was the most valuable player of the finals but his team was sorely lacking.
Kenny,
Thanks! Those crafty Celtics did it by having the three MVPs do it on three different teams so it slipped by me! Updating the post to reflect it.

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