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The Spurs: The Fountain of Youth

The Numbers

  • ξ•Έ Average Seed
  • πŸ“‰ Pessimist
    53.5 wins
  • ξ•Ά Realist
    58.1 wins
  • πŸ“ˆ Optimist
    62.7 wins
 First Seed
⋆ Division
 Top 4
πŸ‘ Over (55.5)
πŸ‘Ž Under (55.5)
πŸŽ€ Playoffs

The Brief

The Spurs are the most dominant contemporary team in the NBA. Last season they kept it up. The common line has always been that the Spurs are reliant on their big three, and they aren't getting any younger. But the Spurs have a secret: they've retooled, and look poised to stay strong over the next couple of seasons.

The Story

In 1997 the Spurs unexpectedly lost David Robinson to injury. They tried to get him to play, but he couldn't. Avery Johnson and Vinny Del Negro entered their 30s and couldn't overcome age. Without their superstar center, the Spurs fell apart. They lucked into Tim Duncan (history has forgotten that the Celtics had a much better chance at landing the #1 pick than the Spurs did). The next season -- with a healthy David Robinson playing -- marked the start of the most successful modern NBA franchise. To the outside world, the lesson learned was that "tanking works". The Spurs have done little publicly to dispel this notion, and have been content to let everyone else go down the wrong path, but they learned something else: that it's important to keep your old players healthy and to retool your team before time takes it.

Last Year

  •  Actual Wins: 58
  •  Expected Wins: 58.9
  • βš… Lucky Wins: -.2


Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Danny Green 2201 26 .165 7.5
Tony Parker 2174 31 .191 8.7
Tim Duncan 2078 37 .186 8.0
Tiago Splitter 1997 29 .216 9.0
Kawhi Leonard 1810 22 .233 8.8
Boris Diaw 1709 31 .114 4.1
Gary Neal  1484 29 .006 .2
Manu Ginobili 1393 36 .189 5.5
Stephen Jackson 1075 35 -.022 -.5
Nando De Colo 920 26 .104 2.0
Matt Bonner 909 33 .048 .9
DeJuan Blair  851 24 .069 1.2
Patrick Mills 656 25 .084 1.1
Cory Joseph 388 22 .143 1.1
Aron Baynes 141 27 -.070 -.2
James Anderson  94 24 .168 1.4


 Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 58.9 total Wins Produced
  •  3 players leaving
    (2429 minutes, 2.8 wins)

Last year the Spurs big three accounted for 22.2 wins. However, the younger trio of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter put up 25.3 wins! That's right, more of the Spurs wins are coming from their "young guns" than their old guard. The Spurs are also making a slight paradigm shift. The classic model is a major star or two sustains your team -- see the Heat. The Spurs understand the key of getting stars. However, they're also going for balance. Tack on great coaching, and you get a cominant contender. Last season they were just two Ray Allen threes away from winning it all. Have they kept it up?

This Year

  • ξ•΅ Projected Wins: 58.1
  •  Conference Rank: 2
  • % Playoffs: 99.6


Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Kawhi Leonard 2.9 2735 22 .284 16.2
Danny Green 2.7 2475 26 .178 9.2
Tony Parker 1.0 2346 31 .144 7.0
Tiago Splitter 4.5 2264 29 .181 8.5
Tim Duncan 4.7 1975 37 .152 6.3
Boris Diaw 3.9 1587 31 .074 2.4
Manu Ginobili 2.2 1391 36 .189 5.5
Marco Belinelli  2.1 1213 27 .044 1.1
Matt Bonner 4.4 992 33 .070 1.4
Nando De Colo 1.4 804 26 .107 1.8
Patrick Mills 1.0 679 25 .050 .7
Cory Joseph 1.1 530 22 .095 1.1
Jeff Ayres  4.0 399 26 .055 .5
Aron Baynes 5.0 282 27 -.072 -.4


 Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • πŸ“… 59.4 WP last year
    by these players
  • πŸ”€ .0 WP (roster changes)
  • ⏲ 3.1 WP (age/experience)

The good news about the Spurs is that their team as it stood was set. Their offseason was a bit underwhelming. They wisely resigned Tiago Splitter for an undervalued contract. I'm skeptical of their contract for Ginobili, but we think he can keep it up for at least another season. Belinelli though? Wow, this feels like a very anti-Spurs move. With the expected growth and minute increase in Leonard and Green, this isn't a major issue. Really, the Spurs could have stood pat and been in a great spot, which is essentially what they did. 

The Wrap

Is it a scoop to say "The Spurs will be great again"? Their offseason was pretty uneventful. It's never exciting when a team just re-signs their good players and grabs a few cheap players. For all the guff I give the Belinelli signing, it cost nothing in the land of NBA contracts. The Spurs could sign a Belinelli every year, provided they kept a strong roster, and it wouldn't even touch the mistakes in a three year Melo deal. The Spurs didn't need to make a huge splash like grabbing Dwight. They didn't need to "win" the draft. All they needed to do was keep their team intact. They did that, and expect them to compete.

"The Spurs are too old" is the oldest meme in the NBA. It practically predates the internet. I remember first hearing this after the 2003 championship. The "old" players then were Johnson, Robinson, Kerr, Ferry, etc. But folks were ignoring the fact that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli were not old at all, and that they were becoming more important than the old guys. After the 2005 season, every single year, everyone forgets the Spurs. "They are a year older!" is the cry.

Yes, Kawhi Leonard is a year older. That should scare the **** out of Western Conference rivals. The guy who should have won the 2011-12 rookie of the year is entering his third season. He has already surpassed Ginobli in the depth chart. Other young players like Green, Splitter and de Colo are making big contributions. The fact is, this is not a particularly old team at all. They still need Duncan to perform at a high level if they want to go all the way, and one of these years, that will finally stop happenning -- but it wouldn't surprise me if they find a replacement before then.

Yeah the Spurs after Duncan and Manu retire are going to kick 'tanking culture' in the balls. I wouldn't bet on them to ever get worse than 50 W team with Leonard, Green, Splitter + old Parker + a few more years of crushing the draft.
The only problem with the Spurs is that they'll eventually lose Duncan. WoW undervalues his defense because they give defensive value to the whole unit. Duncan is definitely top 10 and could arguably be a top 5 all time... you don't replace that. This team will still be good because they realize that getting a look at a ton of players is more valuable than trading a second round pick for a veteran (look to Rockets for validation of this thesis... smart teams look at a ton of players, dumb teams trade for veterans). When Duncan is no longer Duncan though I think that smart management and coaching will continue turning out a "Denver" like team without the idiotic player management of a Karl... but that sort of team is more a lightening in a bottle chance of championship as opposed to the Duncan years when they were world-beaters year after year.

I think some things don't come through in the box-score, and Duncan would be my prime example. When Kobe plays he goes for POINTS! When Duncan plays he does the old Bill Russell I'm going to pass up on plays to make my teammates better. There are not many superstars who play like that (Bill Russell, Magic, Duncan, Lebron would be the only four out of the top 15 or so players that I would be confident saying that about). I think this team will continue being great, but without Duncan they will be losing something greater than what the box-score would seem to indicate about his performance.

By that measure, don't we undervalue Splitter and Leonard? As good as Duncan is defensively, I am pretty sure they'll find a way to stay competitive while other teams tank, once Duncan is gone.
While I, like any Spurs fan, fear the end of the Duncan golden age, I'm more confident than ever that the team has a bright future beyond his retirement. Depending on what the wing situation looks like when Duncan finally calls it quits, I think it's entirely possible for the Spurs post-Duncan to still be a 50 win team.
Re: the comment that Belinelli's signing seems an anti-Spurs move. Aside from being a bit of an upgrade in WP48 it seems that it is just swapping Neal for Belinelli. However, here is an explanation of what the Spurs may have been trying to accomplish written by J. Gomez over on”

β€œBelinelli is used to running sets that are extremely similar to the ones the Spurs run. It's not just that he can create in the pick and roll -- he can create in exactly the type of situations the Spur will ask him to. These were mostly set plays that Italy runs to find the open man, but they are not clear cut, simple pick and roll sets but ones with read and react options. Team Italy is trusting Belinelli, just like the Spurs trust Manu, to decide between those options and most of the time he makes the right call.”

β€œFor years now, Manu Ginobili has been the only playmaker on the Spurs roster that could actually execute those type of plays. George Hill and Gary Neal didn't have the creativity or the court vision to pull them off and T.J. Ford was not a threat to shoot. That forced Ginobili to often have to shoulder the playmaking burden all alone, lest the offense stagnate. With Belinelli in tow, Manu can now alternate between being the ball handler on those great plays the Spurs run or benefiting from the space they create as a spot up shooter and cutter. Just imagine how much more effective Ginobili could be attacking a defender that is coming at him to contest after rotating instead of having to try to blow past him off the dribble.”
I'm not worried about the Belinelli addition, because he's really just taking Gary Neal's role and minutes, except he's 2 inches taller (Neal has really short arms for an NBA player too), more productive, and a better defender.

The Spurs would have won the finals if Gary Neal were 2 inches taller and was able to get out contest Miller/Battier- they had their 3-point explosions almost exclusively when he was guarding them, he was helping double down low and just wasn't athletic enough to contest in the corners and wings.
Small sample sizes are awesome, and the returns of Belinelli have been very nice- he's been a .248 player through 9 games and he's shooting and rebounding very well in his first extended run playing the 3. The 5-man lineup of Parker/Green/Belinelli/Diaw/Duncan is +91.0 points/100 possessions in 58 minutes.

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