The Spurs Nation is on the cusp of a new era. Although not the flashiest or most exciting team to watch in the NBA, everyone can agree that the Spurs are good –consistently good.
“If you make one mistake, it’s over,” Denver Nuggets guard Randy Foye said of San Antonio.
“We’re talking about (Manu) Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker being together for 13 years, but even the new guys, you make one mistake … You try to deny someone, it’s a backdoor. You go under, it’s a three. You go over the top, it’s a 2-on-1 going downhill. That team is good.”
Thirteen years is a lot of time to compete together on the same team, and it is one of the main reasons the Spurs’ chemistry is so strong.
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are budding superstars – perfect timing as players like Tim Duncan, 39, and Manu Ginobili, 38, near the age for retirement. Aldridge and Leonard combined for 64 points in their game against the Toronto Raptors on April 2, their largest combined effort yet. Aldridge had 31 points and Kawhi got a career-high 33.
In this same game, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green combined for 21 points. It seems the veterans are giving room for the rising talent to grow and get experience in leading the team.
Like any transition, there will be some bumps in the process but Kawhi and LaMarcus have been adjusting very well, thanks to good old Gregg Popovich coaching.
“LaMarcus is more and more comfortable every day,” Popovich said.
“These are new players for him – new offense, new defense, everything is different. It’s difficult to do in your first year. A lot of guys take a whole year to get used to that.
“I think he’s been remarkable in catching on this quickly. He’s become more demonstrative and he’s going to get the basketball and not waiting for a call or anything like that. He’s inserted himself into the offense much better.”
The team is following a similar transition path to when Tim Duncan first joined the team in 1997, playing alongside Hall-of-Famer David Robinson. Duncan played with Robinson in the “Twin Towers” era, and learned how to be an effective big man for the following decade after Robinson’s retirement.
The mentorship and support of an older team has ensured new recruits play better as a team, as opposed to putting an emphasis on superstar individual talent. The patriarchy of coach Popovich is sewn into the fabric of the team and he encourages development of new players by giving them the confidence of playing with the older, battle-tested veterans.
The Spurs is an organization that invests for the long term and has claimed five NBA championships since 1999. This sort of enduring chemistry is rare in the NBA and has defended itself from new, flashy contenders such as the Heat in ‘Big Three’ years, ending what could have been a decade-long dynasty with their 2014 triumph.
A comparison can be made with the disorganized fumble of the Celtics, who witnessed a dispersion of the valuable team chemistry. Kevin Garnett went to the Timberwolves, Rajon Rondo went to the Sacramento Kings, Ray Allen went to the Miami Heat, and Paul Pierce went to the LA Clippers. This led the team to some of the franchise’s worst seasons, a prime example of what the Spurs organization is so good at avoiding.
Leonard, earning his finals MVP in 2014 at 22 years old, has fit into the organization exceptionally well. Now 24 years old, he has much more playing time in the tank and has had the luxury of spending his critical early seasons learning from legends like Tim Duncan.