When you have a streak of making the playoffs for fifteen straight seasons, a coach is able to take a few liberties that your typical NBA head coach may not take.
One example would be sending your three best players home to rest before a nationally televised game with the defending champions and still almost win the game with your backups. Such is the situation the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan enter their eleventh season comprising the core of the team.
In Gary Washburn’s article, for the Boston Globe, he explores coach Gregg Popovich philosophy of resting his “Big Three” of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan during the season in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
In a way the Spurs are a victim of their own success, by continually making deep runs in the playoffs the team is left with a late first round draft pick each year. With all the impact players being taken by the lottery team, the team has had to resort to other ways of getting talented players into a Spurs uniform.
The Spurs had to expand their search for talent from the NCAA to overseas. Popovich got an early taste of this during his first stint with the team in 1988, where he was trying to share the merits of looking overseas for talent.
“The only other NBA guy in the room was Nellie [former Warriors coach Don Nelson], There was nobody in there. And that’s when he was bringing Sarunas [Marciulionis] from Russia and I felt like a kid at a candy store just looking around. Yugoslavia was Yugoslavia [talent-wise] and they had that team, which was ridiculous. Russia was really good when they were the Soviet Union. There were just players everywhere. So, I knew early on it was a market we wanted to tap, so we did Parker at 28 [overall in the draft] and Manu in the 50s and [Luis] Scola and Splitter.
This opened his eyes to what was available and what he could be an effective tool down the road. Due to lack of NBA teams paying attention to this source.
So when he got his second go around with the Spurs, he made sure to take advantage of the overseas talent. He was able to bring in talented players that were willing to play their roles and also were talented enough to take over when they were asked to do so.
Once the “Big Three” came together, they were able to grow together and set the example of what is expected.
With the core in place, the Spurs were able to focus on finding pieces that fit around the “BigThree” rather than signing big name free agents. Sometimes these players were from overseas or veteran players who were near the end of their careers but still had enough talent to make solid contributions. Steve Kerrr, Will Perdue and the “Rifle Man” Chuck Person are a few examples.
By having players that were humble enough to play within their roles but capable of taking over asked to do, Popovich is free to give rest to the “Big Three” and confident in that quality of play will not suffer.
This philosophy allows the Spurs to avoid the wear and tear that other teams battle through. Their key players play so many minutes during the regular season that when the playoffs come around, they have nothing left in the tank and a quick first round exit.
So Spurs’ fans, would you rather see the “Big Three” go all out in the regular season and shoot for the best record or rest their core players in order to make another deep playoff run?