Zombies are gross. They look like people, sure, but they aren’t sentient — they’ll eat your face right off, which isn’t a very nice thing to do.
But zombies aren’t formidable individually. A lone zombie is a sitting duck. Take a shot to the head, a precise knife to the forehead, whatever, and that zombie is toast.
Zombies’ strengths lie in their overwhelming numbers — the collective. An individual zombie, regardless of it’s physical imposition, can be disposed of efficiently, especially if you are traveling in a group.
A hoard of zombies — say 20, 50 and perhaps more? Now that’s a pain in the butt. That takes manpower, wit and a bit of luck to come out of that scenario alive. Or you can run in the opposite direction and hope for the best.
Following the Spurs’ 22-point victory against the 76ers, I compared the Spurs, winners of 14 consecutive games, to zombies.
The Spurs are the zombies of the NBA. You stab them in the heart and they keep coming at you, hungrier than before.
— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) March 25, 2014
The heart, in this analogy, is Tony Parker. He leads the team in points per game, assists, usage rate and offensive win shares. When he’s at his absolute best, the Spurs’ offense is even more formidable. But, by some objective measures, the Spurs have been better without Parker this season.
For starters, the Spurs are 44-14 when Parker plays and 10-2 when he sits. But that isn’t a telling stat in itself (since it’s subject to a variety of other variety of factors). Perhaps more telling: the offense is scoring 0.7 points per 100 possessions more when he’s not on the floor, and the team is outscoring the opposition by 9.7 points compared to 6.7 when Parker is on the floor.
NBA teams can stab the heart but the Spurs zombie doesn’t go down that easy. You need to take out the head. That’s hard to do when they are intent on eating your face. Now, wait, watch the other zombies behind you. In front of you. At your side. And your other side. Welp … Good luck, man.
Part of what makes the Spurs so damn tough is their depth — their strength in numbers, the collective. Individually, Patty Mills isn’t a tough cover. Danny Green can’t dribble. Kawhi Leonard, for all the strides he’s made, is still a tertiary option. Manu Ginobili, 36, can only sustain Manu Ginobili level of basketball for 23 minutes a night. Tiago Splitter, an excellent rim protector, scores almost all of his points within the confines of the Spurs’ system — 69 percent of his field goal attempts have been assisted. Marco Belinelli is a reliable shot creator, but he’s not reliable enough to generate offense on his own.
Parker, the heart, Tim Duncan, still a very important cog on both ends of the floor, and (occasionally) Ginobili are scary independent of the Spurs zombies. The rest, the zombies with salient flaws — dribbling, shooting, defense etc etc — are only scary when accentuated with other zombies.
Good news: The Spurs have a lot of zombies at their disposal. The Spurs zombies — the bench — are averaging 54.4 points per game, the highest scoring average in franchise history.
The rest of the NBA, with the Spurs zombies exerting pressure from every direction, are having a difficult time disposing of them. Understandably.
The Spurs don’t make it easy; they’ve scored 112.2 points per 100 possessions during their winning streak, while assisting on a league-high 69.2 percent of their field goals. On an average night, around seven Spurs touch the ball 40 times, per NBA SportVU’s data. The Spurs zombies are always there, surrounding you, closing in on their prey, even if they’re moving at a plodding pace. Kill one zombie and another — there is always another — will be there for the kill.
It’s almost inevitable.
Just take at look at the scoring distribution this season, via Paul Garcia. Nine players have scored 20+ points this season, now including Austin Daye’s 22-point outing against Philadelphia.
— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) March 25, 2014
Gregg Popovich, the head of the Spurs, has his zombies on a leash — he’ll tinker with rotations in which he sees fit, unleashing certain zombies while withholding the others for a rainy day. The Spurs walk a tenuous tight rope at all times. They need the zombies but, to an extent, they can’t (or shouldn’t) rely on them too often in the playoffs, when rotations tighten and the very best players play the majority of high-leverage minutes. That’s the tough part.
For now, though, the zombies are very valuable. They prevent Parker and Duncan from accumulating too much wear and tear on their bodies.
And now the Spurs have a 2.5 game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder with 12 games remaining; they have a whopping 89 percent chance of snagging the top seed in the Western Conference according to Hollinger.
Beware of the Spurs zombies.
They’re looking for the kill.