The Los Angeles Lakers were trying to create a roster to bring some “Showtime” back to Los Angeles in the 2012-2013 season. With Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in place to join Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace in the starting lineup, the expectations were over the top for this team. They were supposed to carve up defenses and blow out opposing teams with the “most skilled five man rotation” in the whole league. The results were the complete opposite, as egos and playing styles clashed, to go along with injuries to the main facilitator in Nash. This was probably the best lineup to get the “Showtime” style of the Magic Johnson Lakers back in the league.
Well, that was before the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs had anything to do with it.
Yes, the “boring” “old” “(insert any other synonym to those here)” Spurs were the ones to bring back a modern and more dominating version of that style, and it was center stage in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. The once “4-Down” and pick-and-roll dominant team, looked like a well oiled machine, with a beautiful motion offense from all five players, and a passing style that had defenses on fumes before halftime.
How did they do it? How were the Spurs so dominant against one of the league’s premiere defenses and defending NBA champions? Some say it was depth and others might argue versatility. The traditional Spurs fan might say it was no egos on the team. The truth is that it’s all of the above.
This was the perfect team assembled and easily can be argued the most dominant team since the 1999 champion San Antonio Spurs (I’m not touching Michael Jordan’s accomplishments and teams for this). The Spurs were seconds away from a championship last season with a less versatile, less athletic, and not so deep team. They had a predictable offense with the starting unit, and especially the second unit. The defense was also predictable with the key players in the rotation.
This season was a different story and a different look to the team. Boris Diaw was more comfortable as a main core player, Patty Mills got into better shape, and the signing of Marco Belinelli added a versatile guard to the roster. The ball no longer stuck with predictable plays. Every player touched the ball for the majority of the possessions and had at least two dribbles after catching it (as Tony Parker made clear during the playoffs that it’s a play they practice). All the players were comfortable putting the ball on the floor, including the big men and everyone was comfortable was passing.
They also had the trust of their teammates to take a shot and make it. There’s probably not another team out there with maybe one or two exceptions that give a green light like the Spurs have given to a backup point guard in Mills. The reason for the trust and versatility of this team is actually very simple: all reserves can do the same or as much as their starting counterparts.
- Tony Parker has a reliable mid-range jumper while Patty Mills has a reliable shot from beyond the arc and they both have speed to help them out in movement. Cory Joseph also saw a few minutes in the playoffs and showed strong defense with some made shots that show the Spurs don’t slow down even after their third string point guard checks in the game.
- Danny Green is a three point specialist with a defensive mentality and the same could be said of Manu Ginobili (although it’s not widely acknowledged). Ginobili can of course create his own shot and play point guard off the bench, but he definitely matches what Green brings to the table and more.
- Kawhi Leonard is a defensive specialist and the future of the team who can dunk, shoot, and help create shots for others. The same could be said of Marco Belinelli and Ginobili since the Spurs interchange the shooting guard and small forward positions.
- Tim Duncan is the defensive presence in the paint and can post up players to slow down the game if the Spurs need it. He also has worked on a mid-range jumper in the offseason and has been moving more off the ball and passing than ever this past season. Boris Diaw is also known for all those things. He can post up smaller guys, take bigger guys off the dribble, pass, shoot the three point shot, and also defend other positions if needed.
- Tiago Splitter is the pick and roll specialist in the big position and also showed he’s a great help defender and man defender against the elite big men in the league during the playoffs. His rebounding and rotations have been key for the Spurs since he’s been on the court and will be needed. The Spurs don’t have a constant fourth option in the big position and interchange Matt Bonner, Aron Baynes, or Jeff Ayres, depending on the situation behind Splitter. Baynes showed he’s capable of backing up Splitter and providing good defense with a more muscle game in the paint, while Bonner is a long ball specialist to spread the defense.
After seeing the makeup of the Spurs, you can see why they easily brought the ball movement of the Magic Johnson era Lakers. The selfless team first mentality was key, but equally important was the versatility of each player. The majority of them could shoot and they could all pass and dribble at least twice to get the defense scrambling around. That was a huge reason why they dominated the series with 25 assists per game as a team. The old saying that “the basketball moves faster than the defense” proved true with the Spurs, especially when they wanted to get the best shot for any teammate on the floor instead of raising their own individual statistics. The world got what it wanted: crisp passing, selfless play, and no egos. The world saw “Showtime” once again, but it was in Silver and Black this time around by the “boring” “old” men from San Antonio.