Blast from the past: Spurs still Western contenders
The Warriors and Clippers represent the new shiny objects in the Western Conference. But there's one team doing what they've done for a decade and a half.
So I had this idea come across my brain earlier this week. I was looking at the Western Conference, and how the Clippers are this incredible, fast-paced offensive team earlier in the season that can't defend worth a damn. The Warriors are anchord by an unbelievable offensive weapon who can shoot from anywhere, and solid players at multiple positions. It reminds me a lot of the mid-2000's, when the Suns and Mavericks were running and gunning as the darlings of the West.
The Mavericks were known as this offensive set of wunderkinds, but but the 2006 Mavericks were 11th in points allowed per possession, and the unbelivable 2007 team that somehow lost to the Warriors was fifth in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). It's early, but the Warriors feature their own Dirk Nowizki in Stephen Curry, and an array of supporting players ready to compete around him. (In this scenario, Klay Thompson is Jason Terry and Andre Iguodala is Josh Howard who, no, seriously, was really good then.)
The Clippers meanwhile have a running and gunning team lead by a transcendent point guard, shooters on the outside, an explosive power forward, and athletic role players everywhere. It's not Seven Second or Less, but it's not far off, especially when you see their third-worst defensive rating early in the season.
It's not a perfect analogy, but it's one that entertained me. (I'm still trying to figure out what the translation for the offensive powerhouse Minnesota Timberwolves is in this situation.)
But the most surprising part of this little thought exercise?
It's easy to figure out who the Spurs, who won the title in 2007 and constantly flummoxed the rise of those other Western powerhouses (despite a 2006 loss to the Mavericks in a legendary series) are in this analogy.
It's the Spurs.
After the 2008 Western Conference Finals run, the Spurs switched to an offensive-centric approach. Coach Gregg Popovich has talked about how the team had to adapt to the personnel. The result has been an offense that has set the standard for execution over the past five seasons, but has slippped a little bit on the defensive end. They were bad in 20011, flawed in 2012, and very good last season.
So far this season, they're elite. The Spurs enter Friday's action with the second best defense in points allowed per possession and 10th in offensive efficiency. They are destroying everything in their path, basically. The result is a team that while it has looked shaky in some early meetings, has turned it on in the past week and is obliterating its competition. They're basically the death star at this point and Tim Duncan still has more shots than points. So it's not fully operational.
There will be time to negotiate whether the offensive slip of Duncan is actually something happening or a blip on the radar and how that affects their title chances. Meanwhile, the Spurs are, at least early on, back to a grind-it-out defensive approach while also still killing teams with ball movement and crack shooting. If they're able to combine their lethal offensive execution with a defensive hammering, this is going to be a problem. They'll have combined the best of the mid-00's Spurs ugly ball with the finesse of the 2010-2013 fireworks show. They're making teams ugly while creating separation with their offense.
We search every year for a team to focus on other than San Antonio. Their players don't give interviews and the team works very hard to shun media attention. They've been around so long they're not new or exciting. Their uniforms look like prison rec league rejects. But while we're being dazzled by the Clippers' onslaught and the Warriors' superb balance, not to mention the Thunder back in action and the rise of the Timberwolves, it's important to remember that time and time again in the era of the Run and Gun West, it was the Spurs who came out on top.
All this is to say, the mid-2000's era has come and gone.
The Spurs are very much still here and ready to rock.
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