Friday, October 24, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: San Antonio Spurs




Your opening preview is by Graydon Gordian.


For the purposes of full disclosure, I am the author of 48 Minutes of Hell, a San Antonio Spurs blog. So if you are looking for the traditional Hardwood Paroxysm take on the silver and black, scroll down the page to what I am sure will be the most extensive "Reasons to Hate" section of the entire preview series. But in the spirit of the Paroxysm, I ask that you free your mind and open yourself up to the idea that somewhere between the Spurs' even temperament, woefully slow pace of play, and refusal to recede into irrelevance lies a team that is a pleasure to watch.

Although widely disliked outside of southern and central Texas, the Spurs are probably easier on their fans than any team in the NBA. Having never been eliminated from the playoffs earlier than the second round during the Tim Duncan era, this team has been a perennial championship contender for a full decade now. Anybody who thinks they aren't this year just can't take a hint. Even last year, after decimating the Suns and defeating the Hornets in an epic but schizophrenically uneven series, people refused to admit that these guys still have it. Yes, Tim Duncan is past his prime, but Manu Ginobili, although injured, is coming off of the best season of his career (as well as an excellent performance in the Olympics) and Tony Parker, already one of the premiere point guards in the NBA, is very likely still improving.

Add on the fact that the Spurs made solid, however peripheral, roster moves that shored up their defense and outside shooting, and you're looking at another 50+ win team whose discipline and drive gives it a good shot at beating anybody in the league over the course of a seven-game series. But that last sentence could have been included in any Spurs preview for the last 5 years. So what is unique about this particular Spurs unit?

Well, believe it or not, this team may actually be fun to watch. Some, like myself, might argue that in fact this team has been aesthetically pleasing for years now, but for those of you who are well schooled in the notion that the Spurs play nothing but boring-as-hell basketball, I suggest you take a second look.

If I am going to claim that the prevailing wisdom about the Spurs overshadows the engaging on-court reality, I've got to start with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and his fleet-footed back court companion, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

I will unequivocally claim that Ginobili is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. Up until last season I would have argued that he was one of the most undervalued as well (I am making a subtle distinction between value and appreciation), but by the end of the year many of his detractors began to begrudgingly admit what a multi-dimensional offensive threat he is. But for some reason people still refuse to equate his offensive dynamism with whatever they deem to be "exciting." His inventiveness near the hoop, coupled alongside the accuracy of his step-back jumper, make him a threat to score no matter where he has the ball. If you think that the Spurs offense is dictated by a dogged comment to uninspiring efficiency, look no further than the wily Argentinean for a counter-argument.

If Ginobili's entertainment value (distinct from the type of "value" to which I referred earlier) stems from from his jaggedly unpredictable offensive style, Tony Parker's is rooted in his piercing quickness. While Ginobili could attack you in 100 different ways, the awaiting defender knows exactly what Parker is going to do and yet oftentimes appears helpless to stop him nonetheless. Unlike some players (Monta Ellis, Leandro Barbosa) Parker is not most impressive when at a full sprint, but rather when shifting gears. His excellent sense of pace, particularly when running a one man fast break, allows him to disorient the defense. They slow as he slows, only to be caught unable to return to a full sprint as quickly as Parker can. As Moore has mentioned to me numerous times, if Parker can ever develop a reliable mid-range jumper, he would be a very dangerous player. And let's be honest: The kid's got game not just on the court, but where it counts.

Even if you buy the notion that Parker and Ginobili are "watchable," which is how I find many people choose to phrase it when they admit that a Spurs game is not as torturous as they once thought, the idea that Kurt Thomas or Tim Duncan (or even, God forbid, Bruce Bowen) might be exciting is ridiculous. Outside of our back-court superstars, the watchability falls off pretty quick, right?

Well, not necessarily. Yes, if you are looking for athletic slashers and aerial acrobatics, then Michael Finley or Ime Udoka are hardly going to be your cup of tea. But over the last few seasons, this team has grown increasingly dependent on its 3-point shooting. So if you're the kind of guy who likes to see a squad make it rain from beyond the arc, then the Spurs are your kind of ball club. Now, this dependency is what gives birth to those unbearably long offensive droughts, but it just as often produces a tidal wave of points that can get the heart of even the most ardent Spurs-hater racing just a tad. Bowen. Finley. Udoka. Stoudamire. Mason. Even Bonner. All prefer the long ball.

Yes, we like to slow it down. Yes, we play suffocatingly efficient defense. And yes, half the teams' AARP cards are in the mail. But give them a chance and you'll find Spurs basketball to be surprisingly delightful.



When I heard that Coach Popovich had the Spurs practicing yoga as a team, I found a way to like him even more. He's the fair guy, the good guy, and the disciplined guy in this league. He is classy, he gets things done and done right, and he is the perfect coach for Tim Duncan and friends. Duncan is so damn predictable. Predictably solid, consistent, great. Because he is focused and not flashy, we are spoiled into forgetting how pretty Duncan's shot off of the glass is. We allow ourselves to forget just how good the Spurs are. And how easy they make basketball look, when playing the right way.

Gin may be the most exciting flopper I've ever seen, and TP going full out down the court driving to the basket at breakneck speed also makes the Spurs much more exciting than they usually get credit for. Bowen, of course, makes us tune in because we can never see him get left in the corner for open threes too many times, and we also never know when he is going to get too up in the wrong player's business and as a result take a shot (hello, Chris Paul, Bowen-haters worldwide loved that Julius flashback). Ime Udoka is a guy with a story and a hustle to love. Matt Bonner alone makes the Spurs great. A guy who used to use public transit to get to the arena when he was a member of the Raptors. Fantastic. Good guy Michael Finley is on the Spurs roster, and of course, he fits right in. This year we also get to watch Roger Mason Jr. slide into the role of Spurs basketball. Of course he will excel. This is San Antonio, where everything and everyone is predictable. Predictable, like Pleasantville. Remember that movie?

  • If you enjoy Steely Dan albums.
  • If you think making Ghostbusters 3 is a good idea.
  • If you think the dust chapter in Grapes of Wrath was the best part.
  • If you think an afternoon watching golf and napping is a great Sunday as long as Tiger Woods isn't playing.
  • If you actually drink warm milk.
  • If you still watch the Simpsons every weekend.
  • If you're French.
  • If you're Argentinian.
  • If you enjoy the fine art of technical writing.
  • If you love shoving "SCOREBOARD" in the faces of Suns fans.
  • If you often turn down beer, wine, juice, soda, or bottled water for tap water. Even at restaurants.
  • If Saturday Night is Alright For Reading Your Stereo Manual.
  • If you love hard-nosed defense, a commitment to excellence, teamwork, precisions, blah, blah, blah.




As Graydon mentioned above, every day I wake up with the fear that Tony Parker will develop a consistent pull-up mid-range jumper. The fact is that Parker can get the first step on anyone. ANY-ONE. Chris Paul, Barbosa, Bowen, Artest, the moon, Godzilla, Mecha-Godzilla, Rancid's second album, anyone. The question then is if you can cut him off when he inevitably goes for the hesitation off the screen. He'll pull up, just in time to reel you in so he can draw the foul. But if you can rotate your interior defender correctly, he can be neutralized. As long as he doesn't have the J. When he flashed it in the Hornets series, I waved it off. It's like Ginobili going right or a shooting star or something. It happens, but not very bloody often. Then he drilled it again. And you could literally see Byron Scott's face melting. If Parker develops that, he'll be unstoppable. There will be no counter for him. You can put whatever defender you want on him and he'll have the advantage. For the sake of all of us, let's hope he hasn't been working on it.

I feel like I'm the only one that sees Mason. Hmm... a few years in the league. Old enough to be a veteran but young enough to not be decrepit. Shot 40% from the arc last year. Wow, I wonder what the Spurs will do with a guy like that. Boy I just don't know... ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is vintage Pop-Buford. Snag a guy who's drifting, no flash, no sexiness, and plug him into the system. I'm horrified. This guy scored 9 points on the freaking Wizards last year. Just keep an eye on him.

Okay, Fabricio Oberto has to start truly sucking this year, right? Right?

Mahinmi will likely be back in Austin so at least they're not loaded down low. Yet.


Paroxi-Wife Note: I still can't watch the Spurs without commenting that Manu Ginobli needs a nose job. Does that make me a bad person? Also, Bonner=hot. He should play more.

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