- Bleacher Report - Playing the role of Debbie Downer this week is Bleacher Report! Will the high expectation of the Spurs lead to disappointment when old age kicks in and they don't win a championship? Perhaps. Does that mean the Spurs should lower their expectations? Fat chance.
- RealGM - Another ranking of who had the best offseason. Another first place nod to the Spurs. At this point is it any question who had the best offseason?
- TalkHoops - Mostly I love the name of this article - "Luxury Tax Bowel Movement". It has a little to do with the Spurs, talking the luxury tax and what players each time might trade to get under it.
- Onlinesports - No, I don't have the Spurs couch. However, if I ever get my own place and have a man cave, you can bet it will be in there.
- Foxsports - Charley Rosen is asked who he ranks higher, Karl Malone or Tim Duncan. You'll have to read it to see who he chose. The most interesting part to me was that he said Dennis Rodman was his 7th best PF ever. Really???
- Express News - Mike Monroe wrote about how Roger Mason has cut his body fat by four percentage points and is trying to keep his spot in the rotation. No offense Mason, but you are the fifth option with Jefferson and Ginobili around.
- 48MoH - I could try to do a catchy write up about Graydon Gordian's article comparing the Spurs and Barcelona, but I would fail to do it justice. Trust me when I say read this article.
- PTR - Rikkido takes a look at the West and ranks the teams. My only hesitation is with his decision to put the Warriors 8th. I liked how he took a chance with them, but I just have trouble putting my faith in that team to make the playoffs.
The '09 Spurs took Game 6 to even the series with the '99 Spurs at three apiece. If you missed my recap of Game 6, please read it before moving on. Game 7 took place in the Hemisfair Arena in front of a raucous crowd fueled by the electricity produced from this historic matchup. It was clear that both teams knew what was on the line, immortality.
Before the game, a coin was flipped to decide which year’s rules would govern the game. The more physical ’99 team hoped to win the toss so that they could utilize hand-checks to counter the speed of the quicker ’09 team. Before the game, Tony Parker had this to say, “The coin flip will be huge for whichever team wins the flip because it will greatly decide how easily Manu and I will be able to enter the paint.” The lead official for the game, Joey Crawford, tossed the coin.
Unbelievably, the NBA reviewed the Game 6 technical that Current TD received from Joey Crawford for sneezing in his direction and decided that they would stand behind their official. The NBA released the statement, “Given the contagious diseases that exist, we feel that Tim’s sneeze towards Joey Crawford was a malicious attempt to spread the Swine Flu and therefore Crawford will not be punished for his just technical foul. In addition, we feel that Crawford is the best man for tonight’s job and that is why he will be the lead official for Game 7.” When Coach Grizzly Beard Popovich was asked what he thought about this, he spitefully responded, “I’ll do more than sneeze on him if he pulls that kind of stunt again.”
The visiting ’09's Current TD called heads as Crawford flipped the coin; "Heads it is." Tim Duncan gave a quiet fist pump and the game was ready to commence. Both coaches stuck with their starting lineups from Game 6, so Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and Current TD squared off against Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, Mario Elie, Young TD and David Robinson.
The first half showcased these truly great teams battle for every point, rebound, and loose ball. Tony Parker followed up his stellar performance in Game 6 with a first half explosion in Game 7 of 15 points and 5 assists. Without the ability to hand-check, Avery Johnson simply could not stay in front of the quicker Parker. Coach 'Clean Shaven' Popovich played Antonio Daniels extended minutes in the first half as his length seemed to at least slow Parker down. For the ’99 team, the Admiral came up huge; he singlehandedly kept them in the game. He posted McDyess up on the block and took Current TD away from the basket so he could use his speed to get to the rim. Robinson missed only one shot in the first half while pouring in 18 points and snatching 7 boards. At the end of the half, the ’09 Spurs led the ’99 Spurs, 48-47.
The third quarter was a bloodbath, literally. Two minutes into the third, Tony Parker had the ball at the top of the key. He used a stutter step to get Avery Johnson off-balance, and then attempted to move past him with a crossover. As Parker made his move, Johnson leaned forward and their heads collided. Parker hit the floor in a heap as Avery walked away, somewhat stunned. Blood poured from a gash on Avery’s nose as his trainer scrambled to stop the bleeding, but with limited success. Minutes passed as Avery was unable to reenter the game and the ‘09ers took advantage. At the end of the third, they led 78-70.
The ’99 team was down, but by no means out of this contest. They put together a run reminiscent of the team that plowed through the ’99 playoffs with a record of 15-2. Spurred by back-to-back threes from Elliott, the ’99 team closed the gap in the blink of an eye to tie the game at 80 with 7 minutes left in the fourth. The game began to get testy as both teams strived toward the finish line. Jerome Kersey and Theo Ratliff were extremely physical with each other underneath.
At the 6:33 mark, Tony Parker stole the ball from Avery Johnson and only had Kersey to beat. Kersey forced Parker to the left sideline and as Parker attempted to streak by, Kersey lowered his shoulder into Parker’s chest. Parker went flying and both benches jumped in anger as tempers flared. Kersey was immediately tossed out of the game. A slow motion replay revealed that Current TD and DeJuan Blair took several steps off the bench towards Kersey before being pulled back by their coaches. In an extremely rare moment of levelheadedness, Crawford assessed both parties technical fouls but did not feel their actions warranted an ejection.
Down the stretch neither team could pull away. Every time the ’99 squad converted a basket, the ‘09ers had an answer. With 56 seconds remaining, the ’99 Spurs were down 97-94 as Avery brought the ball across half court. Avery called a play and passed the ball to Sean Elliot at the left elbow. Young TD attempted to establish post position on the strong side as Robinson made his way to the free throw line to set a back-screen for Avery Johnson. Elliott passed the ball inside to Duncan, who squared up to the basket. Antonio McDyess followed the cutting Avery Johnson into the paint leaving Robinson open at the charity stripe. Duncan made the pass and David connected to make the score 97-96.
On their next possession the ‘09ers committed a rare turnover and the ’99 squad secured the loose ball and got it in the hands of their point guard. Johnson pushed the action and Ginobili was whistled for his sixth foul. Coach 'Grizzly Beard' Popovich called a timeout and after a discussion with his staff, decided to insert Roger Mason Jr.
The ‘99ers had the ball down by 1 with 34 seconds remaining on the left sideline as Sean Elliott was inbounding with Mason defending. Mario Elie flashed to the left corner. Inexplicably, as Elliott passed the ball to Elie, Mason followed to double. Elie passed the ball back to Elliott and he hit the open three. The ’99 crowd exploded as their team led 99-97.
Tony Parker raced the ball up the court and called a timeout with 26 seconds remaining. Coach 'Grizzly Beard' Popovich looked at his team and said, “Alright, here we are. Did anyone think this would be easy? That is a great damn team they have over there and we have a chance to take the lead. This is for immortality.”
Jefferson had the inbounding responsibilities from the right sideline. Players scrambled across the court as Popovich had designed. Tony came streaking to the top of the key but was covered. Tim, seeing the desperation in Jefferson’s face, charged at the ball but failed to create a passing angle. Finally, Jefferson saw a window. He passed the ball along the right sideline to Roger Mason. Defending on the play, Elliott went for the steal but just missed. Mason caught the ball inside the three-point line. Rather than drive in for the tying two-point basket, he took a dribble backwards in an attempt to get behind the three-point line. Elliott recovered but did not anticipate that Mason would move back. They collided as Mason took the shot. The ball hit the bottom of the net as the whistle blew. Foul on Elliott; Mason to the line with a chance to give his team the lead. Coach 'Clean Shaven' Popovich called timeout to ice Mason, but Mason was the one with ice in his veins. He calmly walked to the line, took his dribble, and sunk the biggest free-throw of his life.
Coach 'Clean Shaven' Popovich called another timeout to advance the ball; there were 10 seconds left and his team was down by 1, 100-99. He remained quiet for the first 15 seconds of the timeout, staring at each player, one by one. He looked at David Robinson and said, "Well, David, this is it. You are our captain. I want you to take this shot. Old Grizzly Beard may have more experience than I do, but he doesn't have you. Here's what we're going to do...."
Mario Elie inbounded the ball from the right sideline to Sean Elliott. Elliott took three dribbles into the teeth of the defense until he was just above the free throw line. Young TD was on one block and David was on the other. Robinson muscled his way to Young TD's man and set a screen. Young TD cut to the opposite block but the defense switched so he was not open. David stepped into the man he screened, turned, and sealed him on his back. Elliott saw the window and made the pass. McDyess was on the outside looking in, attempted to foul, but it was too late. Robinson elevated into the air, brought the ball behind his head with both hands, and powered the ball through the net as he let out a roar. Coach 'Grizzly Beard' Popovich immediately called his last 20 second timeout, with 3 seconds remaining and his '09 team down by a point.
Since it was a 20 second timeout, the ball did not advance to half court. The '09 team would have to traverse the length of the court and score in three seconds or accept defeat. Coach 'Grizzly Beard' Popovich told his team, "I know it looks bleak. I know it is improbable. But we will win. Clean Shaven over there, he's got a great team, but there's one thing he doesn't know that I do. This '09 team is the most talented Spurs team to ever play. And therefore, we will win this f***ing game!."
Roger Mason had inbounding responsibilities from under the '99's basket. Current TD and McDyess stood at either end of the free throw line nearest Mason. Parker and Jefferson stood at half court, mirroring their post players' spacing. Essentially, the four formed a rectangle. The '99ers decided to play four feet off each player, but still wanted to slow down any play to the basket. As the official handed the ball to Mason, McDyess sprinted to Current TD's man to set a screen. At the same time, Parker sprinted up court to draw his man away from the basket. Jefferson prepared himself for impact at half court. With his man screened, Current TD took off towards his basket. Jefferson hit Robinson with a screen as David did his best to defend the streaking Current TD. Mason fired a baseball pass down the court. Current TD looked over his shoulder and saw the ball speeding towards him. Jefferson's defender, Elliott, was the only man between TD and the basket. Elliott also saw the pass and decided to make a play on the ball. He stopped his momentum, turned, and leaped into the air as the ball sped towards Current TD. The ball grazed Elliott's outstretched fingertips but was just out of reach. Current TD caught the pass in stride at the three point line, took one dribble, and dunked the ball as the buzzer sounded. The '09 bench exploded with elation onto the court. They jumped all around Current TD as he looked into the stands and screamed, "Number One!' over and over again.
The ’09 Spurs had taken the game and immortality with it, just as our readers predicted. Let’s hope the ’09 Spurs are as good as they are in my imagination.
Ian Mahinmi became a member of 'Club Trillion’ as he posted 1 minute and no impact whatsoever....A bitter Coach 'Clean Shaven' Popovich gave only ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers during his post game press conference. Even to questions like, “How did you feel about Tony Parker’s performance?” "No."....When asked if there would be bad blood between him and Jerome Kersey after the flagrant foul, Tony Parker responded with, “It’s cool, Eva is waiting for me at home. What the hell do I care? In fact, I’ve gotta go.”
The 8th seed is back during the doldrums of Summer to scrape together something resembling a podcast.
We started off as the 6th seed but managed to perform badly enough to get kicked down to 7th midway through the show.
We talked about Rashard Lewis being suspended for taking PED's, international NBA players getting injured in overseas play, the Timberwolves hiring of Kurt Rambis and played a game of Where's QRich?
Aside from Jeff and I, this month's panel is:
Rey Moralde of The No Look Pass and Chronicles of Crotty
Zach Harper of Talk Hoops and Cowbell Kingdom
Jared Wade of Both Teams Played Hard an 8 Points 9 Seconds
John Karalis of Red's Army
Glenn Moore of the Dugout Sports Show
The Immortalized Spurs is a series comprised of articles that give an in-depth look at the player behind the retired jersey hanging in the AT&T Center's rafters. James Silas, Johnny Moore, George Gervin, and Avery Johnson have been previously covered.
Sean Elliott 1989-1993 & 1994-2001
Sean Elliott began his illustrious career playing high school ball in Tuscon, Arizona. He was a high school basketball standout and was a McDonald's All-American in 1985. Elliott played his college ball at the University of Arizona where he was a two-time 1st Team All-American as he averaged an impressive 19.2ppg, 6.2rpg, and 3.4 apg over his four years. The San Antonio Spurs drafted Elliott with the third pick in the first round of the 1989 draft.
Elliott would go on to play a stellar eleven seasons with the Spurs. He was voted onto the All Star team twice, once in '93 and again in '96. Spurs fans will remember the '96 All Star game took place in San Antonio and Sean treated us to a 13 point, 5 rebound, 2 assist performance amongst the best in the NBA. His best statistical season came in '96 when he averaged 20ppg, 5.1rpg and 2.7 apg.
In 1993, the Spurs traded Sean Elliott for Dennis Rodman. This was frowned upon by many since Rodman stood for everything the Spurs, and Sean, were not. The following year the Spurs recognized Sean's value and orchestrated a trade that would get him back into the Silver and Black. Elliott would go on to finish his career with the Spurs, retiring in 2001.
Sean Elliott was the key player in arguably the most memorable play in San Antonio Spurs' history, the "Memorial Day Miracle." At Project Spurs, we have discussed this at length so take a look here and here for more. As an NBA junkie, let me just say this ranks up there with the most amazing plays I have ever seen on a basketball court. It was simply incredible. The catch, the dribble to regain balance, the tip-toe to avoid the sideline, the unbelievable arch to clear 6'11" Rasheed Wallace's outstretched arms, and the momentum shift everyone in the Alamodome experienced. It was breathtakingly classic.
The ManA month after he helped the Spurs win their first championship, Sean Elliott announced he had been suffering from a kidney disease for years. Though he used every treatment available, his kidneys had continued to deteriorate and he needed a kidney transplant. In a circumstance that trumped the "Memorial Day Miracle," his brother, Noel, offered to give Sean one of his kidneys. Amazingly, the surgery was a success and Sean would live on and continue to contribute to this world we all share.
Through hard-work and ceaseless determination, on March 13, 2001, Sean Elliott accomplished what many thought was impossible; he became the first player to return to the NBA after a kidney transplant. Elliott would compete that season and the one after, before retiring. To this day, Elliott continues to shed light on kidney diseases as well as participate in many charity events. Sean is currently our favorite color commentator and can be heard during most every Spurs game. Sean's jersey was retired on March 6th, 2005, forever cementing his place as one of our Spurs heroes.
In the first debate of Spurs big shots, Project Spurs had the "Memorial Day Miracle" taking on "The TD 3." It was a landslide and Elliott's shot clearly won the debate. Thanks to all who voted, commented and actually READ the post to know this week we will be debating the "Memorial Day Miracle" against Horry's "3" in the 2005 NBA Finals against the Pistons.
Competition for the "Memorial Day Miracle" heats up. Both were crucial for the franchise and it's place among the pantheon of NBA's great teams.
Once more let's take a look at the "tale of the tape" and you decide.
The Memorial Day Miracle
May 31, 1999. Memorial Day. San Antonio. 1999 NBA Playoffs Game 2 Western Conference Semifinals, Spurs vs. Blazers in the Alamodome.
It was late in the fourth quarter and the Spurs battled their way out of an 18 point deficit to bring the score 83-85 Blazers leading, with 12 seconds left in the game. Mario Elie inbounds the ball to Sean Elliott, who was tip-toeing the corner sideline. The ball barely clearing the outstretch hands of Stacy Augmon, Elliott catches the ball, heels never touching the floor though they were out of bounds, Rasheed Wallace leaping to try to block the shot, Elliott launches a "3" over Wallace, and makes it! Spurs take their first lead with 9 seconds left and go on to win the game, 86-85, taking a 2-0 lead over the Blazers.
Points to consider:
- Elliott, though heels were out of bounds, never touched the floor
- Elliott was known to hit the "3" thus making it more likely he would make it
- Elliott had to shoot over Wallace
- Spurs were down as much as 18 points and were losing heading into the final quarter
- The shot devastated the Blazers moral and got swept by the Spurs
- The shot propelled the Spurs in the series against the Blazers on their way to their first NBA championship
The Horry "3"
June 19, 2005. Auburn Hills, Michigan. 2005 NBA Finals, Game 5. Spurs vs. Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
It was late in overtime of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, 5.8 seconds left and Horry was inbounding the ball. Horry passes the ball to Manu and Rasheed Wallace (again involved in another big shot in Spurs history) leaves Horry to help Tayshaun Prince trap Manu in the corner. Manu passes out of the trap to Horry who was wide-open for a "3" and makes it! "Big Shot Rob" strikes again! Spurs go on to win Game 5 in OT, 96-95 and would go on to take a 3-2 lead in the 2005 NBA Finals.
Points to consider:
- Horry hurt his shoulder going in for a dunk moments before his "3"
- Horry ended up scoring all of his 21 points with 17-plus minutes left in the game
- Horry's shot allowed the Spurs to take a 3-2 series lead and the team would go on to win their third title
- Unlike Elliott's shot, Horry had a clear shot at the basket
- Horry was known to hit big shots in the past
- During the 2005 playoffs, Horry went 38 of 85 from the three-point line
Amazing shots to debate but in the end there can only be one! Let's settle this Spurs fans. Go vote on the poll and leave us your comments with your opinion as to which was the bigger shot in Spurs history.
Michael and Jeff interview Ben Hunt from Spurs.com about all aspects of his job, including running the official Spurs twitter account.
Ben talks about different parts of his job and breaks down what a typical game day is like for him, from morning shootaround to uploading video and writing recaps at around 11 p.m. after the game.
Aside from the Spurs, Ben and the web services team also work for the Silver Stars and the Rampage and are responsible for the content you see on all three sites.no comments
When we published Jeff Garcia's post on the "Memorial Day Miracle" vs. the "TD 3" debate, we found there were a variety of answers and a strong case could be made for each shot. During a Project Spurs planning meeting last week, we found even we had a differing opinion, so we present our staff roundtable in hopes of determining which is the biggest shot. You decide in the comments.
Michael De Leon
If we are talking about bigger shot, I think many characteristics define that aside from which was more shocking. I was lucky enough to be in attendance for both games and both were plenty shocking and unexpected. While Tim Duncan doesn't shoot from beyond the arch much, he may as well have been in the shooting stars competition because he was wide open for a three and Tim himself has said his entire career that he has that range. What is more shocking than him knocking that down is that Pop actually drew up a play involving Tim shooting a three.
Some will say Elliott hitting a three is not a big deal because he shot the three his entire career at a good percentage. But what was his percentage of hitting falling out of bounds, tippy-toeing threes with Rasheed Wallace in his face. Elliott's shot also propelled the Spurs past the Blazers and into the Finals, while Duncan's got the Spurs past the first round before an eventual loss to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
And as far as it killing the Suns, when was the last time the Suns got past the Spurs anyway and I believe we are asking which was the bigger shot, not which killed the Suns. I said as soon as the Suns acquired Shaq that I thought it was a terrible trade and that they were going downhill. So a shot that killed a team on its way down or an even more unexpected shot that got the Spurs into their first Finals. They were both amazing, but Elliott's was bigger.
TD's shot was bigger. The title of the post wasn't which shot was "pivotal" but which shot was bigger. If it was then by all means Elliott's shot was bigger. As mentioned in the post, since when was Duncan ever seen as a 3-point threat? He never was. Elliott on the other hand was known to hit the three with regularity and in that game, he was hitting his stroke with some 3-shots made in the fourth quarter.
Duncan's three was unexpected, and it absolutely killed the will of the Suns in the playoffs and the Suns organization. For all the moves the Suns made to beat the Spurs, it was all for nothing.
Sure Elliott's three won the game but Duncan's three was just more crushing to the Suns. Pivotal? No. Bigger? Yes!
Both Tim Duncan’s and Sean Elliot’s three point shots were improbable. Duncan simply does not shoot threes and here he is draining one in one of the greatest playoff games in Spurs history. On the other hand, Elliot’s heels were hovering precariously over the line and Rasheed Wallace was flying at Elliot with his arm stretched as far as possible. While Duncan’s might be more shocking, in the end Elliot’s was bigger because of the postseason outcome. His shot was instrumental in the Spurs’ first championship while Duncan’s came in a season that ultimately ended at the hands of Kobe Bryant. There were other factors that made Elliot’s shot bigger for me. We did not know it at the time, but Elliot was dealing with kidney failure and would have a transplant after the season. Imagine playing with that condition and making the biggest shot of your life. When I encounter two amazing performances or moments, the one that helped the team win a championship, the ultimate goal in sport, will come out on top unless the other moment is just so spectacular that it can’t be denied. Even though Duncan’s shot was amazing and caused my roommate, who hates the NBA, to declare it one of the greatest games he has watched, it cannot overcome the importance of Elliot’s shot to the team in helping it win its first championship.
I realize that this is not the most popular choice, but hear me out. The reason the Tim's shot was bigger than Elliott's is because of the lasting impact it had on the Suns. Tim's shot was the knockout blow to the Phoenix Suns franchise. They are still falling to the mat. Remember, when we played them in '08, they were contenders. Nash, Stoudemire, Shaq, Diaw, Barbosa, Grant Hill, and Raja Bell; this was a team to be reckoned with. This shot in Game 1 sent chills down every one of their spines. They never recovered and the Spurs went on to beat them four games to one. If Tim misses that shot, they steal home-court advantage and the series plays out in a completely different way. If the Suns had beaten the Spurs, maybe they do not trade away Bell, Diaw and Shaq. Maybe we are talking about the Lakers, Spurs, and the Suns right now as the three favorites in the West. We may not have won the title that year, but Tim's shot guaranteed the Suns would not be contenders in the future. And I for one, am very happy about that.
The Spurs have treated their fans to some of the biggest and best playoff memories in their existence. For example, winning four NBA titles, the "Memorial Day Miracle", the "TD 3" against the Suns, Steve Kerr's 3-point bombardment on the Mavs, and a thrilling game 7 against the Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals.
But what about the other memories us Spurs fans like to pretend never happened? Let's take a look at the Spurs top five worst playoff memories.
5. 1983 Western Conference Finals, Game 6
It was the "Iceman" and the Spurs taking on "Magic" and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 Western Conference Finals. In an odd way, this game would be very foretelling of the future these two franchises will have playing against each other.
After finishing the season with a 53-29 record and winning the Midwest Division, the Spurs looked poised to make a run at the Finals. They eliminated the Denver Nuggets (4-1) in the semi-finals and advanced to the Western Conference Finals to take on the L.A. Lakers. The Spurs got the split on the road to open the series, won two games in the Forum but just couldn't win at home. They lost all home games against the Lakers and had a heartbreaking game 6, losing the the Lakers by one point! Final score: 101-100, Lakers.
4. Manu Fouls Dirk in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Semi-Finals
Not only did the Spurs rally back from a 3-1 series hole, the Spurs also rallied back from a huge deficit in game 6 and things were looking great! Late in the fourth quarter, Manu hits a clutch 3 to give the Spurs their only lead of the game with 32 seconds left. And in a blink of an eye, Manu went from hero to goat. With 20 seconds remaining in regulation, Manu fouls Dirk Nowitzki as he was going to the basket, giving Dirk the "and 1." This ties the game and in overtime the Spurs lose to the Mavericks, 119-111 and lose the series. They do not defend their NBA title.
3. The Rod Strickland Pass in the 1990 Western Conference Semi-Finals
It was game 7 of the 1990 Western Conference Semi-Finals between the Spurs and Blazers. Tied in overtime, 103-103, the Spurs had posession of the ball with 30 seconds remaining when Rod Strickland threw a no-look pass to no one! Apparently he thought Sean Elliott was going to cut to the basket on the baseline. Jerome Kersey saves the ball from going out of bounds, passes the ball to Drexler, who was then fouled from behind by Strickland, giving the Blazers a breakway foul. Drexler would go on to make the free throws and the Spurs would eventually lose the game 108-105 and the series.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon Destroys David Robinson in Game 1 of the 1995 Western Conference Finals
The 1995 Spurs had the NBA's best regular season record and the Spurs marched to the Western Conference Finals to face Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. That year, David Robinson was named the 1995 NBA MVP but some felt Olajuwon deserved it more. So what did the Spurs and the NBA decide to do? Give the MVP trophy to Robinson right before the series started. Call it motivation for Hakeem but he absolutely demolished Robinson. Hakeem and the Rockets went on to win game 1 and the series.
With the series tied, 2-2, between the Spurs and Lakers in the 2004 NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals, Game 5 proved to be the worst heartache for Spurs fans in recent years. The score was 72-71, Lakers, and with seconds left in the fourth quarter, Tim Duncan hit an amazing shot over Shaq to give the Spurs the lead, 73-72 with .4 seconds left in the game. After a Lakers timeout, Gary Payton inbounded the ball to Derek Fisher who then shot over Ginobili in .4 seconds. Fisher made it, winning the game for LA. Final score 74-73. The Spurs never recovered and went on to lose the series. Once again the Spurs do not defend their NBA title.
Well there you have it Spurs fans. Sorry to open old wounds. Leave us your comments on what you feel are other tough Spurs playoff memories you experienced.
Players improve in their second year with a team, especially if that team is the Spurs, who have intricate defensive rotations and demand full effort.
At least, that's the perception fans around the league have. For the Spurs, fans can point to Stephen Jackson increasing his minutes by 18 and points by 8. There is Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker making big jumps from their rookie year to year two. Even smaller improvements can be seen, such as Fabricio Oberto increasing his minutes by 9, points by 2.7 and rebounds by 2.6.
The supposed reason for these improvements is that a player has had a year to understand the offensive sets, learned how to play with his teammmates and grasped any defensive nuances. Logically it all makes sense, especially with the Spurs. Popovich is notorious for his reluctance to play new players because he is stubborn with his rotations, just ask Michael Finley, making it hard for first year players to become fully integrated.
However, I have often wondered if this improvement is statistically true. Our minds tend to remember the good, which is why we think of Jackson's improvement or Bruce Bowen's big jump in three point field goal percentage, but we easily forget the players who regressed, such as Francisco Elson or Rasho Nesterovic.
To have a better idea about the difference between a player's first year with the Spurs and his second year, I turned to one of my favorite basketball websites - basketball-reference.com. I found all the players since 1998-1999 who joined the Spurs and played at least two seasons with significant minutes per game (greater than 10) and made a spreadsheet with their statistics. I included some basic stats, such as points, rebounds and assists, but I really wanted to look at their advanced statistics because so much can change from year to year, such as playing time or usage, and I wanted to utilize statistics that would minimize those changes. This spreadsheet allowed me to see the differences from year one to year two, which I then averaged for the 25 players who fit the criteria.
The following chart shows the average difference from year one to year two. I've used some of these advanced statistics in the past, but here is a key for those who aren't familiar with them.
TS% - True Shooting %, takes into account 2's, 3's and free throws
eFG% - Effective FG%, takes into account that 3's are worth more than 2's
TRB% - Total Rebound %, estimate of total available rebounds a player grabs while on the court
AST% - Assist%, estimate of teammates FG a player assisted while on the court
TOV% - Turnover %, estimate of turnovers per 100 possessions
ORtg - Offensive Rating, estimate of points produced per 100 possessions
DRtg - Defensive Rating, estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions
OWS - Offensive Win Shares, estimate of # of wins a player contributed to because of his offense
DWS - Defensive Win Shares, estimate of # of wins a player contributed to because of his defense
WS - Win Shares, estimate of # of wins contributed to
I'll readily admit that these numbers are not perfect. Twenty five players is too small of a sample size to build a great dataset. Also, merely averaging them is not that most advanced way to look for improvement. I did not determine if the change was statistically significant, but it is a good jumping off point for discussion.
So what do these numbers tell us?
First, the average playing time was almost the same from year one to year two. While players like Jackson and Ginobili had significant increases in minutes, others like Steve Kerr, Steve Smith and Brent Barry saw significant decreases. Also, the basic statistics (points, rebounds, assists) showed slight improvements but not big enough improvements to blow me away.
I was intrigued to see that the average PER increased by 0.39. While it is not a large improvement, I found that players improved their PER more often than not, with 15 showing some improvement. This tells me that players were slightly more efficient in their second year with the team. Standouts in this area were Jackson (6.6 improvement), Parker (4.8), Ginobili (3.8), Oberto (2.6) and Kurt Thomas (2.9). The biggest drops were Nesterovic (-3.3) and Matt Bonner (-4.1).
I wanted to see if the TS% or eFG% improved at all because players were more comfortable with the offense and found better shots. It seemed that there was not a change. Some players improved (Bowen, Oberto, Jackson) but just as many regressed (Elson, Smith, Mario Elie).
To me, the most telling numbers were the AST% and TOV%. These showed that players assisted on more field goals while on the court and had fewer turnovers. Now, these numbers might be slightly skewed because they include Parker and Ginobili, but I was still impressed. This tells me that players felt more comfortable with the Spurs in their second year and protected the ball better, which has always been a key to the Spurs offense.
The ORtg showed that players, on average, contributed two more points per 100 possessions in their second year. Once again, this indicates that they are more comfortable with the offense. Of course, Jackson and Parker showed big improvements, but so did Nazr Mohammad and Kurt Thomas. Both players joined the Spurs towards the end of the season, so it makes sense that they would be more efficent in their second season.
I was a little surprised about the DRtg results. They showed that players allowed one more point per 100 posessions. I thought this would be lower since players would understand the defensive rotations better. Only five of the players actually lowered their DRtg while most increased it slightly.
The win shares showed slight improvement offensively and defensively, which is not too shocking. Overall, the win shares indicate that players contributed to nearly half a win more per season. While this is not a big amount, it is encouraging.
In the end, the numbers show that players in their second year with the Spurs are likely to experience a slight improvement in their offensive and defensive efficiency. The difference most likely won't come in their field goal percentage or points but in their overall understanding of how the team works. They will make fewer mistakes and help the offense run more efficiently, which makes sense when you think about it.
However, when I looked closer at the players that improved, it appeared to me that the jump from year one to year two was not necessarily because of better understanding of the Spurs offense but because of logical improvement that would have happened regardless of where they played. For example, Parker and Ginobili showed improvement because it was their second season in the league, and increased statistics and greater efficiency makes sense. I would also argue that Jackson's improvement was not because of greater familiarity with the Spurs but because he had raw talent that just needed time to develop.
What does this all mean for the Spurs players entering their second year with the team, Roger Mason Jr. and George Hill?
I expect Mason's basic numbers to fall because of the changes the Spurs have made. The addition of Richard Jefferson will cut into the number of shots he sees and it moves him down the pecking order on offense, which in reality moves him to his more natural role as a spot up shooter and not a creator. Since our numbers show that players improve in their efficiency, I expect his advanced statistics (PER, AST%, TOV%, etc.) to improve. Also, he will be asked to play point guard less (I hope), which means he will have to make fewer ball handling decisions and take better shots.
As for Hill, his numbers should improve across the board with Pop showing more willingness to play the youngster. Both Parker and Ginobili showed improvement in their second year, and while I'm not suggesting Hill is on level with either All-Star, he is closer to them mentally than Beno Udrih, the only other rookie in my dataset. Udrih, another back up point guard, saw his numbers decrease in year two, but Hill stronger mentally and seems to have Pop's confidence. He played well in the playoffs, when he got to play, and had a great Summer League.
Based on all of this, what do you expect out of Mason and Hill this year?