The Spurs Are Too Good To Care About
Gregg Popovich & Co. have made sustained success boring.
Remember the Spurs? The team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy eighteen months ago? The last great NBA dynasty that won the free-agency lottery this offseason in luring LaMarcus Aldridge back to Texas? The small-market stalwarts led by bionic alien Tim Duncan who, if Gregg Popovich continues to shave his regular season minutes, might be the first person to appear on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and AARP Magazine in the same year?
The Spurs are once again dominant, quietly turning in another ho-hum, run-of-the-mill, .800 season. The Western Conference two-seed is 18-5, San Antonio’s second-best start of all time. If they keep it up the Spurs will finish 67-15, which is good for a franchise record. That’s no small feat considering the Spurs haven’t won less than 50 games in a season since Rick Perry was Agriculture Commissioner. So why doesn’t anyone care about Kawhi, LaMarcus, and the foreign legion Gregg Popovich has assembled this season?
There are a few reasons the Spurs are flying under the radar, beyond the well-worn notion that San Antonio is a tiny television market and that they aren’t owned by a histrionic tech billionaire more famous than any of his players. Mainly, it’s Steph Curry, the relatively pint-sized Golden State point guard ripping through the entire league like a buzzsaw. The Warriors are undefeated at 23-0, and it seems like no team has an answer for both Curry and his battery mate Klay Thompson, perhaps not even San Antonio (who, in all fairness, has played a soft schedule so far). Both sons of erstwhile NBA gunners—Dell Curry and Mychal Thompson—the tandem is perhaps the greatest three-point shooting duo of all time. Curry is on pace to make 426 threes this season, which would shatter last season’s record of 286 set by, well, Curry. Klay is on pace for 253.
This is all to say that outside of Kobe Bryant’s Bricklayers Union 24 Retirement Tour (Sold Out!), all basketball writers, broadcasters, and, as an extension, fans, really care about right now are the NBA records—Curry’s race to the greatest shooting season in history, the 33-game record winning streak set by the 1971-72 Lakers, and the 72-win mark set by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls. All three are very much in play, and until the Warriors lose or Curry slumps, the Spurs will continue to beat teams by 50, like they did to the wildly terrible NBA problem child the 76ers earlier this week.
So here’s where the Spurs are transcendent: Where the Warriors shine offensively, this Spurs team excels on the other side of the ball. With a defensive rating of 92.0—an actually useful advanced stat that calculates points allowed per 100 possessions—San Antonio leads the league with a better rating than the each of its last five championship seasons. The Spurs are also allowing the fewest free throw attempts and free throws made in the NBA. That’s good for obvious reasons, but it’s also a loving present to San Antonians in the form of an earlier bedtime on game nights and less time to buy expensive beer. All of that, apparently, isn’t enough to merit any talking points from national sports media.
Surely there’d at least be some stories about the 39-year-old Duncan, right? Something about how Old Man Riverwalk still averages more than two blocks and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes? But just this week, it was Dirk Nowitzki’s continued sovereignty at the ripe old age of 37 that tickled the fancy of Deadspin’s Tom Ley, who wrote a glowing piece titled: “All Hail Dirk Nowitzki, Whose Old Ass is Still Dominating.” Yes, the German legend is old and dominating. But so is that ageless supernova from the Virgin Islands playing down in San Antonio. That Dirk receives accolades—and he deserves them, for sure—and Timmy D doesn’t should tell you everything you need to know about the love small-market teams get in American professional sports.
But for the team in silver and black and its frosty coach (in hair color and general disposition), winning quietly is still winning. And that’s something they’ve been doing it for almost 20 years now.