I doubt it would be controversial in this area if I called the 2014 San Antonio Spurs the best example of collegiate basketball in NBA history. For me, the moment that epitomized that most was the third quarter of Game Five of the NBA Finals, where Patty Mills poured in three after three. In most teams, in playoffs, role players are eliminated from attacking, and teams will tense play after play for their stars. Not the San Antonio Spurs, they didn’t care who he was, if he was open, his shot was.
This current iteration of Spurs isn’t nearly as talented, but for the first time in years, that mentality is back. After the Kawhi Leonard deal, Spurs found themselves with an attack built on the isolation of mid-range shooters, with DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and others, and until last season, their offensive game plan was built around a dominant one-ball star at Dejounte Murray, But now it looks like Gregg Popovich’s basketball is back, and I love every minute of it.
In this title team, each player had more than 70% of their three-point attempts assisted, and other than Mills, Tony Parker, Corey Joseph and Manu Ginobili, the majority of their two-point attempts were assisted as well. This season, everyone on the team has had over 90% of their assisted triples, and with the exception of Tre Jones and Blake Wesley’s very small sample size, everyone has assisted more than half of their two-point attempts as well.
Not only is a large portion of their bulldozers helped, but how that help comes in is similar to 2014 as well. Last season, with a high point of protection, Spurs Murray, with 9.2 assists, had more than double the assists per game for anyone who finished the year with Spurs (Derek White’s average was 5.6). This year, they led the league with over 31 assists per game while no one averaged 5.3 assists per game. In 2014, they also led the league in assists, averaging just 5.7 per game.
The fact that Tottenham do not depend entirely on a single player to create assists is a large part of the reason why they have performed so well so far despite the absence of several key players. Everyone is relied on to make decisions inside the offense, so the offense doesn’t stop just for one player to go out.
This does not mean that the current rash of injuries is not a cause for concern. One of the reasons the 2014 team were so good is that their depth made it so that no one had to play even 30 minutes a night during the regular season, so everyone was fresh in the playoffs. Bob is trying to manage minutes this year in a similar fashion, but because this team isn’t as talented as championship rivals in years past, the amount of energy power players like Devin Vasell or Keldon Johnson put in is 30-34 minutes. Play much higher. It remains to be seen if they can maintain the same level of play over the entire season.
In the meantime, we have the most fun team to watch in the NBA. Win or lose, in seven games this season, we’ve seen top-level effort and beautiful basketball every night except for one. If they can continue to do so throughout the entire season, it will be a satisfying year from a fan’s point of view no matter what the final record looks like.