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Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

By Jeff Koch on December 20, 2010.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Phoenix 110, San Antonio 118  //  24-3  //  1st in the West

The Spurs have made two big changes this year, both in imitation of the Phoenix Suns, and both to great effect. The first we all know about: the increased tempo. The second was a change made in direct response to last year’s ignominious sweep from the playoffs at the Suns’ hands: a reliable bench.

In that playoff series, it became quite apparent after the first 2 games that while the Suns ran 10 deep, the Spurs barely had 6 reliable playoff players. Then in Game 3, the Suns back-up PG Goran Dragic had the game of his life, almost single-handedly defeating us in the 4th quarter and essentially ending our season. Even as our Big 3 labored through injuries and weren’t playing at peak levels, it was quite clear that to compete in the West, we needed a deeper, athletic, more reliable bench.

So instead of blowing up the roster this offseason (as many people thought we would and should do), we extended our two aging guards and made a bunch of smaller, under-the-radar moves to shore up the bench. We finally signed Tiago Splitter, who–with Matt Bonner’s extension–gave us 5 rotation-ready big men, each with a unique skill that left us prepared for most any situation, and left us deeper than we’ve ever been in the front court. We stole Gary Neal out of this air and drafted James Anderson late in the first round, giving us youth, energy, and shooting at the wing behind Ginobili, Hill, and Jefferson. And finally, early in the season we signed Chris Quinn, who is proving to be a valuable 3rd Point Guard, and Ime Udoka, a SF that provides toughness and defense to the roster and already knows the Spurs system. His first stint with the team was mostly a failure, but that was when we were expecting him to be the second coming of Bruce Bowen; as our 13th man on the end of the bench, he’s a great fit.

And perhaps the most important move was the old switcheroo: Manu for George. With Ginobili moving into the starting line-up, we needed a 6th man that could come in and shake games up the way he used to. Enter George Hill. He doesn’t have the impact on the game like Ginobili does, but he has proven to be a wonderful 6th man, and comes into the game with energy and activity and a defensive tenacity, and, in his own way, spins the game on its head and puts his stamp on it. He also allows Ginobili to start and give us more productive minutes.

Through all of these little moves, a funny thing happened to our roster. Suddenly, every player on the team is reliable, a solid rotation guy. I trust every player on this team to play at any point in the game and to play in the role they’ve been assigned. And while the Big 3 are playing great and are still the most important facet of our team, we’re getting contributions from every player, and the basketball load has never been more balanced. How many times could we say that in the past 10 years about a Spurs team?

Tonight, with Hill out, Neal stepped into the 6th man role. He finished the game with 22 points in 31 minutes. More importantly, his free throws and beautiful tear drop basket late in the 4th quarter essentially iced the game. Against an ironically depleted Suns team (due to a major trade over the weekend), our bench and depth was too much for them to handle. Much like their depth was too much for us to handle last Spring.

Finally, the tables had turned, by mimicking the team sitting across the table.

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