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Making It Look Easy

By Jeff Koch on November 25, 2013.

New Orleans 93, San Antonio 112

The Spurs win again. Yawn. Demolish another team to the point that the 19-point final margin doesn’t indicate the full extent of the victory. Yawn. Bench puts on another offensive highlight clinic. Yawn.

Game to game I don’t know what more to say about this team. Everything is clicking to such a fine degree that I’m sure Pop is worried as hell that the team is peaking too soon, that they’ll take their foots off the gas, that they’ll get complacent and lose that ‘appropriate fear’ he is so fond of.

In lieu of game notes, I’m going to focus on a few larger issues I’ve seen at the beginning of this season.

–The early conversation to this season was the aggressive play of Boris Diaw, and his newfound willingness to score (without losing his incredible court vision or unselfishness). As of late, the sneaky big story is just how good Tiago looks on both ends of the floor right now. Once that shot started going down, the perception of his season did a complete 180. So it begs the question: is Tim Duncan the 3rd best big on the team right now? Duncan’s intangibles and historic place in both Spurs and NBA lore will always put him at the top, but having highly competent bigs to put around Duncan is a luxury the teams of his prime did not have. Even over the last few seasons, the defense was just hanging on by a thread when Duncan sat, but now with Splitter (and the slow emergence of Ayres’ strong defense), the defense is stout consistently. (Except in garbage time, which continues to hurt our overall defensive numbers.) As pretty as our offense looks, the best thing happening right now is the Spurs return to ultra-elite defense. Both ends of the floor are a joy to watch.

–This isn’t my theory, but it was pointed out a few days ago that Duncan’s shooting woes could stem from that chest contusion from opening night. This makes sense to me, as a contusion in the pectoral would certainly throw off shooting rhythm and would most likely lead to flat and short shots. Duncan’s shot is already pretty flat and tends to err short, so with an injury in that area it would only be exaggerated. The rest of his body (read: his legs) still look great, and his defense is still incredible, which is why nobody was worried. But my hunch is as he continues to work out the kinks of that contusion, his shot will look better and better.

–I love Patty Mills harassing defense. Seriously, is there anything more enjoyable than watching Mills steal an inbounds pass and then just throw in a lay-up? Here you go, 2 free points. Now try to throw it in on me again. Even when his pesky defense doesn’t result in turnovers, it stalls out the other team’s offense, forcing them to start their sets under duress and late in the clock. Even the difference of starting the half-court offense at 14 seconds as opposed to 18 is huge. How many possessions do we see the Spurs run their offense, go through 2 or 3 different options, then reset to Parker with about 6 on the clock? Mills is essentially taking away those 6 seconds of regroup.

–Coming into the season, most people figured Cory Joseph had won the back-up PG spot. Then Mills was getting it, and continued to get those minutes. Again, most figured it was just an early season test, but Mills just continued to play so well, particularly with that amazing second unit, that the conversation doesn’t even come up. Joseph is a better one-on-one defender, particularly in half-court sets. In the third quarter, we saw Pop pull Mills for Joseph after Mills got burned on a few plays. And Cory immediately showed his value, playing stout D and grabbing a tough rebound. But offensively, he was still a little lost playing outside of garbage time. The ball swung to him wide open at the elbow extended, and instead of taking the shot (which he absolutely should have done), he dribbled into the paint with nowhere to go, and the possession ended up empty.

Mills offense is almost perfectly in sync with what the Spurs want to do, which is why you see the bench blowing out so many teams. Mills’ D also seems to fit better with the frenetic energy of that unit, causing so much disruption. Many of Mills’ gambles can be erased by the strong back line (Tiago or Ayres), and his offense can’t be replicated by Joseph yet.

–Again, just to note, the Spurs offense is nigh unstoppable when that 3-ball is going down.

–It’s hard to know what to make of Danny Green this season. He had a couple of really bad shots in tonight’s games that were very obviously “I need to get a shot off right now” type of shots. Just bad offense. And whenever he dribbles or tries to make difficult passes, it’s a turnover just waiting to happen. On the other hand, his defense is better than ever, and he’s definitely expaning his offenisve arsenal, working on his dribble pull up and cutting to the basket for those great back door passes that the team is so great at. While the struggles seem more evident, I actually like what he is giving the team this season. And, when he does get that open 3, he’s still draining it.

–It’s also hard to know what to make of Kawhi. He seems to struggle a bit when he is a focal point, but when left to his ‘normal’ game, he continues to make tons of winning plays and has the ability to turn a game on its head in about 2 minutes almost single-handedly. I do know that I just love watching him play.

–The Spurs starting unit is a defensive powerhouse, with Parker then only ‘average’ defender in the group, and everybody else good to great. The Spurs second unit is an offensive powerhouse, with constant movement, passing, frenetic energy, and 4 players who can all pass, dribble, and shoot from just about anywhere. You’re guaranteed about 3 “how in the hell did that happen?!” passing highlights a game with that unit.

Either way, opposing teams get no break when playing the Spurs.

The Spurs travel to OKC for a game against the Thunder Wednesday night. Oh man, am I excited for this one.

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