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The Relationship Factor: Bryn Forbes vs Lonzo Ball

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Patricia Tirona to the Spurs Dynasty family. This post will be the first in a series about how and why certain players thrive in the San Antonio Spurs organization. We hope you like it.

Our genetic makeup is just one part of the blueprint of our destiny. It’s incumbent upon us to nurture success through consistent physical and mental work, but more importantly seek out the most advantageous relationships to assist us in realizing our full potential.

Bryn Forbes is a young man on fire and has accomplished a feat I rank slightly above scaling Mt. Everest in its impressiveness and rarity. Forbes has, on several occasions, been the recipient of glowing praise from Gregg Popovich.

(Photo: Ralph Freso/AP)

Coach Pop once compared Forbes’ shooting abilities to Steph Curry’s. Another time, Pop commended Forbes on his drive and maturity:

He’s just getting better all the time. He’s getting more comfortable and starting to feel like he belongs and that’s really important with a young player.

Tony Parker’s long absence due to injury sustained during last season’s playoffs resulted in Forbes playing time more than doubling this season. Bryn responded by becoming a big shot taker/maker and confident 3-point marksman. It was revealed, after the December 9th game in Phoenix, that Pop drew up the game-winning 3-point play for Bryn. Didn’t Kawhi have to wait deep into his third season for Pop to finally draw up a play for him? I might be exaggerating for effect, but it speaks to Forbes’ work ethic and acumen that he was entrusted with the keys to the castle so soon, if even for just one night.

(Photo by @spurs on Instagram)

(Photo by @spurs on Instagram)

Whenever I see a photo of Bryn, whether it’s with elder statesmen like LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol, smiling during practice, or bonding with teammates during a game, my heart warms like I’m watching some live baby panda feed. Bryn is an appreciative young man surrounded by protective older brothers who have his back. He in turn has theirs.

Mistakes like the one made by Forbes during the Spurs recent win over the Clippers are teaching moments. Bryn pulled down a rebound, led a fast break, and was called for a charge while trying to set up Brandon Paul for a corner three. Tony was wide open and would have been the preferable target for the assist. Parker conferenced with Forbes as the seasoned mentor paying it forward who remembers when Timmy pulled him aside and constructively took him to task.

(Photo by @spurs on Instagram)

Rudy Gay, new to the team, but already familiar with the Silver and Black code, gave him the “chin-up baby bro” encouragement. Unlike some other players in the league, the Spurs do not have skid marks on the back of their jerseys from repeated hurlings under the bus.

In the months since Lonzo Ball made his NBA debut I haven’t figured out just what that expression on his face is and continues to be during most of his games.

It doesn’t seem to be a look of anger or resentment towards his omnipresent father. It doesn’t appear to be a look of stress about not living up to pre- or post-draft expectations set up by a PR machine on steroids. Maybe it is the look of a young man frustrated by endless criticism and disappointing results, in spite of what he may feel his own Herculean efforts? No, not quite that.

There is no doubt Lonzo is talented, eager, and mentally wired to play the game. So why doesn’t he look happier?

Spend enough time at a bar during peak hours and anyone can be an amateur anthropologist. Avoidance of eyes, retreating body language, and intermittent conversation often indicates an awkward in-real-life date after two people had only met online, i.e. Dwight Howard on every new team he swipes right on.

Seeing couples on their phones, making occasional, but familiar chatter, makes me think they’ve been together a while and are fine with status quo, little passion but whatever, it’s good enough and easy – Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan on the Clippers last season, pre-Paul exodus.

Then there’s the lucky guy with the woman all the other men at the bar are staring at. She’s beautiful, confident, vivacious, calling attention to her and her man, taking selfies, and seemingly out of thin air summons her high-heeled entourage of clones. Every so often I see a man in this situation who, rather than basking in the narcissistic glow, wears a look of panic or boredom.

That is the look I see on Lonzo’s face. He won over the fairest female in the land, is the envy of many, but his reality doesn’t live up to his fantasy. He’s unfulfilled and disappointed by the lack of depth of the relationship. Lonzo was ushered into the league under the harshest of spotlights, with all the pomp and circumstance of a coronation, by no less than Magic Johnson himself. (Magic is the beautiful woman’s father in this scenario.)

Lonzo is generous to what some criticize is a fault and liability – a pass first, score later point guard. He’s a quiet kid burdened by the unfathomable expectation of stepping into Kobe’s shoes; declared by Lakers GM, Rob Pelinka, to be a “transcendent talent.”

No pressure right?

Sharing the ball, i.e. making assists, is where Ball’s generosity would appear to end. In a mid November game against the Suns, he passively walked away from a scuffle his teammates became embroiled in. Imagine a Spurs player doing that, or anyone on any team? Those are not the actions of a man bonded to his teammates. It makes me wonder if Papa Ball insists he eat lunch at a separate table away from the other guys.

Now LaVar thinks it would be a fantastic idea to set up a league for aspiring, nationally ranked high school graduates who don’t want to go to college. The deepest shudder from the depths of my soul emanate at the thought of LaVar Ball influencing an impressionable legion of youth.

I’d sooner entrust Darth Vader at peak evil to train an incoming class of Jedi toddlers.

Like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, who ascended the Spurs ranks before him, Bryn Forbes is being systematically groomed to potentially inherit one of the rare keys to the castle, away from the voracious media spotlight, in the confines of a protective Spurs academy. Pressure will be left where it belongs – on the court.

Unlike Lonzo, Bryn has the joyful expression of a young man biding his time before he can pop the question to the perfect girl. (Yes, it is worth a mention that Kawhi rarely smiles, but the body language shared between him and his teammates speak the volumes Leonard doesn’t.)

For further proof of the potency of the Spurs nurturing environment, one need only look at how beautifully Gay, Gasol, and post-reckoning Aldridge have fared as mature recruits.

As he grows into his role, Bryn may one day feel the pressure Lonzo feels now, but will be prepared when that time comes. Being in a relationship with the Spurs is hard work, demanding, but comes with all the benefits of open communication, endless support, and the understanding that while strict, it gives its players the freedom to evolve into their best possible versions.

Twenty consecutive playoff runs and counting sounds like the sort of marriage every NBA player wishes he was in.

A Tale of Two Franchises

Season 51, Game 36
San Antonio 119, New York 107
25-11, 3rd in the West

The Spurs beat the Knicks on Thursday night in a game characterized by its redundancy. Basketball masked the contest, but the game itself was the Spurs being the Spurs and the Knicks being, well, the Knicks.

Before tipoff, Bill Land highlighted a graphic that showed the differences between the two franchises since 1999, when a young Tim Duncan and a veteran David Robinson conquered the Knicks for the title. It was one of those graphics where you already knew the truth, but to see it in writing was almost funny.

The Knicks have been bad for quite a while and their franchise has been in disarray. It’s humbling to see these types of parallels. It makes you realize how fortunate we are as Spurs fans to get 50-win seasons out of our team on a year to year basis. This game was another example of that.

The game was never really in question, although the Knicks kept it generally close with the Spurs missing their MVP caliber player, Kawhi Leonard. But this game was a perfect example of the Spurs continued success over the years.

Forgotten in the excitement of “can LaMarcus and Kawhi play together” has been the quiet, yet consistent play of Pau Gasol. In his recap of the Spurs/Kings game, my counterpart Jeff reminded us of our expectations of Gasol: “a well-rounded game, contributing in lots of areas, but likely not dominating any one area.” Against the Knicks, Pau was just that.

Many Spurs fans were left scratching their head this offseason with the Spurs extension of Pau. I’ll admit, I didn’t understand it at first either, but as the season has progressed, it’s made more and more sense. The Spurs put a premium on culture and regardless of how you feel about him basketball wise, Pau embodies the Spurs culture. He was kind of a Spur before he played for the Spurs.

Now, Pau is doing all the little things and is a key reason as to why the Spurs have had success this year without Kawhi Leonard. Pau makes the game easy for everyone, but no one reaps the benefits more than LaMarcus. Gasol can stretch the floor and has showed an impressive consistency from 18 feet and beyond. But more so, his ability to get LaMarcus the ball, early, has brought the “High-Low” combo back in full force. Pau finished with 17-11-7 and no turnovers and the pair of them made Kristaps Porzingus and Enes Kanter look silly tonight.

But let’s make sure to give LaMarcus his fair credit as well. LaMarcus is an All-Star this year and rightly so. He’s been amazing the first half of the season and if it weren’t for the scoring spike in MVP candidates in recent years, he’d be in that discussion as well. He’s not going to score 35 on a nightly basis, but this has easily been his best year as a Spur and he’s the team’s MVP.

What impresses me is how hard he is playing. LaMarcus is putting in legitimate work here, folks. He’s been assertive, efficient and hungry. He wants the ball, he moves the ball and he makes the right play. This is the LaMarcus we all wanted two years ago. It’s better than “Portland LaMarcus” and I think he is only going to keep getting better.

A couple other quick notes from this game against the Knicks:

Tony Parker – Boy, does he look great. This is a 35-year-old point guard coming off an ugly injury and yet, he’s looking more and more like he never took 25-plus games off to start the year. He’s fast, he’s crafty and most of all, he’s an absolute calm on the court. Tony is going to win a playoff game this year for the Spurs and I’m all for it.

Kyle Anderson – It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of SlowMo over the years. I think his growth has been a bit slow and his slowness bothers me. But he’s had a phenomenal year as well. And didn’t he just have a knee injury too? Doesn’t look like it. Anytime you put your back-up small forward into the starting lineup and he produces 16 points and eight rebounds, shoots 4-for-4 from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line and only has one turnover in 29 minutes, well I think you take that every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It’s time for me to eat some crow: Kyle Anderson is a good basketball player.

Danny Green – The best value contract in the NBA. Don’t @ me. If you could assemble the perfect “Three and D” player, it would be Danny Green. He’s had a nagging groin and hammy injury, but I’m expecting big things from Danny this May.

Rudy Gay – Guys, I really hope Rudy is ok. He’s been fabulous all year, but we might have to nickname him Achilles. His heel has been giving him problems and he is now scheduled for an MRI after leaving the game in the third quarter. He’s been a real gem this year and I hope he can stay healthy enough to stay on the court. The “Point Shark” is a playmaker every time he is on the court.

We still haven’t seen the best of this Spurs team and they are still pretty good. It remains to be seen how they will fair against the elite teams and their small ball line-ups. But for now, they continue to dominate with two more twin towers. Hopefully, we see the minutes restriction lifted for Kawhi in a few weeks. He’ll be back in action Saturday when the Spurs travel to Detroit to take on a pesky Stan Van Gundy-led Pistons team.

It’s going to be rowdy.

Go Spurs Go.

The Spurs Beat The Nets in Their First Game With A Full Roster

Season 51, Game 35
San Antonio 109, Brooklyn 97
24-11, 3rd in the West

35 games in, we’ve finally reached the first “real” game of the season.

On Tuesday night, playing the Nets at home, the Spurs fielded their entire roster for the first time this season.

This is really the only thing that matters about this game. (Sorry, Nets; you’re a fun young team and I love what the front office and coaching staff is doing there. But in this story, you matter not.) It’s nice the Spurs won, because it’s always nice when the Spurs win. But the biggest victory from this game is that the team is approaching wholeness.

In many ways, this means starting over. Roles and rotations need to be reconfigured and rediscovered. Yes, Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes have had nice starts to the season; but where do they fit now? Rudy Gay looks to be a super 6th man, but where do his minutes come now? He only played 16 minutes against Brooklyn, and that seems far too low. Can he play with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge at the same time?

Pop needs to find out.

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Short-Handed Spurs Edge Blazers on the Road

Season 51, Game 32
San Antonio 93, Portland 91
22-10, 3rd in the West

It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t the most fun game to watch, but the Spurs kicked off the current road trip with a two-points victory over Portland last night. And in the crowded Western Conference, any win will do, especially when San Antonio played without two of their starters.

Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker both got a day of rest on Wednesday night, so the Spurs relied on their two bigs – Pau Gasol and former Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge – to lead them to victory. Both did their part, making 15-of-20 of their combined shots and scoring 16 points apiece in the first half. Aldridge led the team with 22 points, while Pau finished with 20 to go along with a season-high 17 rebounds.

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Spurs Fall to Rockets in Houston

Season 51, Game 29
San Antonio 109, Houston 124
19-10, 3rd in the West

Tonight Kawhi Leonard played in his second game of the season and his 400th in the NBA. The Spurs lost.

Still, Kawhi has more wins (306) in his first 400 games than any other player in NBA history.

That says as much about the Spurs’ level of excellence as it does about Kawhi’s these last six plus seasons.

Other than Kawhi’s milestone, there’s not much else to say about this game.

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