Defining the Success of the Spurs and Coach Popovich


Before the NBA season was postponed the San Antonio Spurs were having their worst record season in over two decades. The Spurs organization and their long-time head coach Gregg Popovich embody excellence, and they have 5 championships (99, 03, 05, 07, 14), to prove it. Not that championships are the best way to measure success.

Cards on the table, I am, and have been, a huge Spurs and Popovich fan. I have tried to observe all of the things that have made them successful, and all of the things that have led to a below 500 season this year. I list some of those reasons below:

1. Success and culture start at the top. This is because those are the people that have the most influence on the organization: The owner (Peter Holt), GM (R.C. Buford), coach and best player (Tim Duncan 97–16). To have a successful professional franchise on and off the court, it starts with leadership and culture.

2. There is no substitute for talent when it comes to winning and losing games. Some call Coach Pop one of the best coaches of all time. And in a lot of ways he is in terms of strategy, player development, and innovation. Pop has expressed that he would not be perceived so highly if the Spurs did not get the #1 pick in the 1997 draft (Tim Duncan) and therefore would not of had an offensive and defensive linchpin for 19 years. (Yes, Duncan’s impact tailed off in his last few years, but his leadership and presence was a positive influence in many ways. Now as an assistant coach.)

3. Speaking of talent, Pop and Buford were able to not only draft and sign talented players, like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, but they understood how to build a team, not just the most talented players. The Spurs have been at times perceived as underrated because they didn’t typically have the most talented team overall. But the players understood that winning games and championships is not mainly about talent, but about playing great defense, rebounding, limiting your turnovers, and getting high percentage shots. This is more about team first play and attitude, than talent.

4. The Spurs are struggling this 19–20 season because of lack of talent, first and foremost. You can look to blame individual players, Pop, and the GM for this, but that’s not my intention here.

5. The competition in the NBA and the Western Conference is fierce because there is no super team, defined as having 3 legit stars, but a lot of really good and above average tea. [Quick aside: The Bucks are a super team in the sense that they have the best player offensively and defensively, (at most times, see Lebron James), in Giannis, and a lot of really good players around him.]

The Spurs were the 7th seed last year, and this year, other teams have improved, as: LaMarcus Aldridge got a year older defensively, and to a lesser degree offensively. Demar DeRozan continues to be efficient offensively, but a minus on defense. Bryn Forbes (unfortunately) is not an above average 2 guard in the NBA. Dejounte Murray is a plus defensively, but average to below average offensively. Still young though. Trey Lyles stretches the floor offensively for a team that does not make and take a lot of 3s and is solid on defense, but he does not add to a top team starting lineup.

For the sake of brevity, I will skip the bench, which is pretty good (thank you bench/enthusiasm GOAT Patty Mills), but misses Davis Bertans.

I could continue about past and present, but I like to keep these short.