As the catalyst, Manu Ginobili offers the Heat a lesson in chemistry


Team chemistry or talent? Catalysts or reactants? Ever since South Beach became the place to take one’s talents to, the question facing the Miami Heat has been chemistry.

Tonight offers an interesting case study of talent versus chemistry. Certainly each team has both qualities, but overall there might not be a more talented team than the Miami Heat, just as few teams possess the chemistry the San Antonio Spurs have developed. Which is more important?

At the heart of it all are the catalysts for each team. In chemistry, catalysts work to speed up chemical reactions by reducing the amount of energy needed to produce them.

As a catalyst, certainly Manu Ginobili is outmatched against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade–especially with Tony Parker out–but chemistry is not always about the strength of catalysts or reactants, but rather how those elements interact and the strength and efficiency of the reaction they produce.

If the Spurs have been so successful thus far without the benefit of an elite superstar, it’s because each of the compounds making up the roster are so potent in their own right–provided a catalysts helps get the ball rolling.

The explosion of the Spurs offense this season has been less about pace than efficiency. Motion, not speed. These Spurs have legs, but they’re not necessarily the fastest ones. In many ways, the traditional San Antonio role player has either died or evolved.

No longer do the Spurs employ an army of strictly standstill spot-up shooters. From Richard Jefferson to Matt Bonner to Gary Neal, each of the role players has some ability to put the ball on the floor and make quality passes and decisions on the move. The Spurs might not have had a fourth or fifth guy with that capability since Brent Barry’s departure.

The key is defenses have to be a lot more disciplined in their rotations than when they merely had to worry about chasing shooters off the 3-point line.

That being said, all of these guys are secondary creators and are not particularly adept at working against a set defense. They still lean on Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and–to a lesser extent this season–Tim Duncan to initially breakdown a defense and get them into them into their rotations so they can pick apart scrambling defenders.

They are inert but dangerous variables waiting for the necessary actions to be put in motion, not creating, but simply continuing motion set forth by the catalyst. In this way, the Spurs will challenge the three superstar model they originally instilled, carried out by Boston, and amplified by Miami.

A number of teams have the depth of versatility this Spurs team enjoys, but they come in terms of specialists. Bring a shooter off the bench, place a defensive specialist in the starting lineup. Few teams enjoy the amount of versatility in each player that the Spurs have up and down the roster. Everybody plays defense well enough in this system, almost everyone can shoot, and everyone is a mobile, intelligent, and willing passer.

The Miami Heat feature three players who can almost do it all, but surrounding them, the options are limited. The Spurs can set their defensive rotations to chase James Jones, Mike Bibby, or Mario Chalmers off the line, Zydrunas Ilgauskas off his shot, and almost completely ignore Joel Anthony without any serious ramifications.

That’s why the Spurs have a chance against Miami tonight, even without Tony Parker, provided their own defensive rotations remain focused enough to slow Miami. It’s also why even if he fails to match James or Wade in terms of production, Ginobili can still equal them in impact.

Because for the Spurs system to work, they simply need someone that can consistently draw an extra defender or two and let the rest of the roster do its job. This offense is not designed for its superstars to carry it, but rather, to initiate it.

Ginobili acts as a catalyst by dropping the amount of energy required for the rest of the roster to create a reaction.

Like an inert compound that reacts violently in water, this can be a dangerous group, so long as Manu Ginobili is around to stir the drink.

  • Len

    “That’s why the Spurs have a chance in Miami tonight, even without Tony Parker,”

    Unless Stern really wants Miami to have HCA, the game is in SA.

  • Alix Babaie

    I would take this Spurs roster over any other in the NBA without question.

    The depth from 1-12 is so obvious…..don’t need superstars on this team, check the egos at the door and get over yourself if you wish to be a part of this TEAM.

    FYI, the game tonight is in San Antonio not Miami.

  • bobby finn

    i love the san antonio spurs

  • shlos

    i wholeheartedly agree with @bobby finn

  • Daniel

    The Spurs’ pace this season has been primarily linked to their ability to get their opponents to take shots early in the shot clock. They’re at the top of the league in defensive pace and below average in offensive pace. Yes, they’ve been taking more advantage of Duncan’s outlet passing this season, but the defense is the main reason for the team’s improved pace.

    Also, pace will matter in this game, because the two teams are pretty evenly matched, though with Parker out, the Heat are clearly better. Higher pace games favor the better team and lower pace games allow the lesser team a better statistical chance to win. For a Heat win, we should probably expect a 100-105 game. For a Spurs win, expect a 90-85 game.

  • JustinFL

    Great Article! Very indepth. The Spurs Big 3 are the most underappreciated and undervalued Big 3 of all time.

  • Judd

    Great extended metaphor; very well writtin! Love it. One of my favorite posts you’ve done. To me, you beat the Heat like you beat the Lakers. You play great defense, you control the pace, you get the loose balls, but most of all you attack their weakness: the point guard (and yes, bibby is a weakness at the 1) I would clearly take the Spurs if TP we’re playing; it’s going to be tough without him. I wish the Heat wouldn’t have blown that lead last night. They will be hungry for a win. Then again, they are on a back-to-back and we do have Manu!

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