No room for error
“We have less margin for error of any team in the league. Something like (the elbow injury) happens to Manu, we’re sunk. All our pieces have to play well, because we don’t have a margin for error.”
-San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, via the May 13 Express-News interview
In his sit down with the San Antonio Express-News‘ Jeff McDonald and Mike Monroe, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was very candid about this past regular season and what lies ahead for San Antonio after its disappointing end in the first round.
When is an excuse not an excuse? When it’s the reason. On several occasions Popovich lamented the timing of injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili; convinced that if Ginobili were healthy the San Antonio Spurs would have been the team playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.
The injury, however, is not an excuse Popovich is hiding behind, he’s worked around similar injuries before. It’s merely an observation of the reality these Spurs face. That reality is these Spurs are a good team, but have the smallest margin for error of any playoff team in the NBA.
Age, more than a flaw in design or character, does this. As do years of filling out an NBA roster with late first and second round steals, past their prime veterans, and bargain priced overseas free agents. To a man this Spurs roster is full of flawed basketball players. But this is nothing new; the Spurs have fielded rosters with these players for years.
The supporting cast is generally no better or worse than any the Spurs have put together in the past decade. It might even trend towards the better.
The difference is the Spurs margin for error once extended as far as the long arms of Tim Duncan, back when he had young legs to match that gigantic wingspan. Duncan, in Popovich’s system, erased every mistake.
Youth, and its boundless energy, provides the greatest margin for error in any endeavor. In basketball youth is generally accompanied by athleticism. Young legs and talent, to an extent, can make up for weak (or inexperienced) minds. A missed step here or there means little when gifted with enough length and recovering speed to atone for it.
The caveat is athleticism has to have enough skill to channel it properly, and such skilled athleticism does not come cheap enough to fall with the Spurs price or draft range.
So instead Popovich opted for execution and corporate knowledge. The truth of the season is the Spurs had no MVP candidate or superstar to carry their burdens. The real driving force behind their 61-win season was their execution.
The team can still defend, in stretches. All season long it scored in spades. But the Spurs ability to do either is now a testament to Popovich’s system as opposed to its players greatness. And the reason the NBA is a player’s league is it is impossible to rely on five players making the right step, or read, every offensive or defensive possession for 48 minutes.
The Spurs margin for error is currently Manu Ginobili, a brilliant scorer and playmaker who for most of the season made up for whatever defensive deficiencies by engineering a dominant Spurs offense. The team could only afford to make as many mistakes as he could make up for.
Unfortunately the time for if only they were healthy has long since passed. The Spurs need to either extend their margin of error feat that would require a major roster shakeup (unlikely) or huge leap internally from either Tiago Splitter or George Hill or duct tape the team together one more time and hope it holds long enough to get to the playoffs.