Have the San Antonio Spurs cheated death?

by

Let’s define our terms: what do we mean by “the Post-Duncan Era”?

We could mean the era that follows Tim Duncan’s retirement, but that’s not necessary. The Post-Duncan Era could also refer to a period that comes at the end of Duncan’s career, a period in which his role on the team strongly undergirds San Antonio’s success, but is not critical to it.

If we allow this as a working definition, we have to ask, are we there? Has the Post-Duncan Era already arrived? And, if so, what should we call it?

The Spurs crushed the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers last night. Tim Duncan contributed 2 points and 4 rebounds in 29 minutes.  His defense was solid, and doesn’t show up in the boxscore, but he was, in many ways, a bit player, something that is not an infrequent occurrence this season. Tim Duncan has been an afterthought in a handful of Spurs victories.

He’s also had his moments: triple doubles, double-doubles, big shots, expert leadership. A complete disappearance of self into the concept of team. If the Spurs are a carousel, Tim Duncan is the big pony that revolves in and out of view. He’s no longer the wheel that spins the machine.

But as much as Pat Riley seems like a lock for NBA Executive of Year, how could voters look past R.C. Buford? R.C. Buford hasn’t simply put together a championship roster, he’s cheated death. The San Antonio Spurs are Lazarus back from the dead.

Dance, dead man, dance.

There was a time when I characterized Tim Duncan as the Spurs’ championship window. Not anymore. It’s as if Buford and Gregg Popovich voluntarily shut the previous window, ripped it out of the wall, and refashioned it as part of a new frame. Consider it a preemptive strike in creative championship building.

The Spurs have entered a new window, one that is considerably shorter than their last window. But it’s still open wide enough for a gale to rattle through the house, shake the China Cabinet, and slam the corridor doors shut with a kind of ghostly defiance.  It’s guard-led and spry. It likes to shoot threes.

Tim Duncan has his little role to fill. And the Spurs are still quintessentially themselves. But the goings on are going differently than we expected. The Spurs have moved on.

  • CS

    Excellent carousel metaphor. It perfectly fits the need I had to somehow visualize what exactly this team has become, Tim Duncan specifically. The incredible record, the faster pace, the role-players, the seeming invincibility (all those close wins, all those wonderful finishes) — I couldn’t really quantify any of it. But the carousel helps.

    As far as I’m concerned, this is the go-to post for this strange part of the Spurs’ 2011 season.

  • td4life

    Evocative writing, but a bit too poetic regarding the facts…
    I have always argued that the Spurs championship window rests on the talents (and thereby, the relative youth) of TD + Manu. Without Manu, disregarding last night’s boxscore, this team is in trouble… no one else can be counted on to take over the game as consistently in the clutch, and he may be juice that fires “the wheel that spins the machine.”

    Yet TD’s window is important for many reasons, not the least of which is Popovich’s perhaps co-retirement. Without Pop AND these guys, the prospects are quite different. Parker is especially important against teams like LA, but more than anything it’s the way all these guys really are team first, and don’t just give it lip service… Pop has to get most of the credit for assembling and coaching such a group.

  • Tobias

    Great article and a great metaphor. After yesterday’s performance many good teams are going to wonder What shall we do about Duncan?. If we cover him really close we will be opening the floor for the young guns to kill us. But if we let him sort of loose and cover the youngsters he might produce another triple double.

  • Barsaec

    I agree with the front office kudos, however, how many times in the Robinson era did we have excellent regular season records and then fade away in the playoffs? The playoffs will show the value of Timmy, when the pace slows down. A good stat would be how many touches did Timmy get when we score. The offense goes through him, he passes well to the open perimeter guy. In the playoffs, he’ll average 15+ a night, defend well, and pass well. When he is gone, the dynamic of this team will change, as the replacement big man draws less double teams, making for less open perimeter shots.

    I think its too soon to be feeling this confident to look beyond Tim. He provides too many intangibles on both ends of the court.

  • rbcolo

    I see a familiarity to this process as Timmy takes on the personality David Robinson for the good of the team. George Hill is morphing into Bruce Bowen and will soon be known as the dirtiest player in the league because he won’t let you stand where you want to stand or pass to whom you want or shoot at all. Just like Bruce. Lastly the style of play changes to maximize the strengths of your best players. Just like it did when Timmy and Pop arrived. In my opinion it should be Pop and RC for MVP.

  • TD = Best EVER

    Good Article…. but there is a BIG difference between Timmy playing poorly in a game and Timmy not being on this team. This game w/o Timmy in the Line up and LA definitely pounds the rock with Gasol and Bynum and then the game would have looked very much differently. Not saying we would have lost – but just that as long as he is in your lineup, just like Stockton/Malone, The Admiral, And Reggie Miller – they are threats that the other team still prepares for heavily.

    But i do think POP is gonna have to find a little more balance where he can get Timmy a few GOOD looks early, even if they don’t go in, just to get him in some sort of rhythm. We will need him to be who he was last year in the playoffs to win it all.

  • rob

    I would tend to think this is what has been going on for the past two years. Last year was an epiphany. Struggling to balance new and old. Injury and rest.

    This year…a year wiser…a year experienced…a year of good (can actually be used effectively) new players on the team.

    I think this is what the Spurs “wanted” to do last year but too many circumstances prevented the plan from evolving. Hence Timmy’s load of responsibility at the end of last season.

    However…it does not change the fact that at some time in the near future sans Duncan that this team can succeed without another Duncan type of big to secure the post. It simply doesn’t happen in this league that a team has legit ability to win championships without a really good big.

    Blair will be good (great at times)…but not consistent. Tiago…who knows. A big question mark looms over this wonder boy of the euroleague. Will he ever become a “man” in this league?

    McDyess will be gone. Bonner will be Bonner. And the Spurs will have areas to fill post Duncan in regards to filling in what once was the best big man in the league.

    Duncan exercising his early out and renegotiating at a more reasonable contract will go a long way to helping the team secure another big that can at least be as effective as Duncan has been the past couple of seasons.

    That to me would realistically help secure future hopes of competing for titles once Duncan does retires.

  • DBAGuy

    Does anyone know what time the Spurs arrive at Dalla? They need to get some rest in before tonights game. Do they get to practice tomorrow morning in Dallas?

  • knecht

    Why don’t trade Duncan + Anderson + Neal for Carmelo and Nene

  • Tydus

    @knecht

    Because the Spurs value character as well as talent. Pop and R.C. wouldn’t tolerate a player who has openly quit on his team before. Ie: ‘Melo

  • DBAGuy

    Jeez, what is wrong with people. Thank God RC and Pop are in charge. We would have never won a championship otherwise. We could be 82-0 and people would still be talking about trades. Duncan has given everything to the Spurs, that would be such a nice thing to do to him. Our franchise has loyalty and have done excellent at keeping this team competitive for over a decade, what other teams can say that?

  • manufan

    knecht
    December 29th, 2010 at 11:31 am Why don’t trade Duncan + Anderson + Neal for Carmelo and Nene
    _____________________________

    Shut up please. Just go away.

  • Bruno

    I really beleave Tiago will be a big man of team, he have skills and he show talent sometimes in the games but he plays 10 minutes/ game, he never will play good with this time!!Duncan is The Big Fundamental and will be ever, he is not in boxcore but he still there!!!

  • Tyler

    One of the more glaring differences from the old Spurs model is how the team generates open looks.

    During our heyday, it was always throw it into TD (or DRob), let the double come, pass out of the double and rotate till you get an open shot or a lane to drive.

    Now? Rarely are our open shots off double teams in the post. It’s all off the pick and roll via Manu and TP. As they’ve matured and grown into playmakers, we’ve adapted the system to take advantage, while also scaling back the isos to TD on the block where he’s less effective than he used to be.

    (I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’d be willing to bet this Spurs team runs more PnR’s than just about any other. Top 5 for sure.)

    It sounds simple in theory, but to transition the same group of guys from one style to another requires not only a coaching staff with great foresight and a FO that’s able to equip the team with role players to fit into a new style, but individuals that are willing to sacrifice for the wellbeing of the team, most notably TD.

  • manufan

    @Barsaec
    Our pace will not slow down in playoffs as long as we get defensive rebounds after oponents missed shots. It’s not like we push the ball every time after inbound pass. If we can play perimeter defence and get def boards like we did last night we will be all right.

  • quincyscott

    It has become an almost cliched part of Spurs lore that David Robinson took the young Tim Duncan under his wing and molded the young man into the basketball star and upstanding citizen he became. Like that old tv commercial they made together, with the yard gnome. I have always been skeptical of this story line because they have always seemed very different kinds of people. I felt they were teammates, but not much more. But what I’m seeing in Duncan now makes me think that Robinson had a bigger impact on Duncan than I have given him credit for. Duncan has somehow transformed into Robinson 2.0. It’s a beautiful thing, really, and just one more reason I’m grateful to be a Spurs fan.

  • AlamoCity Spurs Fan 84

    The San Antonio Spurs organization knows what their doing. Just because Timmy isn’t playing how others want him to play, doesn’t mean he’s on his last leg. Pop has built a team around the big three, to help lighten the work load. Also, with the bench stepping up and making plays, it makes the Spurs hard to prepare for. It’s great that the focus isn’t all on Duncan, because once again there are other players capable of making plays. The key is depth, and the Spurs have it. What would you rather have between a ‘big-three’, or an entire team where every man pulls his own weight? Pop got it right and has crafted a monsterous team. GO SPURS GO!

  • yndo

    Watching this Spurs team reminds me of watching the Cowboys of the early/mid 90’s. No matter the situation (3rd and 20, no biggie. Down 13 in the 4th quarter, yawn), Aikman, Smith, Irvin, O-line, etc. would find a way to get it done.
    GDP are bedrock but now, Jefferson, Hill, Neal, Blair, etc. all stepping up on a nightly basis.
    Hoping your team wins is one thing. Expecting them to win is something entirely different. Good to be a Spurs fan.

  • Manny Calavera

    My answer to the question of this post is a definitive “yes”. This is Duncan’s team.

    What’s notable about Tim Duncan’s role on this team is that it has been modified to accentuate his remaining strengths and minimize his weaknesses.

    At this point, Duncan’s post game is not dominant; he no longer commands a double team. For all the talk about his patented bank shot, the entire point of that shot was to set up his duck under or rolling half-hook shot. The bank shot isn’t an end goal: it’s a tool to set up the post game. And because Duncan’s isn’t quite as quick or explosive as in his MVP-type years, the bank shot doesn’t actually set up quite as much as it used to. And for all the replays of his bank shots we’ve seen, he’s never been as good a shooting big man as say Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Duncan can’t rely simply on jumpers. His days as a dominant scorer are behind him (I could concoct an argument that his ORTG this year is 109, just below his 110 career average, but one cannot overlook his reduced usage rate).

    His greatest offensive strength at this point is passing. Duncan is averaging 3.2 assists, which is in line with his career average. But per 36 minutes (http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/d/duncati01.html), his assists are at 4.0 and a career high. Duncan’s value as passer is even more notable in the fast-break attack, where his magical outlets repeatedly spring Tony Parker’s one-man road-runner show. Those outlets don’t show up on a box score.

    Duncan’s per minute numbers on the defensive end are still pretty spectacular, averaging 11.7 boards and 2.5 blocks per 36, both ABOVE his career averages. On a per minute basis, these numbers are comparable to those of Dwight Howard (13.1 boards, 2.6 blocks), which isn’t to suggest that Duncan dominates like Howard does, but simply to point out that Duncan has been pretty spectacular defensively while he’s in the game. The Spurs have been a great offensive team and a mediocre defensive team this year. Imagine how terrible their defense would be without Duncan.

    For years, Tony Parker was my favorite player in the NBA, so I love me some Spurs guard-play, but to say that Ginobili or Parker are the head of the snake is somewhat misleading. This isn’t to say those guys aren’t important, but importance is relative. Remove Duncan and replace him with a replacement level big man (someone totally serviceable, like Joel Pryzbilla, or someone even better, like Chris Kaman or Nene) and I’m pretty sure the Spurs fall apart. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasonable talented guards out there. Finding a 7-footer who can pass, rebound, defend, and still scores at a reasonable rate, that’s damn near impossible.

    I agree with all the comments that Duncan’s reduced role has allowed the Spurs to develop and flourish, and that Duncan’s acceptance of his role is admirable (as compared to, say, Allen Iverson’s refusal to accept a bench role in Memphis last year or Tracy McGrady’s continued delusions of grandeur in Detroit). But reduced role nonwithstanding, in my opinion this is still Duncan’s team.

  • irongiantkc

    @TD+Best Ever: Calm and well reasoned argument. Good job.

    @knecht: Stop it. Just, stop it. Just now, my head almost exploded. Literally. Little bits and pieces all over the room.

  • irongiantkc

    oops, I meant TD=Best Ever

  • DorieStreet

    The Spurs are still Duncan’s team. What this franchise has accomplished, how it is viewed and perceived in the league and to followers/observers of professional sports- instantly comes to mind when No. 21 walks out onto the court each and every game. The skills are diminished, the production reduced, but Tim still leads by example. Now it appears RC and Pop have created a squad that follows him; but they have his back- his teammates do the heavy lifting. The remaining 50 games in 2011 will reveal whether this is a swan song season or prelude to one last legitimate run at a championship. If it’s the latter, you can bet TD will give it all he can to make it a reality.

  • mybloodissilverandblack

    This would be the smoothest era transition in history.

    Never would the Spurs be the ’80s Celtics and Lakers, that after Larry and Magic retired, became bottomfeeders.

    Not like the ’90s Bulls, that became irrelevant AGAIN after Jordan and Pippen left.

    And most certainly not what this generation of Lakers, Mavs, and Suns will be. After Kobe, Dirk, and Nash hang their gloves, their franchises will sink into the Arctic.

  • mybloodissilverandblack

    Oh, I wasn’t able to explain why.

    The Spurs are slowly AND surely forming a young core, with TP as the captain, and Hill, Neal, Blair, Splitter, and Anderson (please return soon) to complete the nucleus.

    The Spurs front office are a genius! The best ever executive department in sports history, I tell ya.

  • Dr. Leonard McCoy

    Damnit Jim, I’m an old country doctor, not a brain surgeon, but it dosn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that Timmy’s fundamental talant is still worth its weight in gold, no matter what the box score shows. Two points & 4 rebounds, whatever, last night, Tim’s intimidating presence in the paint kept both Gasol & Bynum at bay. Even Dwight Howard, the other night, shows repect for Timmy’s game. TD may be slowing down & may not give us double-double or even tripple-doubles, but in the eyes of Spurs nation, he SHOULD be our MVP! And as for our FO, unfortunatly, for Pop, he will not get the coach of the year award. Perhaps it will go to Erik Spoelstra, Rick Carlisle or Stan Van Gundy. Unfortunatly for Pop, the front office & the whole Spurs organization, they NEVER get the props they deserve. Hats off to Timmy & the Spurs orgnaization!
    GO SPURS GO, & GIT ONE 4 THA THUMB!

  • JTEX53

    Didn’t this happen back when Robinson was injured and the Spurs learned to win without the Admiral. No one thought it could be done but it happened. Tim’s ego isn’t so huge that he wants the Spurs to fall flat as he ages and can say see it was all me, you sure don’t hear David Robinson, saying anything period. He left the game behind on his terms. I think Timmy and Pop will do the same. They have a vested interest in San Antonio and the community, look how many ex Spurs still keep a home in San Antonio. You can still live large on a lot less money in S.A. but S.A. is starting to get too big and has lost some of it’s charm because it’s turned into a tourist trap. I lived in S.A. for 41 of my 57 years the only reason I left was for a job but I had the chance to taste what small rural town living is like and at my age it’s a better fit for me now. S.A. will always be home but doubtful I’d ever move back to a large metroplex, just hate the traffic. I’d rather look a trees than 30 story overpasses.

  • SpursHawaiifan

    Since the Spurs have been my favorite team to watch since the Robinson/Duncan days, I can say this with certainty: we are *not* yet in a post-Duncan era. Anyone can see that even when he does not post big offensive numbers, Duncan is still the glue that holds together the Spurs defense — physically (the entire game plan is to funnel other teams’ offense into Duncan), verbally (never stops calling out like a quarterback), and intellectually (unquestionably, the team plays “smarter” when he’s on the floor). Hence, Duncan’s normally team leading + stats.

    When all is said and done, the Spurs’ chances in the playoffs will still depend upon their defense. Sure, their offense is lighting it up these days. But does anyone believe that the Spurs will “out-offense” scoring machines anchored by the the likes of Nowitzki, Bryant, Nash, Wade/James/Bosh, or (scarier still) Pierce/Garnett/Allen/Rondo?

    No, defense always has been, and always will be, the key to a Spurs crown, which is why Duncan is indispensible — in fact, the essential piece — even on his lowest scoring nights.

  • AggiePete

    Manny Calavera made a great point. Duncan has mastered the outlet pass to Parker- and it definitely does not show up in the box score. It is a thing of pure beauty, and something not to be discounted.

    I would really like to see Duncan take Splitter under his wing much like Robinson took Duncan under his towards the end of his career when Duncan was drafted. I see a kind of dazed, saddened look in Tiaogo’s eyes, like he doesn’t really like his situation and is somewhat upset. I think Duncan, in addition to Ginobili, needs to step up and really counsel the kid and get him to overcome his floundering ways to begin to develop and eventually foulrish into the type of player we drafted him to be.

    And, of course, being always mindful that he is, in fact, the heir apparent to Tim Duncan.

    Go Spurs Go! #5 coming up….

  • betsyduncan

    It’s Lazarus. And no, Timmy is not irrelevant. Pop is doing his level best to extend that formidable man’s career, and he’s succeeding. I really believe that when Timmy finally hangs it up, he AND Pop will still (both) be involved in the organization. Ergo, there will be no “post-Duncan era”. I just hope that there won’t be a let-down tomorrow night, if Herr Witz doesn’t play. We have something to prove, methinks.

  • Chew

    I love the fact that Timmy was +17 on statistically his worst night ever. That’s what legends Do

  • thundercat

    Whoever wrote this article knows absolutely nothing about the spurs or the game of basketball. You are complete moron and should be hind and quartered. You are an absolutely stupid person and obviously lacked oxygen when you were born. Your article was completely worthless just like you. I hope your new year is as bad as this article was and is.

  • Chew

    I have to say the Spurs Offense is extremely fun to watch this year even if you are not a Spurs fan. Defense is pretty damn good too. Without the a dominant low post threat of Timmy in the middle, it will be interesting if the new look Spurs become the Suns of the past.

  • Pixel888

    The mark of a true Professional, that’s Tim Duncan for you.
    Let the young un’s do there thing. By the time the opposition thought Duncan is a non factor any more for the team,come the play offs, Duncan will lead the team to Victory with his leadership. Parker is in his prime and Manu is the spurs resident MVP. RJ is the NEW and better bowen. And the big Red Rocket is a bigger version of Steve Kerr.

    Kobe needs to worry about his teams chances, he knows the West is a lot different from last years.

    It will be Kobe teary eyed once again not because of a another championship, but they got booted out by the Spurs.

  • NYC

    @ Manny Calavera

    Great analysis of Duncan’s game today. Without sugar coating things, inspires me to still believe in the awesome force that is no. 21.

  • Rey

    Well, that’s Tim Duncan – a player who knows where he stands and who’s not gonna hype himself up just to prove to himself that he’s still relevant.

    I read a few years ago an article about David Robinson being “challenged” that he’s not the “main man” of his team anymore with the arrival of a rookie named Tim Duncan. The article stated that back then Robinson was still on the top of his game, and he could have demanded more exposure for himself or a trade to keep him “relevant.” Instead, he embraced his role and he taught the rookie how to adapt to the NBA, and I guess what happened next is history.

    I think that like Robinson before him, Duncan is taking that role of a mentor – someone who’s assured that he’s already left his legacy and it’s now his time to pass the torch to the next generation. I think we can see that during the game when he goes to Blair and gives him instructions on what to do. The Spurs are lucky because we also got McDyess who – while not really a solid Spurs dude (in terms of tenure in the team) – is also an egoless, talented player who’s sure of himself and who knows his role. Blair, Bonner, and Splitter are fortunate enough to have these two guys guiding them (plus Ginobili too, who seems to be serving as a “playing coach” to the team).

    Simply put, that’s Class – something that the drop of kindness that David Robinson has left to the team, which is now only being continued by Tim Duncan. There’s no need for hype, pointless self-promotion, and the Decision. It’s just Tim Duncan being Tim Duncan.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    @AggiePete,

    Manny and yourself might like something of mine they ran at ESPN LA. It touches on Duncan and his outlet passing.

  • longtimefan4

    Fortunately, the Spurs are still in the Duncan-era. Ask the coaches whose teams are being spanked by the Spurs!

  • Ruel

    Tim Duncan is just One of a Kind, Unique, and a Silent Assassin which he already had that kind of personality during his College Game and become more mature since the day we drafted Him. Grown, Learned, and Understand more the games being led by the example of David Robinson. Having our Front Office, Coaching Staffs, and Players have their backs, trust, and believing on Him and we as a fans we support our team dearly through out those years and present. I don’t mine and has No problem if one day Tim Duncan decide to retire and leave the game? Even if he get’s o point, 6 fouls, and 0 rebound on his final year? He deserve to be a San Antonio Spurs and well deserve the Honor and Respect he deserve for being Loyal and Honest to us through all those years and hoping more years to come. This Season, my main concern is Health? I hope our Team will be Healthy on the Play offs when it counts and there will be no backing up and will stand toe to toe against any other Team? The Window of opportunity is open and there’s nothing Wrong to Dream Big even thou our Team is not a fans and media favor for discussions which is nothing new through all those years? The same old stories and I believe our Team can get it done all the way. Defense needs to be address and our Coaching Staffs and Players working hard as the Season goes. Their will to Sacrifice, Understanding, and Committed to each other is a Beauty of Success. I like to see Dejuan Blair in action early of this Season to gain more confident, experience, grown, and understand more the game wether if he start with the first unit or coming off the bench as a Power Forward on the play offs? Who knows? Only our Front Office and Coaching Staffs knows but atleast he’s gonna be more ready and less pressure when his number call? I hope he can develop to shot some jumpers. I like the insertion of Tiago Splitter as well slowly but surely even thou he’s not the kind of player the we wants him to be? He will improve and progress as the season goes? He don’t to be a scoring machine but if he can give it to us? We’ll take it. His Defense must show up and have to be there when the play offs come? His Defense and Basketball IQ is very exceptional even thou he fouls alot but those are good fouls and not backing up. If he can do that consistantly 15 to 20 minutes the rest of the remaining games of the post season even thou he will foul out Atleast those are good minutes for Tim Duncan to rest specially on the play offs and I can say he’s doing his job and what the team wants him to do but the way Bonner’s playing and McDyess too much rest? It is hard to ignore but Splitter will be fine. He will get his chance and opportunity once his number called every other night. Get well soon Mr. Anderson and Tiago Splitter as well. I can’t wait until the play off comes. It’s gonna be exciting!!! Win or Lose Keep Pounding The Rock San Antonio Spurs and Give Every Opponents We Face Against a 48 minutes of Hell Team Defense!!!

  • betsyduncan

    Good analysis, Ruel! Spurs fans are the best!

  • Ruel

    Thanks BetsyDuncan. It’s all for our Team. Our Front Office, Coaching Staffs, and Players did an excellent job and well deserve the Credits they deserve to know and hear from us as a fans we’re support and there for them for working together as a Team. To our Team, front office, coaching staffs, players, fans, anti spurs fans, and to all your and their respectively families and to you also betsyduncan and family Wishing you all to have a Safer, Healthy, Peaceful, and Happy New Year!!! Win or Lose Keep Pounding The Rock San Antonio Spurs and Give Every Opponents We Face Against Next Year a 48 minutes of Hell Team Defense!!!

  • betsyduncan

    RIGHT ON, RUEL!
    EIN FROHES NEUES JAHR, TO YOU AND YOURS!
    GO SPURS GO IN ’11!!!!!

  • r.l.manuel

    r.l.manuel
    January 1st, 2011 at 4:22 am crap… 28-4 and all you guys wanna do is piss on it
    hell people!!!
    there is not one team in the league that doesnt wish they were 28-4
    there arent any fans of those teams who wish they werent 28-4
    yet most of these posts are criticizing this or that @ my beloved(win or lose) spurs
    28-4 man o man i for one am lovin it
    i dont care if we beat the mavs w/out dirk by 1 point or 20 points we still won the game nor do i care if or what other fans think or say everyone seems to have just given the title to miami
    well ok whatever, i know when the playoffs start
    barring some major injury the SPURS will be there to give it their all and win or lose they are still
    MY FAVORITE TEAM
    GO SPURS GO