When we watch basketball we watch the ball. It’s naturally where the eye is drawn, so it makes sense that defensive-oriented teams are generally among the lowest rated games on television and the least talked about in the media. There’s one team that’s been a defensive juggernaut for more than a decade, and they’ve managed to win four titles in that span, despite a dearth of attention from casual fans and most media outlets. This season is no different, and while the San Antonio Spurs continue to win at historic levels, their automaton-like dominance is swept under the rug as mere commonplace, rather than shouted from the top of Mount Helicon as Popovich bottles Hippocrene water for his vineyard.
Why don’t more people care, or get excited about the San Antonio Spurs? It’s a tough question to answer without getting into hairy attempts at gleaning information based off what you think, rather than what you know. The basketball watching populace is a fickle bunch; they want points and star players, but dunks and a barrage of 3-pointers will do. Defense, in its still inchoate days of analytics, just isn’t that sexy, and it’s hard to write about without actually watching basketball. Nor is attempting to describe what the Spurs do on defense that’s allowed them to finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) every year except one–the 2010-11 season–since they drafted Tim Duncan in the summer of 1997. And that lone year they failed to crack the top third in defensive efficiency, they finished 11th (per basketball-reference).
Essay: The Little Rookie That Could (Not Win The ROY But Still Go Above And Beyond All Expectations)
Gary Neal is in rare company. Since the three-point shot came into play during the 1979-80 season, he’s one of two rookies (Matt Maloney being the other) to ever attempt 300 or more long balls and attempt 100 or fewer free throws. (Neal stands at 100 with one game to play.) Looking at every player who suited up since the extra stripe was put into play, he’s one of 59 to have achieved the feat, and when you dilute it down even further to guys who averaged less than 25 minutes per game, Neal finds himself in even rarer air—accompanied by only eight other players. Read more…