By Jonas Norgaard Nielsen
A streak of consecutive 50-win seasons might have been snapped but this has possibly been Popovich’s best coaching year yet.
Danny Green. Patty Mills. Kyle Anderson. Dejounte Murray. Rudy Gay. Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker. Pau Gasol. These players alternated to be the second best player in San Antonio Spurs’ regular season games this year. They are all solid role players but none of them can be considered anything close to a star. Rudy Gay was once a proven scorer but his reputation has dwindled the last 5 years as the teams he has departed became better once he left. Murray is a sophomore, Kyle Anderson is probably the slowest player in the league, Manu is 40(!) years old, Gasol is 37 and Tony Parker has had his worst year of his career stat-wise.
Despite of this, the Spurs can look back at the 17-18 season and be satisfied with the results. 47-35 in the tough Western Conference is impressive for a team that has only had one all-star in Lamarcus Aldridge, who has been surrounded by role players – some of whom would have been marginal players on other teams, but who have flourished under Popovich’s tutelage. But how has he done it? Defense and controlling the tempo.
Looking at the Spurs-players individually, Danny Green and Dejounte Murray are the only ones who have positive defensive reputations, but in spite of that the Spurs ranked 4th in defensive rating during the season. How? Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have not been the offensive force that we have come to be familiar with over the last 20 years under Popovich, but they have managed to change their playing style. This season they have changed it to more of a grit-and-grind playing style that has become synonymous with the Memphis Grizzlies over the last decade (ironically, the grit-and-grind slogan in Memphis started as a jab to Rudy Gay), which is illustrated by the fact that it is only the Sacramento Kings, who have played with a slower pace. We should not be surprised by Popovich’s ability to change the playing style to suit his roster, as he has done it successfully for over 20 years now, but we should be ashamed if we do not recognize it before the legend retires.
Give that man an award.