There are few things you can rely on year after year in the sports world. The Yankees are going to spend more money on their team than anyone else. The Arizona Cardinals are going to loose more games than they win. Boxing is going to find yet another way to embarrass itself. And the Spurs will be playing excellent defense.
According to my stat page, the Spurs are allowing 93.9 points per 100 possessions this year. That ranks them first in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Only the offensively challenged Bulls and the defending champion Pistons are within 4 points of San Antonio. They’re so far ahead of the pack, the difference between them and the 3rd ranked Pistons is the same difference between the Pistons and #11 Sixers. Thanks to www.basketball-reference.com, we can see what the Spurs have done defensively over the last few years:
Year DE Rank
2004 91.6 1
2003 96.6 3
2002 96.5 1
2001 94.9 1
2000 95.7 2
1999 92.1 1
1998 96.2 2
DE is Defensive Efficiency
That’s just sick. This year will make it 8 years in a row the Spurs have been among the league’s top 3 defensive teams. Among all those Spurs teams, there have been only 3 constant factors: Gregg Popovich, Malik Rose, and Tim Duncan. While Rose is a fine player in his own right, I believe the lions’ share of the credit should go to the other two.
It’s surprising to me that Popovich has won only one coach of the year award. His team has won two championships and he’s never finished less than 3rd overall defensively. Popovich’s detractors will point to the talent on the team and say that anyone could have coached that team. However few coaches can stay with a single team that long without wearing out their welcome. Even fewer would be able to keep winning after loosing one of the franchise’s most popular and talented players. Yet the Spurs are 91-35 since the Admiral retired, and opponents are still scared to enter the SBC Center.
Unlike player awards, coaching awards are given to coaches who tend to exceed their expectations. In the 8 years since Phil Jackson won it in 1996, only 2 coaches have won the award and led their team to the Finals. Last year’s winner, Hubie Brown, is a perfect example. A year after winning 28 games, Memphis finished 6th in the West. A low playoff seed would be an average year for many teams (and a failure for a few), but Coach Brown was largely credited with the team’s success. A 22 win turnaround will catch a lot of attention, but I wonder what perennial winners like Phil Jackson, Rick Adelman, or Greg Popovich could have done to be voted best? Unfortunately in this case, their past greatness counts against them.
[Tune in Friday morning for Part II.]