Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.”
That tends to be true in all sports – except for the 2014-15 San Antonio Spurs, whose record doesn’t adequately reflect the team’s capabilities.
The Spurs’ relative struggles this season have been, at times, wrongly chalked up as playing possum, or simply coasting through another long season. In reality, the Spurs have been hit hard by injuries. First it was Patty Mills, the sharpshooting backup point guard, who went from towel waving extraordinaire to major contributor in the 2014 Finals. Both Mills and the team’s starting center, Tiago Splitter, began the year on the injury report. Splitter came back from a calf injury in the team’s third game of the season, only to go back on the shelf again until Dec. 17.
In fact, December for the Spurs yielded an 8-9 record, the team’s first losing month since Tim Duncan was drafted. December’s doldrums were a product of a Kawhi Leonard hand injury, which cost the 2014 Finals MVP five total weeks stretching into mid-January. In addition, the team’s offensive catalyst, Tony Parker, struggled with a hamstring injury that took away nearly the entire December slate of games. The Spurs improved in January, but had intermittent spells missing key players throughout. It wasn’t until Feb. 6 that the Spurs’ season truly began, when the team played a game against Miami with their entire roster active for the first time all season.
The illusion of depth is that it compensates for injuries. The truth about depth is that each player fulfills a specific role. Once that player is removed from the equation, each member of the team is forced into other, more unconventional roles. Depth is a product of each player’s availability and not a supplement for injuries.
The Spurs’ greatest strength is their depth, and the key to their success. The Spurs played the first 50 games of the 2014-2015 season without their full complement of players. Then, even once the full roster was available, the team needed time to once again gel. The Spurs are 20-8 since Feb. 6, and have most recently won 17 of their last 20, including Sunday night’s 107-92 beat down of top seeded Golden State.
It’s not just the team’s record, though. San Antonio has outscored its opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions over its last twenty games, and the defense is holding opponents to 97.2 points per 100 possessions, which would be the best mark in the NBA this season, per NBA.com. Even better, the Spurs’ starting five of Leonard, Splitter, Parker, Duncan and Danny Green, which was the NBA’s top five-man unit in 2014, is putting up a 30.3 net rating over that same stretch, scoring an insane 121.6 points per 100 possessions.
That starting five has played a total of 265 minutes together this season, which is more than 100 minutes less than every other starting five for each playoff team in the Western Conference. Comparatively, the Clippers’ starting five has played a total of 1,080 minutes this season, and Golden State’s a total of 727 minutes. Imagine what the Spurs’ record would be if their starting five, consistently one of the NBA’s top units, played an entire season of minutes together.
Only two teams in the modern NBA playoff structure have made it to the NBA Finals as one of the bottom four seeds, and only one of those two has won the title. The Spurs are sixth in the West, and while they’re still well within striking distance of one of the top three spots with five games to play, it’s not a big deal if they finish in the lower half of the conference because they’re simply better than their record would indicate. They’re healthy, they’re playing their best basketball at the perfect time, and, well … they’re the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA’s gold standard. Counting them out no matter the circumstances is foolish anyway.
Success is fleeting, especially in sports, unless of course you are the Spurs. There will be a time when the Spurs’ success evaporates, a time when they’re no longer perennial contenders, but that season is assuredly not here – not yet, even though their record might indicate something different.