A Q&A with Spurs Dynasty

Jeff Koch runs a real great Spurs blog over at Spurs Dynasty, and I suggest you check it out. And with back-to-back games against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday and Tuesday, what would be better than having a little back and forth convo with him about the Wolves, the Spurs and the upcoming match ups between the two?

Here’s the thread on that convo, so tune into what Jeff had to say. Also make sure you head over to Spurs Dynasty to check out what I had to say while on his hotseat.

Jonah Steinmeyer: The Spurs have beaten the Wolves twice this season in comeback efforts. Is this anything new to you guys? Are you surprised that you won both of these games?

Jeff Koch: The Spurs seem to be the comeback kids this year. Friday night we came back and beat Indiana (in Indiana) after being down 15 with about 14 minutes to go. It marked the 5th time this season that the team has come back from at least 15 to win a game (twice against the Timberwolves). It is disconcerting that we seem to fall into these deep holes against lesser teams, and night-in night-out effort is one of the big concerns for this team. But with the temperament of this team, the system that’s been in place for almost a decade, the battle tested veterans, and just how well we execute offensively and defensively, we never really feel like we’re out of games. Especially against a young, inexperienced team like the Timberwolves, if we can start to make a push in the 4th quarter and ramp up the intensity on both ends of the court, we’re pretty confident that the other team will fold before we do.

However, I am surprised that we won both of the Minnesota games in such fashion. I watched the first game after the fact, so i already knew the outcome ahead of time. but our second meeting (in san antonio) seemed like one of those games when a young, hungry team comes in and just out-hustles the older, veteran team who is kind of tired and probably looking past the game. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but i know that at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Timberwolves had a sizable lead and a sizable momentum advantage and were simply just outplaying us. Frankly, I didn’t think we had a comeback in us, and in years past, we never would have won that game. That’s something different about this year’s team.

Catch the rest after the fold…

JS: What is with Tim Duncan’s lack of scoring this year? Has age finally caught up to his game?

JK: Duncan’s decline is a popular topic. Yes, a lot of it is age catching up to him, though his game was always more cerebral than physical. Most of it is other things, though. He’s playing career low minutes this year (less than 30 a game), and is often not to be found playing in 4th quarters at all, even during close games. The offense no longer runs through him; Parker and Ginobili are the primary catalysts of the offense, and Duncan is a third option at best. With the team’s emphasis on running more fast break this year, Duncan often doesn’t even make it into the frontcourt. He grabs the rebound and throws the outlet to a streaking guard and stays back on defense.

Stories of his demise are quite premature, however. He’s still a highly efficient offensive player. Though he doesn’t work there as often, he is still a deadly low post player who can demand a double team. If the double comes, he is an excellent passer and will often find an open 3-point shooter (where we our top 3 in the league). His assist numbers are always good for a big man (it’s not uncommon for him to have 5-6 assists in a game), and he is very unselfish. If the double doesn’t come, he’ll always get a good shot or get fouled (his shooting % is only 1 point lower than his career average, and his FT% is actually 3 points higher than his career average). Again, we don’t run plays for him on the low block as much as we used to, but when things get tight and we really need a basket, you can bet you’ll see about 2 or 3 plays in a row starting with Duncan in the low block. He also works great out of the high post, and is a wonderful screener because of his wide body, freeing up the lanes that Parker and Ginobili feast on. Because of his passing, he also works a great high-low game with the other big men out of the high post, and he has a good (not great) 15-18 foot jump shot when he is stationed at the high post.Duncan’s true importance to this team is on the defensive end, though. Any chance of a title in San Antonio has always hinged on Duncan anchoring a scary, lock down team defense. If Duncan’s decline hurts the team anywhere, it’s not offensively, but defensively, as the numbers over the last few years bear out.

JS: With the Spurs playing as well as they are, would you consider Manu Ginobili their leader? If so, do you think he’s also established himself as one of the league’s elite shooting guards?
JK: I have a nice little metaphor that i like to use: Pop is the brain of the team, Duncan is the soul, and Ginobili is the heart. This will be Tim Duncan’s team as long as he is in uniform, and the team will get its personality from Pop as long as he’s on the sideline. But Ginobili is clearly our most electric player, our most emotional player, our most competitive player, and our most passionate player. (He’s also probably the most popular player in team history, believe it or not.) This year he’s really become a very vocal leader, directing the team on the court and making sure everyone is on the same page. He’s also the team’s closer. If the game is close with 15 seconds left, I guarantee you that Ginobili is getting the ball. He’s our most clutch player (in fact, one of the most clutch in the league, even by fancy metrics), and also our best playmaker. He’s as likely to pass to a wide open shooter as take the last shot himself, something most other “clutch” players (I’m looking at you, Kobe) won’t do. So you can’t just load up on him and force him into a difficult shot. If Matt Bonner is open in the corner because you cheated off of him, you can bet that Matt Bonner is getting that last shot. (For the record, Matt Bonner shoots 50% on 3-pointers.)
I think Manu is the 3rd best shooting guard in the league, after Kobe and Wade. Numbers can never really tell the story on Manu, though his numbers are mostly career highs this year. He really does every little thing for this team, and he is a playmaker on both ends of the court. He can shoot 1 for 11 and still completely control a game with passing and defense. He has lightning quick hands and reflexes and sees things happening a split second before most other players, allowing him to wreak havoc on the defensive end. In Denver a few weeks ago he won a game by drawing a charge on Carmelo Anthony. In Oklahoma City last year he won a game by diving out of bounds 3 or 4 feet off the ground and perfectly parallel to it and throwing a game winning ‘pass’ to Richard Jefferson.
JS: The Spurs have a very deep bench. The Wolves do not. Could this be a determining factor in our next couple matchups, especially with them being back-to-back like they are?
JK: The Spurs got swept out of the playoffs by the Suns last year mostly by getting our butts kicked by the Suns bench. Building a deep bench was a top priority this offseason, and i think we have our best bench ever in the Duncan-Pop era. It’s not uncommon for the starters to play the opposing team’s starters fairly even for the first 10 minutes of the game, and then have our bench come in and open up a 10-15 point lead while playing against the opposing bench. Our roster goes at least 10 deep, and I trust every single player that plays significant minutes, something I’ve never felt before. Against a team like the TImberwolves, I expect our biggest advantage might actually be the bench, especially the way Kevin Love and Michael Beasley have played against us this year.
JS: Can the Spurs compete with the beasts of the East? We all know how evenly competitive the West is, but the East have a few monsters (Heat, Magic, Celtics) and I wonder if the Spurs are too old and sluggish to compete with these teams for a Championship if they get there.
JK: I think we can match up against any team in the league as long as we stay healthy, which is always the bugaboo for us. “Old and sluggish” really isn’t a worry anymore; we’ve really built our roster to be very flexible and play many different types of styles, and we have youth and speed at several key positions. Plus, as cliche as it is, the games really do slow down in the playoffs, favoring execution and half-court offense over anything else.
We just played Boston and lost a nail-biter by 2. It was a really fun game, and I think they are the team that we match up against most evenly in the East, and I think a Boston-San Antonio final could be the most exciting from a basketball perspective (though probably not a ratings point of view). As odd as it might sound, the Heat don’t scare me as much, because their two biggest weaknesses are two of our greatest strengths, quick point guards and solid post play. They have absolutely nobody to cover Tony Parker anywhere on the court, and the only big bodies they can throw at Duncan is Erick Dampier and Chris Bosh. I would love to see those match-ups. The Magic actually scare me the most of any team in the East, as Dwight Howard always has a field day against us; Duncan can’t guard him one-on-one, and nobody else on the roster has the size or quickness to (does anybody in the league?). I think ultimately our experience could win out, as their team seems to be full of lots of volatility just waiting to explode.
JS: Seeing that the Spurs have been a powerhouse in the West for years to come, what’s your general opinion on the current Timberwolves’ state right now? Do you think we’re headed in the right direction? What could/should be changed to improve our chances of competing in the West?
JK: Changing fortunes in the NBA is the most difficult of any sport. To be truly great, you need at least one truly great player, and then you need to surround that truly great player with other really good players and specialized role players. Those truly great players are near impossible to come by, and i think the only way The Timberwolves can get one is through the draft. Luckily, you should draft fairly high in the coming years. As for finding the other players, that’s where a GM really comes into play, and, as we both know, the verdict on Kahn is still out. I think getting Beasley was pretty savvy, and the Darko signing doesn’t look to be the colossal mistake it seemed during the summer. I think your PG situation is pretty screwed up, and like you, i have doubts about Rubio–if he’ll ever make it to the Timberwolves and how good he’ll actually be.
In your answers to my questions, you also mentioned that Kahn is trying to build an up-tempo team. Yet Rambis is indoctrinated in the triangle offense, which really seems to be a half-court offense based on spacing and passing. Plus, you have Kevin Love and Darko playing your PF and C position, two players not known for their speed or athleticism (though Love is the perfect rebounder/outlet passer for a fast break offense).
Ultimately, i think the team needs to pick a philosophy and stick to it. i feel like several of your players are playing one notch higher than they should be. Kevin Love is not a #1 franchise player, but he’d be a great #2 player. Michael Beasley is not a #2 player/primary scorer. But as a #3 option who can run the offense in small spurts while the other stars rest, he’d be dynamite. Darko can be a good defensive anchor if asked to do little else. Corey Brewer can be a defensive stalwart/wing stopper who can make spot up shots. If you can find that #1 player that can allow everybody else to slide into their natural slots, then I think your team can be quite good in the coming years. But, like I said, finding that player is the hardest (and sometimes most dependent on luck) thing to do. Do you trust Kahn to find him?

About Jonah Steinmeyer

Been a Wolves fan for probably way too long to be considered a sane human anymore. An avid golfer in my free time.