American Basketball Coaches Should Take Note of Spurs’ International Flare

The Spurs' style of play had a strong international presence and that wasn't by chance.

I completely understand the dangers of the classic “ifs and buts” scenario but bear with me for a moment. The San Antonio Spurs were basically a few missed free throws in game six last year and a few missed free throws from game two this season from having both six titles and a sweep of the Miami.

Instead, the Spurs will have to settle for their fifth title in 15 years and while the argument over whether or not they are a “dynasty” can be had from all sides the bigger statement is in how this team won.

Since the rise of AAU programs across the country, basketball in the United States has become less about ‘team play’ and more about showcasing individual talent. Both college programs and the National Basketball Association have been impacted by this trend. If you talk to people who were fans of the NBA in the 1980’s and 1990’s but no longer call themselves fans, they’ll tell you the style of play is one of the biggest factors.

NBA offenses have become nothing more than isolation plays and pick and roll situations. The Spurs effectively destroyed this notion in this year’s Finals and there is no question that the international presence on the roster influenced their ‘team play.’

Frenchman Boris Diaw had a significant impact on the Spurs' title run this year.

Manu Ginobili is from Argentina. Boris Diaw and Tony Parker are from France. Paddy Mills is from Australia and Tiago Splitter is from Brazil. If you want to stretch things a bit, even Tim Duncan was born off the mainland in the US Virgin Islands. Duncan grew up thinking he would be a competitive swimmer rather than a basketball player.

It’s no mistake therefore that the style of play deployed by Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich was one with a tremendous international flavor. The game overseas relies less on individual talent and isolation-type plays and more on movement of the ball. The idea is really quite simple; movement of the ball forces the the opposition to actually ‘play defense’ rather than stand on one side of the court and watch four players go at it in a two-on-two game.

The idea also emphasizes looking for a ‘good’ shot and moving the ball to the point of where you find a ‘better’ shot. If the movie ‘Hoosiers’ comes to mind then that’s good because that’s the way basketball was supposed to be played offensively.

What Popovich and the Spurs have done is revolutionized scouting in the NBA and it’s hard to find fault with its’ success. They seek out talent on foreign shores and they mix that talent with solid, team-oriented American players to get the results they have had over the last 15 years. The roots of this idea go back to the 1980’s.

American basketball was the dominant force in international hoops play. Our collegiate players were better both athletically and skillfully through the decades of international play but then foreign countries caught up and in the late 1980’s our collegians were no longer good enough to bring home Olympic gold every four years.

That’s when the ‘Dream Team’ was born and since our pro players have been manning the Olympic team, we have not lost gold but with every passing Olympic Games, foreign teams get closer and closer and that’s because their athleticism is catching up with ours as many of their players now play in the NBA.

It’s my hope that high school and AAU teams have paid attention to this Spurs’ team because this is the wave of the future and if the American players don’t catch on it will be the 1980’s all over again.

Spurs Look to Close Out the Heat Tomorrow Night in Texas

LeBron and Wade
LeBron and Wade
Could tonight be the end of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or will they force a game six back home?

I can’t recall the last series I’ve been so wrong about. I’m pretty sure that every one of the first four games of the NBA Finals I’ve had completely wrong. Therefore, you should probably do the exact opposite of what I’m about to suggest for tomorrow night.

Miami at San Antonio (-6), Spurs lead series 3-1 – Of all the games I’ve been the most wrong about game four takes the cake. There was no way I saw the Miami Heat, who had lost game three on their home-court, losing again. Remember this was a team that just didn’t lose back-to-back games and especially in the playoffs.

The entered game four with the third-longest streak of not losing back-to-back playoff games in league history. They trailed only the Jordan-Era Bulls and the dynastic Celtics of the 1960’s.

We can throw those stats and numbers out the window now because LeBron James and company are now hanging on for dear life. Watching San Antonio dismantle the Miami defense the other night was a thing of beauty. It’s what basketball was supposed to be when Dr.James Naismith invented it. Passing and moving the ball among all five players on the court was like art work being performed by the Spurs.

In an era of “let the best player go one-on-one off a screen,” San Antonio displayed everything that was good about offensive basketball. So impressive was the Spurs’ game four win that every player on the team scored. Knowing that bench scoring had been issue, Miami actually scored 30 points in that department. Still, San Antonio was better scoring 41 off of the pine.

Miami had done a decent job of battling San Antonio in the paint as well but that stat was blown up too. The Spurs dominated 46-30 in the key and while playing solid defense at the other end as well.

Manu Ginobili has been a lightning rod for the Spurs despite not scoring a lot of points.

If you need any further demonstration of the ‘team aspect’ of the Spurs than look no further than Manu Ginobili. The Argentinian scored just seven points but he had a whopping +27 for the game which illustrates the energy and intensity he and his teammates brought to the floor.

Short of LeBron James going off for a 40-point night tomorrow, I just don’t see how this team survives the balanced Spurs in game five. Dwyane Wade has been accused of looking tired and perhaps he is, but I think it has more to do with his nagging knees. Chris Bosh has disappeared for the most part and the role players like Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers have been neutralized.

It would be incredibly easy to blame some of the on-court issues of the Heat on the off-court topics that are being discussed but I guarantee the players wouldn’t use that excuse. Still, it must be difficult knowing the media is more interested in where LeBron will play in the fall and whether Carmelo Anthony is joining the Big Three in Miami.

I really, really want to take Miami to win this because if they do I believe this goes to a game seven where anything can happen but I can’t.The Spurs have been too good and too balanced at both ends and there has only been one close game in this series and that was Miami’s two-point win in game two. Take the Spurs to cover tomorrow night and I like the OVER. The O/U is at 196 by the way.

Keep an eye on… Miami is 4-16 straight up in its last 20 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… The total has gone UNDER in four of San Antonio’s last six games at home… Miami is 6-13-1 against the spread in its last 20 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… San Antonio is 9-1 straight up in its last 10 games at home.

It’s Spoelstra’s Move In NBA Finals Chess Match

Erik Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra
The next move belongs to Erik Spoelstra in a 'back-to-the-wall' situation.

I believe it was legendary coach and now Miami Heat President Pat Riley who said of the NBA Finals, “Usually each team blows out the other and then you have tough, hard-fought games the rest of the way.” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but Riley couldn’t have been more wrong about this particular series.

The average margin of victory in the Miami-San Antonio series is a whopping 17-points with game one being the only one to be in single digits in the Spurs four-point win. The series now shifts to South Beach where the Heat face elimination. The NBA Finals to this point have been a chess match of epic proportions with coaches Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich making one calculating move after another. Neither team has won back-to-back games in the series and obviously Miami is hopeful that this trend continues tonight in American Airlines Arena.

The last two games, the Heat have started Mike Miller who had been pretty hot with his shooting coming off the bench. In his two starts, Miller has taken a grand total of two shots, missing both. I look for him to return to the pine tonight because Miller is a bit of a defensive liability as well.

Manu Ginobili
Will Ginobili return to the bench or be in the starting five tonight?

The big question for the Spurs is what will Coach Pop do with Manu Ginobili? In his first start of the series, Ginobili had 24 points on 8 of 14 shooting. He was the perfect compliment to Tony Parker’s 26 and the hotter than the sun Danny Green’s 24 points. Green by the way broke Ray Allen’s NBA Finals’ record of three-pointers in a series which was 22. Green now has 24 treys and still has potentially two games remaining.

The masterful stroke in game five was that Popovich kept Ginobili’s minutes about the same had he come off the bench in his typical sixth man spot.

The next move now belongs to Spoelstra. His Heat have been here before and he should have confidence going forward. In 2011, the first season of the ‘Big Three’ saw them return home from Dallas down 3-2 and they lost. Last year against Boston they were down 3-2 and rode a monster game six from LeBron James to eventually defeat the Celtics and advance. This season they trailed 3-2 to the Indiana Pacers and again overcame adversity to make their way tot the NBA Finals.

So here they are again down 3-2 and there are daunting questions that face them and perhaps even greater ones should they drop this series. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been inconsistent and LeBron James at times has been made to look very average at times settling for long jump shots rather than aggressively driving to the basket.

James will need help tonight and where it comes from no one is certain. I’m convinced he’ll show up in a big way tonight but can the Heat defend the outside shooting of Green while stopping penetration at the same time? My gut feeling is that Spoelstra will actually take the ‘less is more’ approach to game six. This is a veteran team that has been here before and I don’t see Spoelstra doing anything other than saying “Guys, go play Heat Basketball.”

Prediction: The Heat are favored by seven tonight at home with an over/under of 191. I’ve been very close to the over/under all series but just can’t seem to nail it as I’ve been just a little high when I’ve need to be a little low. I think you go over simply because of the situation Miami is in. I like the Heat to keep the trend of big wins going as I like them to cover and force a game seven.