Basketball is one of those phenomena that maintains its brilliance as a result of momentum. A player’s momentum can drive team success, and a team’s winning ways can translate into a championship. And isn’t that the point after all; to win a championship?
The NBA bottom-feeders will tell you “yes, it certainly is.” To earn a little gold tab on the back of your jersey may be the greatest single accomplishment a group of players can supply to a franchise. To move from the basement of the NBA into the elite ranks speaks of supremacy, cohesiveness, and momentum.
Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) sits with the Larry O
The NBA elite will tell you that a championship is just table-stakes. Of course winning one is of the greatest thrills one can experience. But the elite want to sustain that feeling. To keep the momentum up between titles. Its not enough to be competitive year after year. You have to win it all.
Just ask Kevin Durant. He is a perfect example of a terrific talent, who has been to the top of the mountain, but got pushed off by LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Or, ask Dirk Nowitzki. His Dallas Mavericks have a little gold tab on their jerseys, but haven’t sniffed the NBA Finals since.
Momentum swings both ways.
One ring loves company. Looking back over the past 30 NBA seasons the champions have seen their way back for a second (or third) title more often than not. Would it surprise you to learn that in the last 30 years, the NBA have only had eight franchises take home the Larry O’Brien trophy? The Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, LA Lakers, Miami Heat, and of course the San Antonio Spurs, are responsible for every NBA Championship since 1984. In that grouping, only Dallas does not have multiple titles.
During these last 30 years, there have been eight back-to-back Championships, including three three-peats (Chicago twice, LA once). That means that 63% of the time, if you win the title, you win it again the very next year.
With an established trend like that in place, why would anyone pick Cleveland to win a title? 30 seasons of NBA momentum suggests that active trend owners like San Antonio have an advantage. I think the converse argument would be that you don’t win until you do. True.
To counter, most champions actually do go back-to-back. During these last 30 years, there have been eight back-to-back Championships, including three three-peats (Chicago twice, LA once). That means that 63% of the time, if you win the title, you win it again the very next year. That is some serious momentum.
How about winning multiple titles in a three-year stretch? That is 77%. Let that sink in. That is an incredible stat. If a franchise wins a single title, they will win another just a two years later. This makes what the Spurs did last year even more special after a seven-year title drought.
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Winning back-to-back championships would be uncharted territory for the Spurs. Being in the hunt for back-to-back rings is not. During this run they’ve had four previous unsuccessful attempts. So why will this year be different?
Well, I could tell you that out of all the elite franchises in the NBA, all have back-to-back Championships, and the Spurs are due. I could tell you that they are in the top quarter of the league in point differential. I could say that they are in the top-five teams this year in assists. All of those statistics would be true.
But, I’ll stick with my gut. San Antonio has a momentous trend in their favor. They are moving the ball great, which has been a key to their sustained success (they’ve had over 2000 assists in each of the last three seasons).
Finally, the bench is gelling into a solid second unit. The Spurs are starting bench players (Matt Bonner, Aron Baynes), and giving others significant minutes (Corey Joseph, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw) and they are continuing to win. Look around the league.
Who else can pull that off?
Not Cleveland. They are so dependent on their ‘Big-Three’ it is staggering. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love have combined for 2329 minutes so far. That is an average of 743. San Antonio keeps their ‘Big-Three’ fresh because of their depth and coaching. The Spurs’ ‘Big-Three’ have combined for 725 fewer minutes, and average a pedestrian 534 minutes this year.
The trending is significant. Winners stay on top. In the past 30 years of recent memory the Association is blanketed with titles by the familiar teams. The usual suspects. But,the Spurs are not letting the cosmos take over and lead them down the championship path. They are keeping it smart and playing their typical brand of basketball which, by the way, is responsible for five NBA Championships since 1999.