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San Antonio Spurs: 3 Reasons why Gregg Popovich is the GOAT

By Andrew Ites
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 7: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 7, 2018 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 7: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 7, 2018 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO,TX – DECEMBER 17: Gregg Popvich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs confers with official Scott Foster during game against the Philadelphia 76ers at AT&T Center on December 17, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX – DECEMBER 17: Gregg Popvich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs confers with official Scott Foster during game against the Philadelphia 76ers at AT&T Center on December 17, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

We might be in the final days of Gregg Popovich’s tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, so it’s time to fully appreciate just how great he hast been.

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have been on one of the greatest runs in the history of team sports ever since Pop took the job in 1996.

Pop and the Spurs have hoisted five Larry O’Brien trophies during that time and were a Ray Allen jump shot away from winning six titles.

Pop has also continued to climb the all-time regular season wins leaderboard passing Jerry Sloan for third place earlier this season. And with a playoff series victory this season, Popovich would tie Pat Riley for the second-most wins in the postseason in league history.

Pop’s recent comments to Marc Stein make his NBA coaching future look fairly murky as he doesn’t know if he will continue coaching past this season.

There is no doubt that Pop deserves to be in the conversation of the greatest coaches in NBA history, but that conversation is crowded with legendary names who often get the nod over someone who is still coaching in the league.

Here are three reasons why Gregg Popovich has already passed those legends and become the greatest coach in the history of the NBA.

Next: Defense

DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 28: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs coaches from the bench against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 28, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 28: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs coaches from the bench against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 28, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

Defense

The Spurs have had many truly dynamic offenses during the Gregg Popovich era, but great defense has always been the key to San Antonio’s consistent dominance.

The Spurs ranked dead last in defensive rating in Pop’s first season with the team in 1996-97, but he quickly turned them into the league’s second-best defense the next year.

San Antonio finished in the top-three in defensive rating every year from 1997-98 to 2007-08, and they have never once finished outside of the top 11 in defense during Pop’s tenure.

Related Story. 15 greatest draft picks in Spurs history

Pop is known for employing a fairly simple defensive scheme that allows his team to play fast and hard every night, but he’s also come up with some incredible gameplans to shut down historic offenses like he did against the Rockets a couple of years ago.

Solid defense has always been a bedrock of Pop’s teams, and it’s one reason why they’ve been the most consistent franchise in the NBA for over two decades.

Next: Adaptability

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 05: Assistant Coach Becky Hammon is seen talking to Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 05, 2018 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 05: Assistant Coach Becky Hammon is seen talking to Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 05, 2018 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)

Adaptability

Many great coaches become stuck in their ways and fail to evolve their style of coaching as the game passes them by, but Pop has continued to field great teams over multiple eras of basketball with vastly different styles of play.

Pop’s first championship team employed the twin towers approach with Hall of Fame big men in David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Then Pop and the Spurs began finding talent overseas before the rest of the league caught on and formed the big three of Ducan, Ginobili, and Parker.

Related Story. 15 best scorers in Spurs history

That group of players won in the incredibly slow and defensive style of play of the early-to-mid-2000’s, but they also played the most beautiful ball movement offense that the league has ever seen when they destroyed LeBron James and the Heat in 2014.

Now the Spurs have transitioned into another era of ball where they dominate the midrange while other teams look to take away the three-ball and points in the paint.

Pop’s ability to win in a multitude of ways puts him in a class of his own when it comes to coaching.

Next: Culture

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 29: Head Coach Gregg Popovich and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs talk during the game against the LA Clippers on December 29, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 29: Head Coach Gregg Popovich and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs talk during the game against the LA Clippers on December 29, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Culture

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Finally, the Spurs’ culture of winning is why they are looking to make the playoffs for the 22nd straight season in one of the league’s smallest markets.

Gregg Popovich will be the first one to tell you that all of the credit for San Antonio’s great culture should go to Tim Duncan and the rest of the great leaders the Spurs have had during this era, but Pop was the one who encouraged them to lead and set a precedent for how the entire organization was going to operate.

The Spurs’ fantastic culture encourages role players to shine when they haven’t been called on for awhile, it has prevented drama from ripping the team apart from the inside, and it’s allowed the Spurs to continue their dominance after reaching the top of the mountain multiple times.

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Who is Gregg Popovich’s successor?. Next

It’s hard to tangibly describe why San Antonio’s culture has produced so many wins, and a myriad of organizations around the world have tried to emulate the Spurs’ formula.

However, there is only one Gregg Popovich, and that is why he should go down as the greatest coach in NBA history.

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