As the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff chances decrease game by game, I’ve noticed a common misconception about this year’s Spurs; that they can’t compete in today’s NBA… Let’s shut that down before it gains any more momentum.
The Spurs’ 2020 campaign has been less than conventional, especially when compared to the fairly recent memories of a dynasty that won four championships in an 8-year span. San Antonians have literally been spoiled with 5 separate championship parades down the riverwalk.
A franchise long seen as the NBA’s gold standard of sustained success now finds itself at the intersection of an ending “Golden Age” and the early growing pains of an impending rebuild. Currently sitting 3.5 games outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, the Spurs are stuck between chasing history and becoming it.
At the beginning of the season, a record-setting 23rd consecutive playoff appearance seemed like an attainable goal. As the league’s balance of power shifted with the twilight of Golden State’s dominance, the “superteam era” seemed a thing of the past.
All-Star trios like that of the Spurs’ “Big Three”, the Celtics’ Allen, Pierce & Garnett, the Miami “Heatles” of LeBron, Bosh & Wade all gave way to the Warriors’ colossal quartet of Steph, Klay, KD & Draymond.
After winning three championships in five finals appearances, the sun finally set on Golden State dynasty with Durant departing to Brooklyn to join All-Star talent Kyrie Irving. NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard teamed up with perennial All-Star Paul George, and 2017 league MVP Russell Westbrook joined 2018 MVP James Harden in Houston. Even LeBron James got some much-needed help in the Lakers’ blockbuster trade for Anthony Davis.
Just as all things once deemed retro always seem to come back in style, dynamic duos like that of the ’90s and early 2000’s re-emerged as the new trend of this NBA season. MJ & Scottie, Stockton & Malone, the twin towers of Tim & David; the legendary 1-2 Punch of Shaquille O’Neal & the late great Kobe Bryant. Two All-Star caliber talents surrounded by a complement of role players are once again the common blueprint of success in the NBA.
The Spurs too, follow that exact model.
With four-time All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan & five-time All-NBA forward LaMarcus Aldridge combining for 11 All-Star selections and 7 All-NBA honors, San Antonio seemed to have one of the more formidable duos in the league. A combined 10 playoff appearances between the two of them, the Spurs pairing had both the skill and experience needed to compete. In an ever-adapting league, one thing is constant: Star power; and San Antonio has it. Arguably for the first time!
Make no mistake, Tim Duncan was the greatest power forward to ever pick up a basketball and that isn’t even considered an opinion at this point. San Antonio’s iconic “Big Three” is quite literally the winningest trio in NBA history.
Presently, a different kind of star power is needed to compete in the modern NBA. We are a far cry from our humble homegrown heroes. While neither was drafted by the Spurs, Aldridge and DeRozan have been brought in to compete in a league trending towards 30-foot three-pointers and terrible twosomes. One could argue that San Antonio has one of the top teammate tandems out west.
In terms of All-Star & All-NBA recognition, only Houston’s MVP pairing of Harden & Westbrook and the Lakers’ legion of LeBron & Davis outrank the Spurs’ stars.
Eight players in NBA history to have 19K points, 8K rebounds and 1K blocks through 1,000 career games:
KareemHakeemDuncanShaqKGD. Robinson EwingLAMARCUS ALDRIDGE
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) February 22, 2020
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The Rockets’ guards have a collective 17 All-Star & 14 All-NBA team honors. While Lebron himself would dominate these categories alone, with 16 All-Star game appearances earning 15 All-NBA team nominations. Adding Davis brings the Lakers’ frontcourt total to 23 All-Star & 18 All-NBA nods.
With Golden State’s injured backcourt of Curry & Thompson tying Aldridge & DeRozan in these same accolades, the Spurs fielded arguably the 3rd maybe 4th most dynamic duo in the league. If we’re trying to quantify “star power,” the Spurs certainly match up with the league’s elite.
While this star-crossed season might not match its pre-season horoscope, the fault is not on the All-Star duo. DeRozan has scored 15+ points in all but 9 games this season, and he’s doing it on highly efficient 53% scoring! Aldridge has scored in double digits in 46 of the 50 games he’s played this year, erupting for 30+ in several games.
While neither has an affinity for the “video game-like” three-point trend sweeping the league, both Spurs stars have what it takes to shine in today’s NBA.