Gregg Popovich Proved It Wasn't All About Player Talent
Pop put the league on notice from day one that he wasn't going to just disappear now that Tim Duncan was out of the picture. He proved that his coaching ability was still top-notch all season long, as the Spurs rolled to a 61-21 record and finished second in the Western Conference standings.
At the end of the regular season in 2016-17, San Antonio ranked first in the league in defensive rating and second in opponent points per game. It marked the seventh time a Popovich-led Spurs team led the NBA in defensive rating and the ninth time they ranked in the top two for opponent points per game.
After Duncan had been the defensive anchor in San Antonio for so long, Pop was able to maximize the talent of his players and put together one of the league's best defensive teams yet again. They held their opponent to under 100 points 43 times in the 82-game regular season.
As the playoffs arrived, the Spurs took down the Grizzlies in round one before facing an athletic Rockets squad with a high-octane offense in the Western Conference Semifinals. In a tightly-contested series, Pop made the decision to go with smaller lineups in the pivotal Game 5, which ultimately led to them coming away with the win.
Traveling to Houston for Game 6 of the series, the Spurs were playing without the injured Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. But it didn't matter, as Popovich helped orchestrate another masterful performance and San Antonio closed out the series in jaw-dropping fashion, winning 114-75.
Would anyone else have gotten Jonathon Simmons to put up the performance he did in Kawhi Leonard's place?
In the Western Conference Finals, the loss of two starters proved to be too much to overcome against the eventual NBA champions, but that shouldn't put a damper on things.
Gregg Popovich was venturing into uncharted waters in 2016-17. The fact that he and his team came away from the season achieving all that they did is a huge testament to his coaching ability. In his first season without #21 by his side, he stuck it to the doubters who said he couldn't win without Duncan.
He was already a Hall of Fame coach, but this season was the one that solidified him on the NBA coaches' Mount Rushmore. Now he stands alone as the winningest head coach the game has ever seen.