Is This San Antonio Spurs Team the Best Since Title-Winning 2007 Group?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 4:  Tim Duncan #21, Tony Parker #9, Boris Diaw #33 and Jeff Ayres #11 of the San Antonio Spurs talk amongst themselves in the fourth quarter while they have a comfortable lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on March 4, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 2014 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

If winning in excess and contending for NBA titles is boring, color the San Antonio Spurs mundane.

Four championships, five Finals appearances and countless Gregg Popovich scowls later, the Spurs are still kicking and winning, dominating like it's 2007—if 2007 were in fact 2014.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe the Spurs should be gasping for a breath of postseason air at this point in their development. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are graying, Tony Parker isn't far behind and Coach Pop hasn't been captured sporting a smile since oil paintings went out of style. 

Still, these Spurs stay together. And still they win and contend, forcing us to rethink everything we thought we knew about age, time, natural regression, common sense and the way of the Spurs.

Winning and Grinning

All the Spurs do is win—then and now.

In overthrowing the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, the Spurs secured their 13th consecutive victory. The last time they won 13 games in a row was in 2007, not including a stretch that spanned two separate seasons—2011-12 and 2012-13—when they rattled off 14 straight victories. 

Opponents haven't been able to keep pace with them during this stretch. Nine of the 13 victories have come by double digits, and four have come by at least 20 points. Their average margin of victory, per, has been simply insane:

No team in the NBA has strung together more than 11 straight victories this season, putting the Spurs in familiar territory: on top of everyone.

Stale competition hasn't aided their ritualistic rise in the standings. Six of their last 13 victories have come against (likely) Eastern and Western Conference playoff teams. They're also 24-14 against squads above .500.

Winning in volume has given these Spurs the NBA's best record, pacing them toward 62-63 victories for the season. 

Remind you of anyone? 

How about most of San Antonio's teams this side of 2000?

The Spurs have won at least 70 percent of their games in 9 of the last 13 seasons, and they're headed for a 10th. That 2006-07 group stands out for their 13-game winning streak and eventual title. This current Spurs team is actually winning even more.

Those 2006-07 Spurs finished 58-24. Their second-longest winning streak lasted six games, and they closed out the regular season seven games over .500 against winning teams (23-16).

The Spurs vs. Themselves
SeasonWin %Home Win %Road Win %Win % Against Above-.500# 10-Plus Game Win Streaks
2013-1476.876.577.163.22 and ESPN.

Raw winning percentages matter here, since it's a direct comparison. The Spurs have already won more games against teams with records above .500 this year than they did in all of 2006-07, giving them a legitimate opportunity to become just the third squad in franchise history to clear 62 wins.

If they keep winning at their current rate, holding home court and obliterating opponents on the road, there may not be much of a comparison to make there.

Balanced Attack

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 17:  Tim Duncan #21 and Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs watch in the final seconds during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 17, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Finding a more balanced, two-way-oriented team than the Spurs over the last decade or so is impossible.

Coach Popovich's system continues to demand engagement and perfection on both sides of the floor. The Spurs don't just scorethey do so efficiently. And they don't just defendthey do so effectively.

In each of the last 10 years, the Spurs have ranked in the top half in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Seven times in the last decade they've cracked the top 10 of each.

This year is both no different and even more impressive.

The Spurs once again rank in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency. This season, though, they've managed to appear in the top six of both.

Last time this happened? In 2006-07.

Last time they won a title? In 2007.

For further perspective, here's a look at how the Spurs' offensive- and defensive-efficiency rankings have corresponded with one another since Duncan entered the league in 1997:

What we're seeing here reinforces a few things.

Broken-record style, the last time the Spurs ranked in the top six of offensive and defensive efficiency (2006-07), they won a championship. Nothing new there. But the years denoted above reveal some new information.

Each of the blue arrows points to a year in which the Spurs procured a title. You'll notice that in each of those four campaigns, only one year (1998-99) saw them rank outside the top eight in offensive efficiency.

Coach Pop has guided Spurs teams like the current version before.
Coach Pop has guided Spurs teams like the current version before.Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Likewise, of the five times they have finished in the top eight in both categories before now—note that their ranks in 2002-03 and 2012-13 overlap—they've won a championship three times. The exceptions are 2000-01, when they ranked sixth in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency, and 2012-13, when they ranked seventh and third, respectively. 

But the Spurs still came close in each of those two years. They made it through to the Western Conference Finals in 2003 and came within one victory of another title against the Miami Heat in 2013.

In other words, the Spurs have been where they are now before. They've used a similar, conversant attack to win three of their four previous titles and to make four of their five NBA Finals appearances.

For anyone hoping that history does indeed repeat itself, this is all good news.

Similarities Through Differences

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 24:  Marco Belinelli #3, Tony Parker #9, Manu Ginobili #20, Tim Duncan #21 and Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs sit on the bench in the final minutes of their 105-79 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on January 24, 2
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No two teams are exactly the same, but the current and 2006-07 Spurs come pretty darn close.

One major difference: the core. For the Spurs, it's essentially the same core with different minutes distribution.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili aren't kids anymore. Rest and relaxation programs have been implemented to conserve their health for the postseason.

Neither Duncan nor Ginobili played in San Antonio's victory over Golden State. That's become a familiar sight. Winning streak on the line or not, Coach Pop won't jeopardize the bigger picture. The Spurs plan for the playoffs all season long, and it shows.

Only one member of the Big Three is averaging more than 30 minutes per game this season (Parker), whereas both Parker and Duncan eclipsed 32 in 2006-07. More players are receiving additional minutes as a result.

But as you can see here, it was a somewhat similar story in 2006-07:

San Antonio's Minutes Distribution
SeasonDuncanGinobiliParker# Players Averaging 18-plus minutes

Though San Antonio's core three continue to age and play less, the Spurs have always been a team that stretches rotations at least eight or nine deep. Their ability to do that this season when Duncan, Parker and Ginobili continue to play limited minutes is what makes them more dangerous.

The Spurs' bench ranks first in points per game per, pouring in 45.3 points a night. In 2006-07, their second unit finished second in scoring, notching 35.5 points per game.

In effect, the Spurs are relying on their reserves and complementary role players more without missing a beat. Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli and Tiago Splitter, among others, have all stepped up big, serving as accurate indicators of how well the Spurs are playing.

Case in point: Splitter went for 17 points and 14 rebounds against the Warriors. When he scores in double figures, the Spurs are a perfect 22-0 this season.

That type of correlation didn't exist seven years ago, when Francisco Elson was jumping center. San Antonio was 10-0 when he dropped at least 10 points, but he wasn't scoring in double figures as frequently. 

This Spurs team is different in that guys like Splitter, Belinelli, Diaw and Leonard need to play at a high level for the team to win. Role players and the second unit aren't luxuries—they're necessities.

Years ago, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili could have picked up whatever slack their teammates weren't covering. Now they need them—all of them—almost every night, most certainly more than ever. 

Never Broke, Always Fixing

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20: Tony Parker #9, Tim Duncan #21 and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs sit on the bench prior to the start of Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on June 20, 2013 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Fl
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Thirteen games. Everything about the Spurs brings us back to their present winning streak, specifically the 13th victory.

There was no Duncan, no Ginobili. But the Spurs still won. All they do is win. It doesn't matter who's playingthey're going to compete. 

"Everybody stepped up," Parker said after beating the Warriors, per CBS Sports. "When somebody's not playing, it's just other guys who will do it. And we trust each other."

Trust and depth brings results. San Antonio has showed us that much.

Nothing about the Spurs is ever broken, because they keep making adjustments before it's too late.

Overworking a veteran core is all too tempting for most coaches trying to prop their championship window open a little while longer. Win at all costs. Today is more important than tomorrow.

But there is always a tomorrow for the Spurs. And a today. And a yesterday. The standard is excellence, and they never fail to meet it. 

"I guess they believe in themselves and in the system, and they just keep working it," Coach Pop said Sunday. "Other than that, I don't really know what to tell you."

Tell us they're agents of contradiction, Pop. Tell us the Big Three's health and stamina belies its age. Tell us this is one of the deepest teams you've ever coached.

Tell us this feels like 2006-07.

Tell us this is the best Spurs team since that 2007 championship-grabbing confab, better than the time-defying, Western Conference-winning clique from last year.

Go ahead, tell us. We'll buy it; we'll believe it.

Because it's true. 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and ESPN unless otherwise noted.


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