Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Trailblazing 2012 Spurs

The '12 Spurs push basketball purists into a mania. Amidst LeBron James/Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook-led isolation-heavy teams, the Spurs understand the value of spacing and swing passes better than the rest. Team play at its best.

We've seen this type of attack before; the accompanying mania reveals itself all too well.

TNT knew what they were doing when they put these two together.
It was called Blazermania in 1977. In his one healthy prime season, Bill Walton was an all-timer when it came to helping teammates and stymying the opposition's game plan. The Blazers were quick to the attack, and it started with Walton's outlet passing. He didn't so much pass it to wing players like Lionel Hollins and Bob Gross as he did magically adjust each carom's momentum with his fingertips. It looked like he snapped at the ball and it landed in a wing player's hands, initiating a fast break.

In the half court, Blazermania was more evident. Without a 3-point line, the Blazers gained spacing by inverting their offense- Walton and Mo Lucas worked from the mid-post and high-post areas and either found cutters or set screens. The beautiful half-court offense picked defenses apart. These defenses were befuddled because they could not focus on a concentrated point of attack- i.e., a superstar scorer.

Thirty-five years later, the same brand of basketball is being played in San Antonio. The newly lithe Tim Duncan plays offense similarly to the fiery Walton, flicking outlet passes, knocking down jump shots, cutting to the basket to keep defenses honest, and providing necessary post scoring. Duncan has never been more effective from the perimeter. Even their raw stats are similar: Duncan averaged nearly 20 points and three assists per 36 minutes in the regular season on 49 percent shooting; Walton averaged nearly 19 points and four assists per 36 minutes in 1977 on 53 percent shooting.

Boris Diaw is a clear staircase below an underrated all-time great like Lucas, but like Lucas, he provides excellent passing and the ability to spread the floor. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard score off-ball like Gross and Hollins. The Blazers lacked individual creators like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but Portland did have solid depth: six players averaged at least 10.9 points per game for the Blazers during the '77 playoffs. Portland head coach Dr. Jack Ramsay and Gregg Popovich are two of the best ever.

The major differences in the teams are that the Spurs get to use a 3-point line and the Blazers were better defensively. The same principles of synergy and team play apply.

The 1977 Blazers defeated a poorly constructed Laker team led by the best individual in the league, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then won the title by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, a talented group of individuals who were less than the sum of their parts. Looking at the teams left standing in San Antonio's way, there is a chance the Spurs repeat the narrative exactly.

Call it Alamomania.

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