Shoot for It: With Alex Lee ’16 and John Beneville ’16

by John Beneville and Alex Lee | 10/15/15 6:30pm

What’s up Dartmouth! Shoot for It boys back again for week 5, and this week we’re going to talk about the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs lost a game 7 thriller against the Los Angeles Clippers last season in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. They bounced back this offseason with the acquisition of marquee free agent power forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge. The 30-year-old Aldridge has been the franchise player of the Portland Trailblazers over the last several years, and he turned down more money from the Blazers and more starpower from the Lakers to sign with the Spurs. This week we’ll discuss what we expect for the San Antonio Spurs this upcoming season.

Alex’s Take: Let me start off by saying that the San Antonio Spurs franchise is the best organization in the National Basketball Association, and every other NBA team should strive toward this gold standard. I was amazed during the 2012-2013 finals when immediately after losing a game 7 thriller to my Miami Heat, Gregg Popovich shook hands, hugged and smiled with LeBron James. It was a great display of sportsmanship and sincere love of the game (that almost made the 2013-2014 Miami Heat loss in the finals palatable).

The backbone of this team has been their strong pass-first system and positional depth, which has rendered nearly every player on their roster into a valued contributor. In addition to their veteran core of power forward Tim Duncan, shooting guard Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker, the emergence of small forward Kawhi Leonard and shooting guard Danny Green coupled with the solid play of their role players like Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Corey Joseph. Heck, even freaking Matt Bonner contributed — major props to Greg Popovich for orchestrating this amazing system.

John’s comparison of Boris Diaw to King Dedede is unbelievable (in all the wrong ways), but I have to admit, I’ve always liked Diaw’s play-style and basketball IQ. This is a very different Diaw than the one we saw in the beginning of his career. The Spurs also have the best player development program in the league, from which players like Danny Green and Tiago Splitter have also benefitted.

Thus came my surprise when I learned that the Spurs signed the biggest free agent available in the pool this past summer, LaMarcus Aldridge. This move essentially contrasted with everything they stood for, especially the fact that they had to give up three critical role players Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter and Corey Joseph to even make the max contract possible.

Furthermore, I think it’s going to take a long time for LaMarcus Aldridge to adjust to the Spurs style of play. In Portland, he was used to a lot of post-up one-on-one style of play. This simply won’t cut it with the Spurs system. As individuals, none of the Spurs are major playmakers. As a unit, they form a well-oiled machine. This mindset adjustment alone will take some time for Aldridge.

Also, where are the floor spacers on the team? A significant factor to the Spurs successful runs of the past depended on floor spacing, which gave Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker more room to operate as playmakers. Losing Joseph and Belinelli will be huge on this front.

Lastly, I think that playing Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge together, though seems like a true dream team front court in 2K, will not be so effective in practice. Neither of them are particularly athletic and contending with the quicker centers and power forwards in the league like DeAndre Jordan will prove to be challenging, especially in a league where small ball is proving to be the most effective form of play (think Golden State Warriors).

Ultimately, I expect the Spurs to have a solid season but not a long playoff run.

John’s Take: When Alex suggested talking about the San Antonio Spurs, I couldn’t have been more excited. True, I’m a Lakers fan, but the Spurs are the bane of LeBron’s existence, and for that they will forever have a special place in my heart. The Spurs are the epitome of class and elegance, a fine bottle of rosé in a case of $10 reds and whites. They spread the ball around like a communist country and dish out more dimes than Bernie Sanders. And just this once, I’m fine with that.

For years the Spurs have played beautiful ball with Gregg “The Artist” Popovich at the helm. Coach Pop has built a team full of unselfish Europeans and other team-oriented players and has consistently guided his squad to the promised land. Of course, no discussion of the Spurs would be complete without mentioning Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi “Strong Hands” Leonard. But most of us already know these guys are great, and I don’t want to bore the reader with another ode to this trio. Rather, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite players in the NBA: Boris “Okie-Doke” Diaw.

Diaw has been on the Spurs for several years and always comes up in the biggest of moments. He’s 250 pounds, smooth as cocoa butter and masterful with the ball. He’s the King Dedede of basketball, an unselfish patriarch with one mission: conquer. He’ll do whatever he needs to do to help the team win. Whether that’s setting screens, getting rebounds or camping out in the corner and eating a Snickers bar, Boris is your man. Boris may be the ring master, but his opening act is a point guard who hails from Australia: Patty Mills.

As an Australian 6-foot point guard, Patty continues to live in a land down under. And yet, despite his short stature, Patty is one of the most impactful bench players in the game today. His ability to get open and knock down threes on the big stage surpasses that of many superstars, and he was a huge part of the Spurs championship run two years ago. That’s Patty.

Now on to the Spurs’ most recent addition, LaMarcus Aldridge, and a quick note about my expectations for next year. I completely disagree with Alex and his blasphemous prediction that the Spurs “won’t make a playoff run.” Are you serious? LaMarcus Aldridge is in his prime and has already said that he loves the Spurs and their system. Aldridge went to San Antonio because he wants to win a championship, and that means that he will do whatever is necessary to accomplish that goal. He and Tim Duncan may not be a natural pair, but they don’t have to be. Pop will probably play them separately, for the most part, and allow the two to occupy different spaces when they’re on the floor. Remember, LaMarcus has a deadly mid-range shot and will happily roam the free throw line if Duncan is doing the dirty work inside the paint. The Spurs will win the championship this year.