Hollinger's Team Forecast: San Antonio Spurs

Originally Published: October 2, 2006
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
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Last season San Antonio never gave you the impression that it was destined to repeat as NBA champion. Franchise icon Tim Duncan struggled with plantar fasciitis for much of the season and posted career lows in points, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage, while star wingman Manu Ginobili missed 17 games with a variety of ailments and couldn't reproduce the magic of his stellar 2004-05 campaign. Ultimately the Spurs fell short when Dallas knocked them out in a tightly contested seven-game series in the Western Conference semifinals.

It's a testament to the depth and competitiveness of the Spurs that they were in position to repeat as champs despite injuries to their two best players. Tony Parker took a huge step forward and made his first All-Star team, and San Antonio got solid contributions from 10 different players. As a result, the Spurs set a franchise record for wins, put up the best record in the West at 63-19, and were once again No. 1 in defensive efficiency.

It was the fifth time in six years under coach Gregg Popovich that San Antonio had the league's best defense. Thanks to the length of Duncan and Rasho Nesterovic inside and the quickness and grit of Bruce Bowen and the underrated Parker on the perimeter, San Antonio was difficult to beat from any part of the floor.

San Antonio's broad-based defensive excellence was easily seen if you break down defense into its component parts. In seven of the eight important metrics -- field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw rate, 3-point rate, assist rate, rebounding, and shot-blocking -- the Spurs were well above average. Their only middling effort came in forcing turnovers, where their opponents coughed it up slightly less than the league average.

The Spurs were particularly tough to make a 3-pointer or get an assist against, which is an indication of what great individual defenders they had on the floor. Most assisted baskets and 3-pointers come because a player is beaten and needs help, or because an overmatched defender requires a double-team from a teammate. With the players San Antonio had, that rarely happened. As a result, opponents only took 13.8 percent of their shots beyond the 3-point line, which easily led the league (see chart). Plus, the Spurs permitted assists on just 48 percent of opponent baskets -- only Phoenix did better.