Under The Bleachers: Greatness In The Shadows Of Excellence

Above: San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard
Above: San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard

Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors lost just their third game of the season, falling by two on the road against Denver, taking the court minus their Swiss Army knife, Draymond Green. Despite the setback, they’re still on pace to challenge Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10 en route to an NBA title.

With the Warriors winning at an historic clip – and the usual group of superstars getting their usual amount of pub – a group of perennial contenders from deep in the heart of Texas are in the midst of a standout campaign of their own and failing to receive the attention they deserve.

The San Antonio Spurs are 35-6, including a perfect 23-0 mark on their home court. For years, Gregg Popovich’s squad revolved around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, but this season, the Spurs have morphed into Kawhi Leonard’s team, with free agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge riding shotgun and “The Big 3” playing supporting roles.

Leonard is the best player in the league that casual NBA fans don’t know much about and he’s been trending in that direction since winning Finals MVP a couple years ago. The San Diego State University product is the premier perimeter defender in the league and averages 20 and 7 with a couple of steals per while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 48 percent from deep. He’s not in any national commercials, but he’s going to be in the All-Star Game in Toronto this season and deserves serious MVP consideration this year.

Aldridge is perfect as Duncan Version 2.0 in this offense – the guy that hits those 15-18 face-up jumpers on the regular while pulling down close to 10 boards a game and being a consistent second option behind Leonard. As great as his partnership with Damian Lillard in Portland looked on paper and worked at times, the first-year Spur is better suited to playing on a squad like this, where a different player could lead the club in scoring every night for seven or eight games without anyone batting an eye, while everyone still gets plenty of looks.

It’s not just a system thing either; it’s about buy-in and everyone accepting their roles.

Starting two guard Danny Green has been mired in a shooting slump all season, but it hasn’t affected his play on the defensive end. At the same time, his struggles have allowed unheralded rookie Jonathan Simmons to gain some value playing time and the trust of Coach Pop. Duncan is averaging a career-low 9.2 points while taking just seven shots per game. David West passed up more money to be a 16-minutes-a-night guy in his 12th NBA season, the desire to contribute to a potential championship team trumping everything else during the offseason.

When you add in that Parker and Ginobli are having “turn back the clock” type seasons, you have a team that would be the best in the league and title favourites in just about any other season that are somehow flying a little bit under the radar, which is why you need to circle Monday, January 25 on your calendar. That’s the night San Antonio travels to The Bay to face the Dubs at Roaracle. Both teams have a couple days off before squaring off, so each should be at full strength and every basketball fan that can find a television better be watching because it should be special.

Or, knowing Pop, he’ll rest Parker and Duncan, give Boban Marjanovic big minutes and not care one ounce about beating the champs in the regular season because, well, that’s how Pop does it and that’s why this team has been so consistently successful throughout his tenure.

Golden State is a tremendous story, but don’t forget about the Spurs.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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