The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth NBA title in 15 years using a system called the “Spurs Way”. We break down what the “Spurs Way” means on the court and how young players can apply these concepts and actions to the club and high school teams they play for.
Much has been made of the “Spurs Way” and the system the franchise has used to win five NBA titles in the Tim Duncan era. It’s based on stability, trust and teamwork and below is how high school players can apply these basic on-court concepts to put themselves in the best possible position to play for a winning program and earn a college scholarship.
*Gregg Popovich has been the coach of the Spurs since the 1996-97 season and is the longest tenured coach in the NBA. It’s a good sign if the high school you attend or will attend has a coach that’s been around a long time. If the program has changed head coaches more than once in the last three or four years, you might want to find out the reason. Consistent coaching usually makes for a more enriched basketball experience than playing for two or three different coaches in high school.
*Popovich is not afraid to rip into Duncan or any of the team’s other star players. If you play for a coach that is afraid to correct the best player during a game or practice, you can bet the star player knows this. Some take advantage of this more than others, but it can cause the other players on the team to lose respect for the coach. A team with players that doesn’t respect its coach is more likely to stumble at some point than a team that knows coach dishes out instruction and discipline equally.
*If any player on the Spurs’ roster gets ripped by Popovich, from Duncan all the way down to Danny Green or anyone else, he doesn’t pout or sulk the rest of the game. Contrary, Pop often puts the player right back in the game and if the player doesn’t go back in, a lot of times you can find him cheering from the bench. Talented high school players, don’t be afraid to get coached and occasionally ripped, even if your previous coaches didn’t do it. It will make you a better player long-term and will prolong you from reaching your ceiling as a player. If you’re choosing high schools or looking to join a travel team, watch for the reaction of the better players on the team when they get pulled from the game. Do they pout and sulk at the end of the bench? Do the starters genuinely cheer for the bench players? Is the bench engaged in the game and pulling for whomever is out on the court the whole time? Watch for these subtle clues as to the type of basketball culture you’ll be entering.
*We talked about reaching your ceiling as a player and applying the Spurs Way will help you from reaching it by constantly refining your game. Duncan isn’t the same athletically as he was in 2007 (when the Spurs last won a title) and he doesn’t score as much, but that’s what makes him a special player. He isn’t selfish and doesn’t need the ball to revolve around him. What he does well is adapt to the role Pop needs him to play in order for the Spurs to be as successful as possible. On your high school or travel team, is the best player unselfish? Does he or she give the team what it needs in order to win or does he and she always want to be the top scorer or take the most shots? Being the best player means helping put the other players in position to succeed and if all possible that’s the type of high school or travel team you should want to join.
*Go look up how many more times the Spurs passed the ball in a half court setting than the Oklahoma City Thunder did in their West Conference Finals series. In the clinching Game 6 alone, the Spurs threw 288 passes in their half court sets, while the Thunder threw 137. Only five players scored for the Thunder in that game, and those players attempted 78 of the team’s 82 field goal attempts. For the Spurs, the 11 players who played in that game all shot at least once and all but one scored. You want to play for a coach that demands you share the ball and learn teamwork. There are a few dominant, individual-oriented players in the history of basketball like a Wilt Chamberlain or LeBron James. They are the exception rather than the rule. You’ll generally have more fun playing the game and get further along in your career if you play unselfishly and if others like playing with you. Your physical skills will peak one day, but your passing, instincts and ability to learn how to play a pass-first style will never leave you.
*Kawhi Leonard was the second youngest player to ever win NBA Finals MVP honors. What this means is the Spurs veteran players weren’t afraid to let a newcomer with talent shine to the benefit of the team. There was no jealousy and no pettiness. Leonard also is a player who the Spurs liked coming out of San Diego State because his drive and determination was greater than his ego. Not that it isn’t a positive in basketball to have a healthy ego, but the Spurs are made of players who often sacrifice personal gain (including salary) for the benefit of the team. You want to play for a team that genuinely likes each other, supports each other and harbors little jealousy when a newcomer can play a big role similar to Leonard. Did you see the way the rest of the Spurs embraced Leonard when it was announced he was Finals MVP? Is that you? Are you a talented ninth or tenth grader who will play a big role your first year on the team? Does your coach favor seniors? Do the upperclassmen expect to lead the team regardless of how good the newcomers are? These are things you need to think of and find out about in regards to the team you are joining.
There is no one right way to play basketball, but playing a team-oriented game and caring about your teammates and vice versa will help you achieve long-term individual and team success. It generally makes the game more fun, too, which it should be at the high school/travel ball level.