All is well in the basketball universe.
For a game whose top league is so often derided as one where the team-first mantra, good coaching, smart franchise management and strong organizational culture pale in importance compared to simply having the most stars, it was refreshing to see the San Antonio Spurs hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the NBA season.
In their methodical whooping of the Miami Heat, the Spurs reaffirmed a few things that are tantamount to the long-term wellbeing of the game — things youth and prep hoops players here locally would do well to take note of.
Team chemistry and culture still matter.
Good passing and execution of a game plan still matters.
Good coaching still matters.
Bench players still matter.
Young ballplayers should take note — and at least one local hoops expert agrees.
“You can’t even name half of the bench for the Spurs but those guys were vital pieces,” Gerrod Trytten, lead trainer and Operations Manager at Orlando Hoops in Oviedo, said.
Trytten has been mentoring players at O-Hoops, a training facility for basketball players of all ages and skill levels, for eight years and has been the lead assistant coach at Bishop Moore in Orlando for the past two years.
In observing San Antonio’s remarkable run through the playoffs — a run that gave star Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich their fifth championship in a run dating back to 1999 — Trytten said the foundation for the Spurs’ greatness goes beyond what you might see on the court in an NBA Finals contest. Rather, San Antonio can be found on the practice court running through and perfecting drills similar to what he and any other local coach might have their youth or prep team doing.
“Some of the things they practice were just two dribbles and pass,” Trytten said. “They actually got things running through their offense as far as the ball movement and that created opportunities for everybody.”
Soccer aficionados call their sport “the beautiful game,” but, at least when the Spurs are moving the ball around the perimeter as they run through their half court sets, basketball starts feeling like a beautiful game all its own.
Hopefully young players were listening when one analyst pointed out that, where the Heat were largely taking contested shot attempts, the Spurs were moving the ball around until a relatively easy or makeable shot presented itself.
That’s not to say San Antonio was all textbook offense, though.
Popovich blended old [pick and rolls for days] and new by trusting his players to get out on the break and giving them a green light to launch 3-pointers if they’re feeling in rhythm.
His adaptation to the changes of the game over the years, trends that include the relative cessation of mid-range shots in favor of dunks, lay-ups and 3-pointers, is something coaches old and new would do well to emulate.
The individual players serve as role models, too. From Tim Duncan, an unselfish superstar whose focus has always been winning, to Manu Ginobili — a star who would be “the guy” on plenty of other teams who accepts his role coming off the bench for the Spurs as their dynamic sixth man.
And then there’s the Kawhi Leonard. Leonard wasn’t even taken in the top 10 in the 2011 NBA Draft but, at the age of 22, he became the youngest Finals MVP ever.
Leonard embodies another principal hoop junkies would love to see more of — a defense-first approach that leads to explosion on the offensive end. Leonard was given the usually unenviable task of guarding LeBron James, the best player on the planet. The third-year player turn his success in slowing James on one end of the floor into success on the opposite end and overnight is now regarded as one of the league’s brightest stars.
Leonard doesn’t talk much and keeps an even-keel and is someone Trytten hopes his young players will emulate.
“I think he’s a huge role model and hopefully he can continue his route — not only on the court but [having] standout character, as well,” Trytten said.
Free agency in the NBA will begin on July 1. The days leading up until then, and the days to follow, will be full of speculation of which star will go where and a celebration of the value and power of individuals to the game — which is fine.
But while we’re all speculating where Carmelo Anthony will land and whether James will opt-in or out of his deal with Miami, we’d all do well not to lose sight of which team will be raising a banner when the 2014-2015 starts in the fall — because it matters.