|Do the Spurs have one more title run left in them? History says they don't.|
The 98 Spurs were 1st in defensive rating and 1st in defensive eFG%, relative to that season. That Spurs' team was pretty much a juggernaut defensively. Just to use one game for example, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, the Blazers were held to an astounding .247% shooting. This was in Portland. 25%? That is the way the old Spurs won basketball games and championships. Certainly they didn't hold every opponent to such a ridiculously low percentage, but it's just an example of how suffocating they could be on the defensive end. In large part because of a young and energetic Duncan, and an older but savvy ,David Robinson.
The 02 Spurs were 3rd in defensive rating, and 2nd in defensive eFG%, relative to that season. Once again, elite defensively. They were so great defensively, that even a team of Shaq and Kobe had no answer for them. This was the season that Bruce Bowen really became one of the best perimeter defenders the game has ever seen, and would be a large reason why they won championships without David Robinson.
I'll spare you an extra paragraph and will just say that in 2004, the Spurs were first in defensive rating, and first in defensive eFG%, relative to that season. In 2006, they were 2nd in defensive rating, and 2nd in defensive eFG%. Of course we remember how embarrassingly awful the Spurs made the Cavs look in that Finals. There was nothing LeBron James, or any other Cav player for that matter, could do against the Spurs. Some of that had to do with the Cavs not being really anything outside of LeBron, but most of it was that suffocating defense.
As you can see, those Spurs' teams won largely because of their defense. Of course, with timely execution offensively as well. We look at today's Spurs and they are nothing comparable to the Spurs of old. They are much more offensive-minded than defensive-minded as they sport the best offensive rating in basketball and the #1 offensive eFG% to go with it. Something you didn't think you would ever see from a Gregg Popovich coached team. Conversely, they sit 11th in defensive rating, and 16th in defensive eFG%. This is not a championship defense. I'm not really certain this defense is good enough to win the West; especially when you consider three of the current playoff teams in the West have a better defensive rating than them, and four of them have a better defensive eFG%. As we've seen throughout NBA history, average defensive teams do not win championships, and I'd be willing to bet that the Spurs do not make it out of the West despite the fact that the West doesn't look all that tough this year. It's not wise to assume that this team will just run through every team in the West and on to the Finals. This isn't the old Spurs. On the other hand, it's not wise for me to assume that this team can't improve defensively in the playoffs and make a title run. I'm going off my instincts and empirical evidence. You factor in age, an average defense, and better defensive teams than them in the West, it's hard to see the Spurs rolling through the West like many people seem to think. It's even harder to see them beating the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat even if they managed to make the Finals. Hold off on the crowning and anointing oil. The Spurs, just like last year, could be sent packing much earlier than most anticipate.