The saying goes, “Help me help you.”
The San Antonio Spurs take it one step further.
The defending NBA champions are led by a trio of veterans who have clocked over 118,000 minutes between their regular season and playoff games. In order for the Spurs to continue their success, they need their younger players to shoulder some of the weight absorbed by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
These vets pour into their teammates, offering advice, leading by example and setting the tone every game and practice of the season. By helping the younger Spurs become better, it helps them and the entire team.
“I think they’re playing great, they’re improving every year,” said Parker. “We knew that as the ‘Big Three’ is getting older, we’re going to have to do it as a team and that’s what we’re doing. We played great together last year, winning a championship and (are) try(ing) to do it again this year.”
At some point the faces of the Spurs will change. It’s not a matter of if, but an inevitable when. Duncan will turn 39 in April and is playing nearly 30 minutes a night in his 18th season. Ginobili is 37 and Parker is 32. Both guards have seen a lot action internationally along with playing in the NBA. They have been chasing titles together since Ginobili joined the team in 2002, capturing four along the way.
The Spurs (13-4) began adding the pieces for their future in 2011 when they traded for Kahwi Leonard and selected Cory Joseph on draft night. The foundation for the next chapter was laid without having to clean house.
“It’s not a challenge if you have people that have character and people that you don’t have to motivate,” said head coach Gregg Popovich, who pointed to Leonard’s self-enforced drive. “If you have those kind of people, it’s obviously much more enjoyable and it’s a way a program keeps consistency and continues to have people in there that do things on their own. You have enough to do without trying to convince somebody he should work hard or he should focus more. We don’t have those kinds of discussions.”
Over the years, the Spurs have added younger players to their rosters. Some are rookies, some have overseas experience, others are a few years into their careers and eager to be on a contender. More importantly, they want to help their veteran teammates, who have offered so much of themselves, win another title.
“We’ve got to help them,” said Danny Green. “We do our job and make their job easier. My job is to help Tony make shots, help him play defense, guard the point guard for him sometimes to give him a rest. When they don’t play, (we) hold our end of the deal by winning games … or sustain a lead or get a lead back when they’re not on the floor, give them a rest, give them some time off a little bit.”
For some, it starts with overcoming being star struck. Duncan made his NBA debut in 1997. Ginobili was drafted in 1999. Newcomers aren’t just playing with their new teammates; they are playing with childhood icons whose careers have spanned decades.
Green, 27, signed with the Spurs in 2010 following his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He struggled to settle in the early stages of his career, especially going from a team with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal to another roster stacked with future Hall of Famers. He only lasted a few games that season, before impressing in the D-League and earning a spot on the team the following season that he has yet to relinquish. Being cut seemed like a distant memory when Green set the NBA Finals record for most made three-pointers in 2013.
“My first couple years (on the Spurs) I was very nervous and it took me a while to get comfortable,” Green told Basketball Insiders. “I just remember walking on eggshells, being scared of what to do or where to go … These are guys I watched playing growing up. It’s a culture shock and it’s a celebrity-type shock. It’s just a shocking thing all around.
“Then you become teammates with them, share a locker room and it’s different. They don’t treat you like you’re an alien; they treat you like you’re one of them. You come in, they teach you things, they treat you like you’re part of the team already. It makes it easy.”
Rookie Kyle Anderson experienced the same first impressions this summer when the Spurs drafted him out of UCLA. He was born in 1993, Duncan’s freshman year at Wake Forest University. Anderson moved to San Antonio in August and had a month to “really be in awe of everybody” before the start of training camp. Once the preseason began, the veterans knocked down any barriers a first-year player could have thought existed between them.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Anderson, 21, said. “One thing that I do give these guys credit for is answering all my questions. I ask them a lot of different questions and they answer them, they never blow me off. I ask them in games, practices, on the elevators, going to the hotel, leaving the hotel … There’s nothing I really could complain about.”
The Spurs have built their success around letting their play do the talking. As such, some of the most valuable lessons are taught on the court. For all the stories the veterans can share, tales of championship triumph they have in their memory banks, the loudest messages are sent through their performances.
Aron Baynes signed with the Spurs early in the 2012-13 season following an international career after going undrafted out of Washington State. He now has the role of backing up Duncan, from whom he has been trying to soak up as much as possible. The big man also credits Parker and Ginobili for his improvements on the pick-and-roll by helping him during game action.
“You’ve seen they’ve had that success and you want to emulate what they’ve done,” said Baynes, 27, who is averaging 11.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in the last five games. “Their message is they go out and do, that’s the biggest part of it. They don’t just tell you what to do. You can see them; they’re the ones leading from the front. … Everything they say is pretty much spot on. Sometimes they’ll say it heated, sometimes they don’t, but you’ve just got to listen to the message of it.”
There are high expectations when playing for a defending champion and annual contender. The younger players are motivated by watching their veteran leaders continually push themselves to meet those standards.
Austin Daye, 26, had been a member of three teams in five seasons before being traded by Toronto Raptors to the Spurs in February. He said he remembers playing on squads that were satisfied with winning just one game on an entire road trip. The Spurs strive for much more. Seeing the veterans held accountable just like the rest of the team makes him appreciate their efforts.
“I can tell a difference in the mindset of a lot of players and the coaching staff. It makes you want to be better for your team in all aspects,” Daye said. “(I’ve learned the most from) the moments when Pop can get on anybody and talk to anybody and really just demand the best out of all of us, even those guys. It goes all the way down the line from them to us.”
Words like “approach” and “routine” were mentioned throughout the Spurs’ locker room when discussing the trio’s dedication. Success comes from focus and commitment, and winning is expected.
One player who thrived early on among this disciplined veteran core is Leonard. He captured 2014 NBA Finals MVP honors at only 22 years old and is already learning lessons that will help the longevity of his career.
“(We see) a good example about their play on the floor and how they approach the game,” said Leonard. “That’s what we look at and we try to match their approach and how hard they work. … They’re able to adjust to their bodies. (They are) getting older and they adjust their game very easily. You could just see that on the court.”
Staying prepared is on the veterans’ to-do list seven days a week. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili don’t have a switch they turn on and off, as Joseph learned his rookie year in 2011.
In addition to crediting Parker with teaching him how to run the team and be an extension of Popovich on the court, the backup point guard also watched how the veterans spend their time when they are not playing. First came ditching the fast food Joseph had enjoyed straight out of college. Then came lifestyle changes, such as sleeping routines and game day habits.
“It’s been great, actually,” said Joseph, 23. “My progress over the years, I feel like they definitely sped it up in a bunch of ways — becoming a better professional, taking care of my body, helping me manage my time better. They helped me learn how to become a man in this league.
“If you extend a hand, they’re always willing to help. They’ve always helped me, genuine help. That’s the biggest thing. A lot of guys can say yeah, but be half-invested into you. They’re fully committed.”
Year after year, the question arises as to when the Spurs run will end. When will time catch up with these veterans? When will this unbreakable trio be split apart by retirement?
On the team with Duncan, Ginobili and Parker is a group of young players who are focused on giving their leaders the best chance to win another championship for as long as they continue playing together. They are making those contributions thanks to the generosity of experience and positive examples set by the trio.
“I just try to help, give them advice,” said Parker. “We always try to cheer them. They’re going to have ups and downs, but so far they’ve been playing well. They’re very positive and it’s a great group. I’m very lucky as a point guard. There are so many great guys on the team and we like spending time with each other on and off the court.”
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.