Atlanta Hawks, The New Eastern Conference Spurs?


Jun 9, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (right) talks with point guard Tony Parker (9) during the third quarter of game two of the 2013 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It goes by different terms: “The Spurs model”, “The Spurs philosophy”, etc. Some would have you believe it doesn’t exist; that the Spurs have no different philosophy as the 29 others organization other than to achieve the pinnacle of competitive basketball by any means, the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy. There are a lot of misguided labels and misconceptions of this successful franchise. “Boring basketball?” Maybe if you consider a team that finished the 2012-13 season 4th in points per game and 6th in offensive efficiency boring. In addition, it’s hard to try to nail descriptions to an ever-changing organization in an ever-changing league that forces innovation to be able to compete.

Gregg Popovich, the legendary Spurs head coach, recently created a stir about his comments regarding domestic and international NBA players saying foreign players are “fundamentally more hardworking than most American kids”. Regardless of the actual merit of the statement, it goes a long way to explaining San Antonio’s international plan of attack. A quick glance at the current roster reveals that only 6 of the 15 players were born in the United States. Currents Spurs hail from all over the world, including France, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. That’s not necessarily to say to American players have not been a key focus over the years (see Kawhi Leonard, David Robinson, Bruce Bowen, etc.) or that international players have always been solid finds. Heck, it even depends whether you consider Tim Duncan to really be international (he was born and raised in the US Virgin Islands). But there is something to say for a group that shuns signing flashy, usually domestic, players looking to build the next superstar duo, trio or any other super group.

In that same piece, Popovich talks about the lack of entitlement most international players have when compared to their American counterparts. He describes them as coming to the NBA as humble and coachable as opposed to unappreciative and lacking some basic fundamentals. This mentality even trickles down to those permanently seated on the bench. Mike Budenholzer and Quin Snyder, who currently compose the Hawks coaching staff, have both even had experience coaching in the Euroleague.

Having a set of General Manager and coaching staff on the same page is another hallmark of the recent Spurs regime. Gregg Popovich was the General Manager before naming himself coach in 1996. For a period of 6 years, we was both General Manager and Head Coach. Talk about continuity between the two positions. He gave way to R.C. Buford in 2002. Both were former assistants on the same coaching staff back in 1988.

Admittedly, Mike Budenholzer is not as brash as Popovich is with the media. The already tight-lipped Hawks organization need not change that aspect to emulate those in black, silver and white. But the common fan doesn’t care about media protocol, just simply about fielding a championship level team. The Hawks may step on some toes along the way, as Popovich did in resting his main players in front of a national televised game. It drew the ire of Commissioner David Stern and carried a $250,000 fine. And yet, as of June 16, 2013, the Spurs are two wins away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the fifth time in under two decades.

Danny Ferry has a long connection with both Mike Budenholzer and Quin Snyder. Budenholzer was a long time Spurs assistant, during with Ferry both played for him and overlooked in as he sat in the front office. Ferry and Snyder were roommates for four years in the last 1980’s as members of Duke’s basketball team. There should not be any noticeable impasse in proper communication between these entities.

When Tim Duncan’s career is over, he will rank possibly among the ten greatest players in NBA/ABA history. The Hawks probably will not come across a player of his caliber in the following decade or beyond. For this reason, don’t expect an exact replica of the current Spurs’ offensive and defensive schemes to be implemented. However, you can attempt to model without the requirement of replication. Robby Kalland of Peachtree Hoops has already outlined some of the ways Al Horford can be used under a Spurs-like regime. But with the majority of the roster left to fill, the direction of those signings and drafting’s will go a long way to determining what the team will look like this upcoming season and beyond.

Jan 19, 2013; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker (9) goes up for a shot while Atlanta Hawks Jeff Teague (0) defends during the second half at Philips Arena. The Spurs defeated the Hawks 98-93. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Under the assumption Jeff Teague returns to the Hawks next season, what can we expect in his third season as starter and fifth in Atlanta? His sophomore starting season was met with mixed reviews including his sometimes lackadaisical pick and roll defense. Teague had to take on a larger role with the departure of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. One can only hope he picks up a tape of Tony Parker in the offseason. Parker’s paint penetration has sliced apart the Heat defense and others for the last few years. Teague and others will also try to expound on the motion offense that Larry Drew began to install in his 3 year tenure. The Spurs finished the 2012-13 season first in assists per game, helping motivate the selflessness stigma of the players that come through the city of the Alamo.

Expanded use of all resources will be on the table. Beyond international scouting and development, there will be more emphasis on the domestic development NBA D-League. The Spurs currently have ties to the Austin Toros, in which players like Cory Joseph have been groomed for a future role in the San Antonio rotation. The Toros even won the D-League championship in the 2011-12 season, in a mild upset over the Laker’s affiliated team, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. While the Hawks are a ways away from a one-to-one affilitiation with a D-League team, the recent success of many D-League alumni in the Association as well as the CBA granting more use for teams, for example rookies can be optioned three through their third season, it will certainly be a noticeable aspect going forward.

Another word often associated with the Spurs has been flexibility: of the players to play different positions with ease and of the coaching and management to react and respond to change, whether at halftime of an NBA Finals game or with the introduction of a new NBA bylaw. The Spurs have typically had shooting guards that can handle the ball and run an offense, speedy and penetrating point guards with wide court vision, and forwards that can stretch the defense as well as bang down low to complement the rock solid Tim Duncan over the years.

In the end, all franchises are judged on results, not the process. No one is here to argue against a .700 winning percentage during Popovich’s reign or 4 championships. The Hawks certainly want just a piece of that success. But an organization must have a clear plan of attack before all the details fall in place. Why not model after such an incredibly pace-setting regime.

There exists a basic doctrine regarding the movement of teams in this league; that this league is a copycat league. It’s a creed as basic as a Tim Duncan bank shot.

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