HOW THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS WERE BUILT
I can be stubborn but I’m not stupid.
I thought the San Antonio Spurs were too old to win this season’s NBA championship.
Now I believe they’re going to spoil Miami’s bid to three-peat.
The Spurs have to be the consistently best pro sports team of the modern era (I’m excluding the mighty New York Yankees, who had one losing season from 1919 through 1964).
San Antonio has won “only” four NBA titles, but they’re always in contention. They were 21-61 in the 1988-89 season and immediately cashed in by drafting David Robinson.
San Antonio has had one losing season since – and that might have been the most fortuitous losing season in NBA history.
After posting a 59-23 record in the 1995-96 season, the Spurs plunged to 20-62 in the 1996-97 season. Robinson missed the start of the season with a back problem, returned in December, and played in six games before suffering a broken foot and missing the rest of the season. Coach Bob Hill was fired after 18 games (3-15 record) and replaced by Gregg Popovich (17-47 the rest of the season). San Antonio had the NBA’s third-worst in the NBA and qualified for the lottery draft.
The Spurs won the 1997 draft lottery and selected Tim Duncan, who formed the “Twin Towers” with Robinson. San Antonio hasn’t had a losing season since. Duncan has been the biggest reason, but not the only reason.
San Antonio has done a masterful job collecting talent in the last 17 years. The Spurs go outside the box in building their roster. They seldom have prime spots in the draft but have frequently struck gold with relatively unknown picks late in the first round and even in the second round. They also have a habit of recycling players from other teams that buy into San Antonio’s system.
Here’s how the current Spurs were built:
Duncan – No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft.
Manu Ginobili – No. 57 pick in the 1999 NBA draft out of Argentina. Joined the Spurs in 2002.
Tony Parker – No. 28 pick in the 2001 NBA draft out of France.
Kawhi Leonard – No. 15 pick in the 2011 NBA draft by Indiana. Traded shortly thereafter to San Antonio as part of a package for guard George Hill.
Danny Green – No. 46 pick in the 2009 NBA draft by Cleveland. Waived by the Spurs Nov. 17, 2010. Signed by San Antonio soon thereafter.
Boris Diaw – No. 21 pick in the 2003 NBA draft out of France by Atlanta. Played for the Hawks, Phoenix, Charlotte. Waived by Charlotte March 21, 2012. Signed by San Antonio two days later.
Marco Belinelli – No. 18 pick in the 2007 NBA draft out of Italy by Golden State. Has played for the Warriors, New Orleans and Toronto. Signed as a free agent by San Antonio July 11, 2013.
Tiago Splitter – No. 28 overall pick by San Antonio out of Brazil. Signed with the Spurs July 12, 2010.
Patty Mills – No. 55 pick in the 2009 NBA draft out of Australia by Portland. Has played for the Trail Blazers, Idaho Stampede (NBA D-League), Melbourne Tigers and for a team in China. Signed by San Antonio March 27, 2012.
Matt Bonner – No. 45 pick in the 2003 NBA draft by Chicago. Played for the Bulls and Toronto before being traded to San Antonio June 21, 2006. He’s out of the rotation now but was a useful sub for a long time.
And don’t write off San Antonio’s latest find – Aron Baynes from Australia. He’s a 6-10, 260-pound banger and you know Popovich is going to maximize his limited but effective talents in the future.
SCOUTING REPORT ON THE CALGARY ROUGHNECKS
The 2014 Rochester Knighthawks will attempt to win their third straight National Lacrosse League championship in the next two Saturday nights. The two-game series will start this week at the Calgary Roughnecks and shift to Rochester on May 31. If the teams split the two games, there would be a 10-minute “mini-game” immediately following to determine the champion.
Here’s how the teams measure up (regular season stats):
Records – Rochester 14-4 (8-1 home; 6-3 road)…Calgary 12-6 (6-3 home; 6-3 road)
Most goals scored – Calgary 237 (1st in the 9-team NLL)…Rochester 210 (4th)
Fewest goals allowed – Rochester 169 (2nd-fewest)…Calgary 215 (5th-fewest)
Goal differential – Rochester +43 (2nd to Edmonton’s +63)…Calgary +22 (3rd)
Power play – Calgary 41-for-74 (55.4 percent)…Rochester 26-for-54 (48.1 percent)
Penalty killing – Calgary 64-for-96 (66.7 percent)…Rochester 39-for-73 (53.4 percent)
Faceoffs won – Calgary 328-for-522 (Geoff Snider is the best in the business)…Rochester 213-for-447 (Dylan Evans has been an upgrade over recent past seasons)
Shots/shots on goal – Calgary 1192/872…Rochester 1112/806
Turnovers – Rochester 503…Calgary 527
Loose balls recovered – Rochester 1165…Calgary 1084.
Key players for Calgary include former Knighthawks star Shawn Evans (26 goals and NLL-most 79 assists for 105 points) was second to Rochester’s Cody Jamieson (36 goals and 72 assists for 108 points) in the NLL individual scoring race. Evans also leads all playoff scorers with 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points; Dane Dobbie led the NLL with 51 goals: Jeff Shattler, the NLL’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, had 35 goals and 49 assists for 84 point; Curtis Dickson had 44 goals…Geoff Snider led the NLL in runner loose balls and faceoffs won; Mike Poulin was a solid goaltender this season.
Calgary was the NLL’s best offensive team this season. Rochester has better balance and paid more attention to defense. Calgary had the better power play this season, partly because it had significantly more opportunities (74 to 54)…Matt Vinc has been the NLL’s best goaltender for several years.
In their only meeting this regular season, Calgary won, 11-10, at home Feb. 22. The Knighthawks led 5-1 after the first period and the Roughnecks outscored Rochester 5-1 in the fourth quarter.
RED WINGS HAD A FOUR-PEAT A LONG TIME AGO
In Monday’s column, I mentioned that my research revealed that no Rochester pro sports team ever has won three straight league championships. The two-time defending National Lacrosse League champion Rochester Knighthawks hope to three-peat next Saturday night at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial against the Calgary Roughnecks.
Rochester sports historian Doug Brei has corrected me. While no Rochester pro sports team ever has won three straight playoff championships, one Rochester pro baseball team won three straight championships and another had four straight championships:
Rochester Broncos, managed by John Ganzel, won Eastern League pennants in 1909, 1910 and 1911. There were no playoffs. The team with the best record in the regular season was the champion.
The Rochester Red Wings won International League pennants in 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931, under manager Billy Southworth. Those were the first four years of Rochester’s affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals sold the Syracuse Stars franchise and bought the Rochester franchise after the 1927 IL season. St. Louis owned the soon-to-be named Red Wings and built the stadium at 500 Norton St. for the 1929 season. The IL’s Governors’ Cup playoffs began in 1933.
THE DISRESPECT IS MOUNTING FOR THE 2014 BUFFALO BILLS
Most of us think the Buffalo Bills are on the cusp of becoming a genuine playoff contender, but the team took two more shots to the chin this week from national skeptics. Are some of us overrating the Bills or is the majority of the rest of the NFL underestimating them?
This week’s low blows came from the LVH (Las Vegas Hilton) projected win totals for 2014 and sportsillustrated.com’s Post-Draft Power Rakings.
LVH wins (over/under) – Denver 11, Seattle 11, New Enhland 10.5, San Francisco 10.5, Green Bay 10, New Orleans 9.5, Indianapolis 9.5, Cincinnati 9, Philadelphia 9, Baltimore 8.5, Pittsburgh 8.5, Detroit, 8, Chicago 8, Atlanta 8, Caroli9na 8, Kansas City 8, San Diego 8, Dallas 8, Miami 8, Houston 7.5, New York Giants 7.5, Arizona 7.5, St. Louis 7.5, Washington 7.5. Tennessee 7, Tampa Bay 7, New York Jets 7, Cleveland 6.5, Buffalo 6.5, Minnesota 6, Oakland 5, Jacksonville 4.5.
Sportsillustrated.com – 1-Seattle, 2-Denver, 3-San Francisco, 4-Green Bay, 5-New England, 6-New Orleans, 7-Arizona, 8-Philadelphia, 9-Cincinnati, 10-Chicago, 11-Baltimore, 12-Indianapolis, 13-Pittsburgh, 14-Carolina, 15-San Diego, 16-New York Jets, 17-Kansas City, 18-Detroit, 19-New York Giants, 20-St. Louis, 21-Atlanta, 22-Miami, 23-Dallaws, 24-Minnesota, 25-Tampa Bay, 26-Tennessee, 27-Cleveland, 28-Jacksonville, 29-Buffalo (“The trade for Sammy Watkins gives off the impression that the Bills view themselves as far closer to contention than most outside of Buffalo do. Keep in mind that this is still an extremely youthful team and that many key positions – QB Manuel and defensive leader Kiko Alonso were 2013 draft picks – were filled in the past three years. Can the pieces click quickly enough to make this season interesting?”), 30-Washington, 31-Oakland, 32-Houston.
McCOY NOT THE NFL’S BEST RUNNING BACK…BUT HE’S CLOSE
Philadelphia Eagle star LeSean McCoy caused a stir this week by saying he believes he is the best running back in the NFL – even better than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. McCoy pointed out that he led the league with 1,607 yards rushing.
Peterson reacted in classy fashion. He said there is “nothing wrong with having confidence in yourself. He added that he didn’t think McCoy was being serious.
I believe that a vast majority of NFL fans believe Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. He wins the eye test over McCoy, who plays for the better team, with a far more explosive offense.
But the numbers suggest that McCoy might be underrated and that he isn’t far berthing Peterson. He’s also 25 years old. Peterson is 29 years old. McCoy likely has more tread on his tires.
Here are the performance lines for Peterson and McCoy in the past three seasons:
Peterson – 42 games played; 825 carries for 4,333 yards (5.25 yards per carry); 34 rushing TDs; 87 catches for 527 yards and 3 TDs.
McCoy – 43 games played; 787 carries for 3,756 yards (4.77 yards per carry); 28 rushing TDs; 154 catches for 1,227 yards and 8 TDs.
Yards from scrimmage: Peterson 4,333 yards rushing + 527 yards receiving for 4,860 total yards…McCoy 3,756 yards rushing + 1,227 yard receiving for 4,983 total yards.
Yards per touch: Peterson 5.358…McCoy 5.295.
AL EAST NO LONGER MLB’S BEST DIVISION
The American League East, long the deepest division in Major League Baseball, hasn’t been the best in the first quarter of the 2014 season.
The five teams – Toronto, New York Yankees, Baltimore, Boston and Tampa Bay – entered Friday night a cumulative 7 games under .500 (113-120), including 49-64 (-15) at home. They’ve been outscored by 43 runs. Only Toronto has a plus run differential (+17; 235-218).
Here’s how the five AL East teams measure up (ranking in the 15-team American League in parentheses):
Runs – Toronto 235 (3)…Yankees 195 (8)…Baltimore 191 (9)…Boston 185 (13)…Tampa Bay 186 (12)
Run differential – Toronto +17…Baltimore -3…Yankees -12…Boston -22…Tampa Bay -23
Home runs – Toronto 67 (1)…Yankees 44 (t6)…Baltimore 43 (t8)…Boston 37 (t10)…Tampa Bay 36 (12)
Earned-run average – Boston 3.95 (6)…Yankees 4.01 (7)…Tampa Bay 4.04 (8)…Baltimore 4.07 (9)…Toronto 4.31 (11)
Opposing batting average – Tampa Bay .248 (6)…Yankees .2357 (8)…Toronto .262 (10)…Boston .268 (12)…Baltimore .268 (13)
Fewest errors – Baltimore 21 (1)…Tampa Bay 25…Toronto 25…Yankees 25…Boston 30.
Each team has been hit with significant injuries, particularly Tampa Bay’s starting rotation…Toronto clearly is the most powerful hitting team in the division but also has the worst pitching…The Yankees are the oldest team and most likely to be hurt by further injuries…Boston clearly misses Jacoby Ellsbury, who has yet to find his best stride with the Yankees…Baltimore has the best chance to break away from the pack if the starting pitching comes around.
ROOTING FOR CHRIS COLABELLO
Chris Colabello of the Minnesota Twins tore up the American League for the first four weeks of this season. The league has torn him up since.
Colabello, 30, was the 2013 International League MVP and Rookie of the Year for the Rochester Red Wings. He hit .352 (119-for-338), with 58 runs, 25 doubles, 24 HRs and 76 RBI – in only 89 games.
Colabello passed up a $1 million offer this spring to play in South Korea. He turned it down because he wanted to live his dream of earning a full-time playing role in Major League Baseball.
Chris earned a spot on the Twins with a productive spring training and got off to an amazing start. He had two hits April 23 to boost his batting average to .346. He ended April with a .337 average (28-for-95), with 3 HRs and 27 RBI.
It has been mostly downhill since. In the month of May, he is batting .127 (7-for-55), with 1 HR, 3 RBI and 23 strikeouts. Entering Friday night, he had not played in four of the last five games.
Colabello already has earned around $170,000 this season, by far the best paydays of his career. He finally is cashing in. But one has to wonder how much longer he’ll be with the Twins. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping he stays in Minnesota for the entire season and collects his full $505,000 two-way contract. He’s earned it for all of his years of frustration. But if he gets assigned to Rochester, the Red Wings will find a spot for him.