Age May Be Catching Up With the Spurs
by Trevor Whenham - 11/06/2008
Considering the team only started 0-3, and is now 1-3, there sure is a lot of panic surrounding the San Antonio Spurs. By now you have probably heard that this was the first time that the team started 0-3 since before Tim Duncan was born - 1973, to be precise. It hardly means that the apocalypse is upon us, but the signs of mortality are strange for this team. They have won at least 65 percent of their games in each of the last 11 seasons, and they have four titles over that stretch. They may be the most boring, personality-challenged team in the league, but they are truly masterful at quietly winning a lot of games. That hasn't definitively changed this year, but cracks have been exposed. Is it time to stick a fork in the Spurs? Here's a look:
Age - Most of the guys on the Spurs' roster are about my age, so I hesitate to call them old. The fact is, though, that this is not a youthful collection of players. The average age of the roster is 29.6 years, and eight of the 15 players are older than the average. It's not just fringe players - Bowen, Duncan, Finley, Ginobli are all getting up there in age. That average is three years older than the Celtics and three and a half more than the Lakers. 29 isn't old in real terms, but in basketball it's ancient. This is a team that is inevitably going to lose a stride or two if it doesn't get younger.
Unlike some of the other major contenders in the league, though, this team has not had a major infusion of fresh, young talent in recent years. They added just one free agent this offseason - 28-year-old role player Roger Mason. Last year their lone addition was 28-year-old Matt Bonner, another depth guy. George Hill is an oddity for the Spurs as a rookie that they only drafted this year. He's a backup to Tony Parker, though - a guy who doesn't spend much time on the bench. What this all means is that the core of the team just keeps getting older and older, and it hasn't changed substantially. You can't expect them to improve in that situation.
Infirmities - The biggest single problem this team faces is the loss of Manu Ginobli. The guard is recovering from ankle surgery, and he'll be out for the first month or so of the season. It's not going too far to say that Ginobli has redefined the role of the sixth man in the league, and his absence is a gaping hole in the team. He's not the only injury problem that team has faced so far, either. Center Fabricio Oberto missed the first two games with an irregular heartbeat - a condition that could be a recurring problem for the team. When a squad has little turnover, the loss of players who have been consistently filling roles can really affect the rhythm of the team.
Schedule - It's only fair to point out that the team has lost against three pretty good teams so far - Phoenix, Portland and Dallas. It's not like they have been upset by the dregs of the league. In fact, they have played well enough that they could very easily have been 3-0 if the schedule maker had been kinder to them. On the other hand, Minnesota isn't exactly an elite team, yet it took two overtimes to get past them. The T-Wolves were the first of a stretch of six of their next seven games that come against a team that wasn't in the playoffs last year. If things still aren't going well at the end of that streak then there really is a problem. Until then, panic is probably premature.
Rebounding - If there is one statistical area in which the team has always been reliable it is rebounding margin. Gregg Popovich is fanatical about defense and rebounding, and as a result the team typically gets twice as many rebounds as it gives up. It's a real concern, then, that the team has been out rebounded by almost five boards per game so far this season. No one factor can explain that, and it could be a sign of bigger problems. If we are dwelling on statistics, then we have to point out that the team is being badly outshot in the three losses as well, and that, other than Parker, Duncan, and Mason, the core of the team is in a serious scoring slump.
ATS performance - From a betting perspective this slow start (0-4 ATS) could be a very good thing. The Spurs have been very reliable in the win column, but not nearly as good at covering the spread. The team was just 37-43-2 ATS last season, and they have done little more than break even since 2000. Their steady, defensive style has not made them a good team to trust your bankroll with over the long term. A slow start could turn the public off them and could perhaps soften their lines a bit and create some value. If you like this team and you like to bet on them, then hoping that this skid continues could be in your best interest.