Tonight, the Magic take on the Spurs who are very much the forerunners and the model of what the Magic are trying to do in the post-Dwight Howard reality. These two teams right now are on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as championship expectations. The Magic though showed Sunday that you have to play the games and anything can happen. Orlando will certainly feel like it can get the win tonight at Amway Center.
With that in mind, we reached out to our good friends at Project Spurs and exchanged some questions previewing tonight's game. In this preview, I ask Jose Grijalva of Project Spurs about how San Antonio has been able to sustain things, Tim Duncan's Renaissance and which Magic player fits the Spurs culture most.
You can read my answers to Project Spurs' questions over at Project Spurs.
Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily: Tim Duncan has seemingly found the fountain of youth in the early part of this season and is playing some of his best basketball in years. What is he doing differently or what are the Spurs doing differently to feature Duncan? Is he in for a Renaissance this season?
Jose Grijalva, Project Spurs: Duncan's diet and offseason workouts have been a blessing for the Spurs. He has begun these past two seasons slimmer, with more tone this year, and it has helped put less stress on his knees. It has also looked like he can get off the floor easier and Spurs fans haven't seen Tim limp around much after a game like we saw him around three years ago.
The team has also run fewer plays in the post for him and focusing more on a guard-oriented offense that focuses on Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan's been more of a spot up shooter these past two years, which has helped save his legs for defense.
OMD: Watching Danny Green and Gary Neal (and even Manu Ginobili) play and succeed in San Antonio really shows the value of drafting in this league. It is something the Magic are trying to build on with the Andrew Nicholson pick and Maurice Harkless acquisition.
Why has San Antonio's drafting been so successful? What qualities do the Spurs look for when they are drafting and how does it translate so successfully (and continually) onto the court for this winning team?
PS: I'd say there are some factors that helped the Spurs' drafting. One of them was time. When the Spurs drafted Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they had a decent team around Duncan to let Parker mature and have Manu stashed away for a couple of years so he can build his game up. With money issues and team owners tending to want short-term fixes right away, players are brought to the league raw and have to get accustomed to a new style of play while still maturing in their own game. Some of the Spurs' picks have been well known by players on the team (ex. Fabricio Oberto, Luis Scola) so they knew more or less what kind of player and person they were getting.
When our picks come into the league, they've had really no pressure to perform extremely well like other draft picks because of the Spurs' nucleus. Another factor has been they've drafted with a combination of needs to the team and best available player. The Spurs' most recent draft pick to have a big role on the team is Kawhi Leonard. He has given the team defense and rebounding for his position, something they've desperately needed.
OMD: After losing in six games in last year's Western Conference Finals, what has San Antonio done to get to that next level and back to the Finals (recognizing fully that it is far too early in the season to talk about standings or Playoffs)?
PS: There hasn't been much change in the offense or defense. There has been some flashes from players that are evolving their game, like Tiago Splitter recently. The only thing different on the court is the perimeter defense is a lot better than last year. Our wing players are playing closer to contest and having the footwork to stay with their man instead of burdening the big to help out every time. This is also the first training camp that Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, and Patty Mills have had with this team. There's more chemistry building up than last year.
OMD: Which player on the Magic would best fit in with the Spurs culture?
PS: I'd say J.J. Redick would fit with the Spurs. Pop has always loved the versatile players who can do multiple things on the court. With Redick improving his passing, he's getting somewhat close to Manu's style of play. Add also that Redick doesn't mind starting or getting moved to the bench, so his ego isn't a problem.
OMD: What chances are you giving the Magic in this one? Are the Spurs ripe for an upset?
PS: After a double overtime win over the Raptors and handing a blowout to the Wizards, it might be time for a let down and for jet lag to kick in with the travel they've had. The only two small forwards the Spurs have are still hurt and that has burdened some players with more minutes they've had to play and also play out of position against taller and more physical guys. I'd say there's a chance. I'm still looking for a San Antonio win, but the Magic could make it interesting if they decide to go small and try to make the S.A. bigs use up energy in their already tired legs.
Many thanks to Jose and the guys over at Project Spurs for answering some of my questions. Be sure to check out all their great work at Project Spurs!