On luck and super teams

The idea of a super team is a curious phenomenon within basketball circles. If you’re a fan of said superteam, then all of their strengths will take them to glory. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of any other of the 29 teams, then their weaknesses will eventually doom them. Being a fan of the San Antonio Spurs, I’ve heard many variations of the same defence of their current super team. The general idea goes that because the Spurs lack the egos that prevailed in super teams such as the Dwight Howard era Lakers, then the team would benefit from the individual sacrifices made. While that romantic idea of playing basketball “the right way” may sound like an obvious advantage, the truth is that much of it depends on an emotionless, uncontrollable entity: luck. No plan is perfect in the NBA because even if you reveal a perfectly planned superteam, then your opponents can use your obvious plan against you. Sometimes, it takes tinkering and luck to find the perfect fit, and sometimes from unexpected places. As a fan of the Spurs, it will not be their humility that will give me hope, but their ability to adapt. After all, even the best laid plans need a sprinkle of luck.

The biggest problem with one perfect, all-powerful plan is its transparency. If you build your team with a gameplan in mind, then you will have 29 teams trying to peck away at that one explicit gameplan. For example, you can believe that a key benefit of Aldridge over Splitter is his ability to be the release valve on drives with shots from distance. However, with that knowledge widely known, where can you expect other smart defences to put up their longs arms on each drive? Directly in front of wherever Lamarcus is. Take the previous Finals for example. Everyone knew that if you trap Curry, you’re getting a Draymond Green led 4 on 3. The plan is that you surround an excellent passer with shooters on either side. Everyone and their mothers knew this plan, and the Cavs, for games 2 and 3 at least, played Draymond like a fiddle by staying home on the shooters making this amazing passer shoot. Bogut had to be taken off for more offensive firepower as a result, the first time all season that had to happen. The same thing, that other teams make adjustments, can happen to any team with a super plan.

Super teams win with the lucky discoveries that lead to them discovering versatility. Without injuries to Bogut and Lee, the Warriors may have never discovered the world-destroying ability of putting the 6 foot 7 Green at the centre position. This adjustment, which many may have not thought of when the season started, ended up saving their season. Another example is the recent Heat super team that stumbled head first into discovering their identity. Why did it take them so long to gel? Egos? No, it was the inability to discover how to best utilize probably three of the most athletic players in the entire association. Their solution, which came with much tinkering, morphed into the terrifying, high-flying, trapping and recovering machine that came to define their short run. While Bosh’s lateral quickness may have not been the most obvious advantage to having the big three, it became instrumental for their chase down defensive scheme that won them two titles. It is the adjustments that come from random tinkering and luck that helps superteams win championships.

With that being said, this year, it is the Spur’s ability to adjust that will give me faith for an extended playoff run. It won’t be those unicorn photos of Kawhi smiling with Aldridge or the steely David West standing up for his teammates against nasty opponents. Despite the allure of a well-oiled and drama free collective, their road to victory will be more nuanced. With Lamarcus as a potential hub, can they get past the biggest hurdle from last year: a lack of chaos inducing dribble penetration. If Duncan shows signs of wear against the big centres thrown his way, can their roster of power forwards find ways to help him? With Kawhi’s budding pullup game, Parker getting pushed away from the basket, and Aldridge in the fold, can you get past potentially starting three players looking for separation for mid-range shots? I don’t care if the Spurs stumble butt first into solutions, but these technical questions, and many others, will define the success of this admittedly highly versatile lineup.

As the saying goes, no team ever won the championship in July. Everyone needs a little help along the way. Teams need to accept the fact that plan A most likely will not go unopposed. Lucky discoveries can go along way in forging a team’s identity. For the Spurs, it will all about be about their ability to adjust that helps them to the title. For a sport that sometimes can come down to miracle shots with 0.4 seconds remaining, it’s amazing how many people believe in fate.


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