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Are the Spurs Light-Years Ahead?

Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe discuss their concerns about San Antonio’s playoff future and marvel at Kawhi Leonard’s defensive prowess

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Tuesday’s episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Bill spoke with ESPN’s Zach Lowe about the San Antonio Spurs and concerns regarding their path to the title. Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Bill Simmons: San Antonio. This is gonna hurt. This is gonna hurt your feelings that I’m asking you this. … And I am well aware of the offensive ratings, the per-100, all the advanced-metric stuff. I get it; I’ve seen all the stats. Is this a little more smoke-and-mirrors than we want to admit?

Zach Lowe: It doesn’t hurt my feelings, because I’ve said all year [that] I just don’t think this team is as good as the metrics. They don’t scare me as a team. And I’ve had many conversations with execs from a lot of other teams. … I increasingly just feel like an idiot, because I keep thinking this and watching them and thinking there’s something about them that doesn’t frighten me as a playoff opponent, [but] they keep winning. They keep winning by a lot.

The last time I saw them in person was in Detroit against a team that’s just dying to make the playoffs. All the Pistons want to do is get in the playoffs. I believe Manu [Ginobili] didn’t play that game, and [they] sat a couple [others] … they sit people every game. You never see the full Spurs. … It was like the Spurs were just from a different league, like there was a different league of better teams and they sent one of their teams over to the NBA to play an exhibition against like a random, average NBA team, and it was like they completely outclassed the Pistons, just like different class of team.

They’re so freaking good and they leave me a little bit — maybe it’s like we’re gonna get to the playoffs and like I’m not sure David Lee is gonna be able to guard in the playoffs, I’m not sure Dewayne Dedmon’s gonna be able to be on the floor as much in the playoffs. … It’s not fair to say he doesn’t do anything offensively, because he’s like a mini DJ–Tyson Chandler prototype who does that offensively and that’s very valuable; I just think they have guys that I don’t trust as much when they’re playing an elite team. … That team can scout and exploit and tinker with stuff, but that said, like who’s gonna beat them in the West? You know, even if they don’t have another gear, even if all those things that I said turn out to be true, who’s beating them? …

The Warriors? The Warriors, if they’re healthy, yes. … Even if the B-plus Spurs or the A-minus Spurs are all the Spurs are, that’s better than everyone.

Simmons: I love Houston, so we’re gonna talk about them after this, and I think Houston can beat them. But the thing that would worry me … is that other than Kawhi, who’s been out of his mind this year … I think he’s the best defender, I think he’s the best perimeter defender I’ve ever seen in my life.

I was thinking about it. I was talking with Hirshey, my buddy, and … I always thought Pippen, mid-’90s Pippen, was at this level that I was just never gonna see again, as just somebody that could guard any type of person and just be like, "I’m gonna shut you down now." That’s it. The guy was done. Kawhi is, I think, better than Pippen was, and I can’t believe I’m saying that.

I don’t know if you saw the San Antonio–Minnesota game when Kawhi was just like, "Oh, Andrew Wiggins is doing pretty well. I’m gonna just ruin his career for the next 20 minutes. Please keep giving him the ball. Every time you give him the ball, I’m gonna destroy him. It’s gonna be a huge mistake. Oh, you’re giving him the ball again? This is great, I’m gonna destroy him again." It was unbelievable! Andrew Wiggins is a really good offensive player. He’s scoring like 22 to 25 a night and Kawhi just demolished him. So I’m just starting there, like he’s playing out of his mind so it makes sense they’re a contender, but then you go through the rest of the guys — who is better in 2017 than they were three years ago? Just go down the line, like LaMarcus Aldridge, assuming he comes back —

Lowe: Well, I was gonna say, his health is the big thing hovering over this that we forgot to mention already. It’s like the Durant thing … if he’s not playing, this is a different conversation.

Simmons: Right. But he was just a much better basketball player three years ago. A better scorer, a better rebounder, the whole thing. Their point guards are not nearly as good as they were three years ago. I think Patty Mills is probably the same, but [Tony] Parker has deteriorated, to say the least. Manu is at the tail end. Pau Gasol, David Lee, you just go on down the line — it’s like, who’s peaking? And then on top of it, who’s their five? Let’s say it’s Game 7, there’s five minutes left, who are the five that’s out there? Right? Just tell me who you think their five would be. They’re down two, coming out of a timeout, they’re in Golden State, what five guys are out there for them?

Lowe: Well, the interesting thing about them is, obviously for years they’ve preferred to play two bigs at all times, so if that’s the case it’s probably … depending on what they need from point guard, Patty Mills, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus, and I still think when push comes to shove, they’re probably gonna play Pau over Dedmon and over David Lee. But … it appears like in random games, like randomly maybe the other team goes small and they do the Kawhi-at-4 thing. It just like, there’s no rhyme or reason to when Pop breaks in case of emergency that kind of lineup. I’ve always been intrigued by it; I’m generally intrigued by small ball anyway. It’s just, like I said, there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to when or where and how and it’s not a big part of what they do. …

Simmons: I think that’s the lineup that I would expect to see. I think Manu’s out there. I think it’s Mills, Manu, Green, Kawhi at the 4, and LaMarcus. And that’s, when your season’s on the line, I think you play those five. And Kawhi, you play Kawhi at center, I don’t think it really matters. Just be like, "Kawhi, shut down that guy. That guy’s not gonna score again."