The Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs are two successful franchises with a lot of familiarity with one another. Last season, the Spurs swept the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. In the 2011 NBA Playoffs with an injured Rudy Gay and a Shane Battier mid-season return to Memphis, the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs 4-2 in the first round series. Finally, in 2004 after winning a surprising 49 games, the Grizzlies were swept by the Spurs in the first round. Despite that rich history, there are a few lessons that the Memphis franchise could learn from their small-market rivals.
- Go international. Sure the Grizzlies have one of the best international big men in the league with Marc Gasol, originally from Spain, but he's the only international player on the roster. In comparison, the Spurs have ten international players. The Spurs have been in the playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons. They haven't had a losing season since head coach Greg Popovich's first season in 1996-97. It's evident that the Spurs' international recruitment has aided their success. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, respectively from France and Spain, are two of the best guards in the NBA.
- Be clutch. The Spurs rank first in high pressure situations—when the game is within one point and in the final two minutes. In those same situations, the Grizzlies rank 20th. Offensive execution and defensive stops are problematic areas for the Grizzlies.
- Space it. A vital factor of offensive execution is spacing. Popovich's teams consistently display the best spacing in the NBA. With Tim Duncan on the low block, opposing defenses have to be alert. Adding to the threat of Duncan's scoring prowess, the Spurs historically space shooters around Duncan—Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Marco Beliinelli, and Boris Diaw. In the past, those shooters were Sean Elliot, Mario Ellie, Gary Neal, Steve Kerr, Brent Barry, Stephen Jackson, and Robert Horry. These weapons force teams to pick their poison. The Spurs can efficiently score down low or they can knock down game-changing three pointers.
- Focus on you. Greg Popovich has stated on several occasions that the San Antonio Spurs do not watch much film on opposing teams. Instead, the Spurs' organization focuses on their own execution and errors. By honing in on what they do well, the Spurs are determined to remain true to their identity. The Spurs dominate the NBA through consistency, high basketball IQ, and repetitive execution.
- Create a succinct identity. A widespread complaint from casual basketball fans over the years was that the Spurs are boring. Future-hall-of-famer Shaquille O'Neal jokingly nicknamed Tim Duncan "The Big Fundamental," an ode to Duncan's mastery of basketball basics and avoidance of any flash. Despite their lack of exciting play, the Spurs are experts in the game of basketball. They win consistently. They have a succinct system that players adapt to because they want to win. Although Memphis is known for "grint-and-grind," by changing leadership (via ownership and coaching staff), the Grizzlies have struggled this season due to a lack of identity. They need something to "hang their hats on." That something used to be the tough interior play of Gasol and Randolph, and superior defensive.
The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most successful franchises in any professional sport. The Grizzlies can model the Spurs' success by drafting international players, executing in high-pressure situations, creating space for their low post players every game, focusing on their strengths, and staying true to their identity.
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