What LeagueApps Is Learning From The 5x NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs
By Brian Litvack
July 20, 2014
At LeagueApps we believe in team. It’s one of our core values. We believe that we’ll have more success if we always strive to work together with each other and our partners.
LeagueApps often draws inspiration from the great championship teams in professional sports. Right now, there’s no better example than the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have won 5 NBA Championships in the last 15 years. During this span, they have finished near the top of their conference and have made the playoffs every single season. The Spurs are a model of professionalism, consistency and success. Most impressively, the Spurs have accomplished this all, in the most competitive environment (Western Conference), without exorbitant spending, high draft picks or marquee free agent acquisitions.
How have they done it?
And what can LeagueApps learn from them to make our team and company perform at a championship caliber with winning results?
First, we asked 7x NBA Champion and former San Antiono Spur Robert Horry.
Besides the advice of Big Shot Bob, we’ve also done a bit more research and “broke down some film” on the factors that have led to the Spurs greatness. LeagueApps even featured the Spurs as part of our recent company-wide OTA meetings.
In the 2014 NBA playoffs, the Spurs offense was unstoppable as they defeated the defending Champion Miami Heat in the Finals to win the NBA Championship. The Spurs were one step ahead of their competition throughout the Playoffs. It appeared as though they had an extra player on the court! This all from a franchise that is often labeled as boring by the press and fans.
The Spurs success on the court is most attributed to their ability to execute their game plan. The Spurs use spacing, ball movement, misdirection and pace to keep their opponents off–balance and create scoring opportunities. These tactics may seem simple, and that is because they are! While other teams may attempt to use these same principles the Spurs simply execute better than their competition.
Execute to perfection and everything suddenly becomes simple!
The NBA is commonly known as a league of superstars where talent trumps all other factors. Yet the Spurs utilize their entire team roster. The Spurs often rely on nine or ten players in their playing rotation. They spread the ball around more than other teams and have a more balanced distribution of individual player stats. Even their star players like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli play limited minutes and/or do not start the game.
Other teams within the NBA that have similar type of balance are not as successful. The Spurs are not balanced out of necessity (lack of star players) but rather created a system in which balance is a key ingredient. All of the members within the Spurs organization buy into the idea of balance. Most successful teams are highly ambitious so management must lead the organization to funnel that ambition into team success. Coach Popovich limits every player’s service time dramatically, essentially suppressing individual stats.
All players have strengths and weaknesses. That’s true in basketball and in business. The Spurs recognize that and focus on recruiting and training the right players for specific roles on their team to best utilize their strongest individual skills. They rarely ask their players to step outside of their roles to do more than their capabilities.
The Spurs repeatedly demonstrate a unique ability to emphasize the strengths of their players while minimizing their weaknesses. Rather than focus on what they lack, the Spurs strive to maximize their existing resources.
Spurs management, lead by Coach Popovich and General Manager R.C. Buford, have developed a defined program and structure for success. The Spurs culture is widely respected by players throughout the league for selflessness, loyalty, disciplined execution, hard work, and teamwork.
First, rather than dwell on a “system” the Spurs focus on the people within their organization. Former Spurs Assistant and NBA Head Coach Mike Browns says that Coach Popovich’s “people-managing skills, they’re off the charts…You watch how he handles different situations with people, whether it’s people in the front office or players 1-15 or people that work for him and you try to copy that, to a certain degree, if you can.”
“Pop has brought the vision to our program,” says GM Buford said. “Everyone who has come through our program understands the things that are important: character and selfless people who want to be part of a team. Want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
The Spurs are able to identify and recruit players that fit into the organization.
“When there’s a clarity of what works here and doesn’t work, hopefully it gives us the clarity to know when we’re looking for people,” Spurs GM R.C. Buford said.
Coach Popovich sums up his players by saying, “win or Lose, they do it with class and do it the right way.” This is done through leadership, which engenders mutual trust and respect, unique teamwork, team loyalty, using analytics in context and developing an agile strategy that works. Not only sports teams, but any company engaged in any pursuit can use these lessons to develop a winning strategy in a rapidly changing and competitive world.
Like many professional sports teams and businesses today, the Spurs have begun to analyze and rely more heavily on data to make decisions. The Spurs have a director of basketball analytics and a manager of statistical development within their organization.
The Spurs put an emphasis on explaining the data. Coach Popovich expects his analytics team to explain and rationalize the data. The Spurs also recognize the importance of context and the elusive “intangibles.”
The Spurs have actually made major adjustments to both their offensive and defensive strategy during their unprecedented era of success. This is in part because of changes in personnel but also because of trends within the league. The Spurs don’t feel the need to stick to a system. The Spurs style has evolved from its more plodding ways of the early 2000s into one that, over the last three years, has ranked among the NBA’s most efficient offenses.
Get Inspired By The Spurs…
Watch the LeageueApps team discuss the Spurs at OTA Meetings