Spuriosity: Western Conference props, academic paper suggest Pop truly is tops
Published: March 14, 2012
Linsanity made its Alamo City debut last week when the Spurs routed the New York Knicks in a 118-105 contest that, despite the star power on display, was somewhat bereft of drama. Although finishing the game with 20 points and 3 steals, Jeremy Lin was eclipsed on the hardwood by All-Star point-guard Tony Parker who utilized his speed to pace San Antonio with 32 points and 6 assists. But perhaps the loudest ovation of the night came at the end of the third quarter when Spurs skipper Gregg Popovich stormed off the court after getting ejected for angrily questioning a foul call.
After leading the Spurs to a stellar 8-1 record on their February rodeo road trip, Coach Popovich was named the NBA's Western Conference Coach of the Month. This was the 13th instance that Coach Pop received that distinction, surpassing Pat Riley's 12 taps. Prior to San Antonio's subsequent game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Pop was surprisingly reflective. "Last year was a huge disappointment to us," Popovich told reporters before the lackluster 108-120 home loss. "To win 60 games and then basically lose Manu on the last game of the year; when should I have sat him? I don't know. I'll ask myself that forever probably."
Pop's value was also on display at the nation's leading sports stat geeks gathering at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Cambridge, Mass. An emphasis was placed on bridging the gap between hoops and moneyball with research papers offering interesting tidbits such as home teams being statistically better offensive rebounders in clutch moments, or that players at home tend to struggle at the foul line in crunch time. Although focusing primarily on team construction, Robert Ayer's intriguing paper "Big 2's and Big 3's: Analyzing How a Team's Best Players Complement Each Other" posited Pop as the most effective coach in the game with an impact rating of +23.19. Former Spur Avery Johnson surprisingly came in second with a coefficient of +20.28, with Phil Jackson, regarded as the greatest coach of all time, registering only +15.26.
All of this helps confirm what Spurs nation has known for years. Despite his lack of experience as an NBA player, and regardless of the eerie patriarchal vibe that he brings to the franchise, Popovich has been as important to the Spurs as any member of the "Big 3" outside of Tim Duncan. While Coach Pop has long maintained that he will ride off with Duncan into the sunset, he has recently displayed a willingness to sit in the saddle a bit longer to help usher in the post-Duncan era. This perfectly illustrates Pop's notoriously stubborn nature, and looking back on four championships even this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Manuel Solis covers the Spurs with Ryan Sachetta for the Current. Follow them online at blogs.sacurrent.com and catch their print column here every other week.