During the 2013 NBA finals, a hamstring injury proved a hindrance to Spurs guard Tony Parker, precipitating sizable drops in PPG, FG%, and FT% from his season averages in those categories; the display of the injury’s impact remains if comparing NBA Finals averages to postseason averages as well. Yet when a foot injury sent Parker to the bench for the entire second half last night in Oklahoma City, the Spurs came out undeterred, sending backup PG Cory Joseph in Parker’s stead. Though not contributing much offensively, Joseph started the third quarter and thus partook in his team’s effort of assuming control of the game: the quarter featured the Spurs outscoring the Thunder 37-20, with Joseph having a plus/minus of +7 by the end of the game.
Thus, playing to potentially clinch a series victory in a hostile environment, the Spurs showed their ability to overcome the absence of a key team leader in Parker, finding other options to help spearhead a comeback and ultimately close out the WCF.
Heading into this season’s Finals, Australian-born Patty Mills can also serve as a viable replacement if Parker continues to suffer from his ailment entering the the last round. The point guard received an increase in minutes this season, and as a result, posted an improvement in offensive numbers from last year. While struggling in the playoffs so far, Mills can impact a basketball game with his effective shooting, and is crucial to the success of San Antonio’s second-unit, one of the best in the league.
So not only has yet another potent scorer developed in the Spurs organization, but it just so happens that the player is a point guard, the position at which the Spurs may now be deficient. This further minimizes the effect from any foreseeable absence or decline in play from Parker, and once again proves that an injury to Tony Parker does not pose an insurmountable obstacle.
Furthermore, the characteristic of bench production, briefly mentioned in the discussion about one of its prominent members (Patty Mills) above, sets the 2014 edition of the Spurs apart from the 2013 one. In the regular season this year, San Antonio’s bench averaged an NBA-best 45.1 points a game–the next closest playoff team to that number was Brooklyn, with 38.5. That number, and thereby emphasis on bench players’ importance, was much higher than in the 2013-13 season, in which the non-starters ranked high in the league (fifth) but only averaged 37.9 per game.
More importantly, San Antonio has maintained that bench effectiveness moving into postseason, topping all playoff teams with 41.4 PPG off the bench. In contrast, the Spurs’ bench experienced a significant dropoff in production last postseason, averaging only 29.1 PPG which ranked it sixth among playoff teams.
Performing on a more consistent and effective basis, this aspect of the Spurs team can only play to their advantage and prove a more pivotal factor than in last year’s Finals. Therefore, this suggests San Antonio will enter their second consecutive bout against the Miami Heat on this stage as a more stabilized, refined, and overall better team.