Is San Antonio the best NBA team of the 21st century?

Who's the best since the start of the new millennium?
The Lakers (top)? The Heat (middle)? The Spurs (bottom)?

14.6 points.

That was the average point difference in each of the wins of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. That’s the biggest average winning margin in NBA Finals history.

And they did it against the team with the planet’s best basketball player.

Many might contend that the last five games of the 2013-2014 NBA season weren’t really contests in as much as they were clinics. That’s how dominant the Spurs were here, dethroning the Miami Heat in five games and stifling their desires for a rare three-peat. It was a title-clinching run done with such ruthless efficiency that it ended sooner than everyone expected. The defending champs were made to look like chumps, dominated in such unprecedented fashion since the Big Three brought their talents together in 2010.

Nobody should have been able to embarrass the Heat. Not in the Finals, of all places. Not at the American Airlines Arena, where they went unbeaten in the first three rounds of the postseason.

And certainly not by the “white-walking” San Antonio Spurs, who were pushed to seven games by the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round (How about Dallas as the second-best team in the league?!). Not these Spurs, who, as the tired and old NBA media narrative goes, were just too tired and old. Not these Spurs, who were supposed to be so downtrodden after being 20 seconds away from a championship in June 2013 and still losing everything.

But here we are, living in a world where Miami is not the NBA champion, and the Larry O’Brien is back in Texas.

This is the Spurs’s fifth title overall, and fourth since the beginning of the 21st century. In every NBA regular season since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997, they have racked up AT LEAST 50 wins (they won 74% of their games in the 1999 lockout season, which equates to about 61 games in a full 82-game schedule), and they have earned the top seed in the Western Conference seven times.

This confluence of circumstances just makes me beg one question: Is San Antonio the best NBA team since we entered the 21st century?

That’s not really as tough a question as it sounds. I mean, we don’t have to pick among thirty teams. Let’s water down the choices to teams that have won titles in the new millennium (Because you cannot be a great team unless you win the big one, of course, yes?).

*Let’s qualify the term 21st century. We’ll begin from the 2000-2001 season till the recently concluded one. Technically speaking, year 2000 is the last year of the 20th century in the same manner 100 is the last number of the first one hundred positive integers (Wait, what? Did I just NOT make sense again?!). Anyway, there you go. We’re starting with the 2000-2001 season, and that’s that.

Our 21st Century Champs:
2001: Lakers
2002: Lakers
2003: Spurs
2004: Pistons
2005: Spurs
2006: Heat
2007: Spurs
2008: Celtics
2009: Lakers
2010: Lakers
2011: Mavericks
2012: Heat
2013: Heat
2014: Spurs

That’s fourteen titles distributed among just six teams. Nope, the NBA is not the league you watch if you want to see unbridled parity. In this neck of the woods, people don’t just build champions, they build dynasties.

So, we have the Lakers, San Antonio, Detroit, Miami, Boston, and Dallas.

Let’s make our lives even easier by filtering it some more. Let’s only compare the teams that have won multiple titles this century, which means the Pistons, Celtics, and Mavs are all booted out.

And then there were just three: the Lakers (hurray for the Kobe fans!), the Heat (hurray for the LeBron and Wade fans!), and the Spurs (hurray for basketball purists!).

And now the hard part. I’ll use five different criteria to compare these three clubs (just so I can say I was even a little bit objective):

Awards & citations given to a team’s players.
I’m using this as a criterion mainly because a player’s individual performance/production is, on some level, a reflection of his team’s character, culture, or system. This criterion includes end-of-season individual awards (including Finals MVP), citations for All-NBA Teams, and All-Star Game appearances (The All-Star MVP award doesn’t count, though, since this is not won in the context of playing for one’s home club).

Number of 50+ win seasons.
My personal threshold in judging whether a team had a very good season is 50 wins. If a team reachers or breaches 50 wins, then, wow, I would consider that team among the league’s elite for that particular season.

Number of appearances in the NBA Playoffs.
This one is quite easy to understand. If a team is really good, then, under normal circumstances, it should make the postseason. Of course, there are certain exceptions, like the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, both of which could have creamed half the Playoff teams from the East this year.

Number of appearances in the NBA Finals.
Another no-brainer. Winning either conference in the Association is no small feat. That means a team makes the Playoffs AND wins 12 games through three rounds against other great clubs. And to be one of the final two teams left standing? Take a bow.

Number of NBA Championships.
Undoubtedly the ultimate barometer of a team’s success is actually winning the NBA title. All the prior criteria are great, but this is the Big Kahuna right here.

LA Lakers -
23 All-Star Game selections (Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Dwight Howard),
1 MVP (Kobe),
4 Finals MVPs (Kobe and Shaq),
1 Sixth Man of the Year (Lamar Odom),
16 All-NBA First Team selections (Kobe and Shaq),
3 All-NBA Second Team selections (Kobe, Pau, and Bynum),
4 All-NBA Third Team selections (Kobe, Pau, and Dwight),
8 NBA All-Defensive First Team selections (Kobe),
5 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections (Shaq and Kobe).
A TOTAL of 65 Awards/Citations.

Miami Heat -
24 All-Star Game selections (Alonzo Mourning, Anthony Mason, Shaq, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James),
2 MVPs (LeBron),
3 Finals MVPs (LeBron and Wade),
8 All-NBA First Team selections (Shaq, Wade, and LeBron),
3 All-NBA Second Team selections (Wade),
3 All-NBA Third Team selections (Wade),
3 NBA All-Defensive First Team selections (LeBron),
5 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections (LeBron, Wade, and Bruce Bowen),
3 NBA All-Rookie First Team selections (Caron Butler, Wade, and Michael Beasley),
2 NBA All-Rookie Second Team selections (Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers).
A TOTAL of 56 Awards/Citations.

San Antonio Spurs -
21 All-Star Game selections (David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker),
2 MVPs (Duncan),
4 Finals MVPs (Duncan, Parker, and Kawhi Leonard),
6 All-NBA First Team selections (Duncan),
6 All-NBA Second Team selections (Duncan and Parker),
5 All-NBA Third Team selections (Robinson, Duncan, Parker, and Manu),
11 NBA All-Defensive First Team selections (Duncan and Bruce Bowen),
8 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections (Duncan, Bowen, and Kawhi),
3 NBA All-Rookie First Team selections (Parker, Kawhi, and Gary Neal),
2 NBA All-Rookie Second Team selections (Manu and DeJuan Blair).
A TOTAL of 68 Awards/Citations.

Criterion Ranking (1-3): Spurs, Lakers, Heat

# of 50+ win seasons:

LA Lakers - 8 (2001-2004, 2008-2011)

Miami Heat - 6 (2001, 2005-2006, 2011, 2013-2014)

San Antonio Spurs - 14 (2001-2014)

Criterion Ranking (1-3): Spurs, Lakers, Heat

# of appearances in the Playoffs -

LA Lakers - 12 (2001-2004, 2006-2013)

Miami Heat - 11 (2001, 2004-2007, 2009-2014)

San Antonio Spurs - 14 (2001-2014)

Criterion Ranking (1-3): Spurs, Lakers, Heat

Ummm… is there a pattern emerging?

# of appearances in the NBA Finals -

LA Lakers - 6 (2001-2002, 2004, 2008-2010)

Miami Heat - 5 (2006, 2011-2014)

San Antonio Spurs - 5 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2013-2014)

Criterion Ranking (1-3):Lakers, Heat/Spurs

# of NBA Championships -

LA Lakers - 4 (2001-2002, 2009-2010)

Miami Heat - 3 (2006, 2012-2013)

San Antonio Spurs - 4 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)

Criterion Ranking (1-3): Lakers/Spurs, Heat

In summation, the Los Angeles Lakers are tops (or tied for tops) in 2 criteria and finish second in 3 others. The Miami Heat are tied for second in 1 criterion and are constantly third in the others. The San Antonio Spurs are tops (or tied for tops) in 4 criteria and tied for second in one other.

The winner and undisputed best team, so far, of the 21st century?

Those old and gray San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio’s system has not only produced 4 titles in the new millennium, but it has also garnered a truckload of accolades for its key players. We can see that the Spurs really do lean on prioritizing defense and that, after having won 50 or more games EACH SEASON since Y2K, they are, indeed, the most consistently successful NBA team on the planet.


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1 Comment

I think so..with players like parker, leonard, green, ginobili, belleneli, theyre one of the strongest team, and a coach like pop.. they can be unbeatable.