Q&A: Gregg Popovich

Posted by Unknown on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Jeff McDonald

Q: When you watched film of Game 1, did something jump out you didn’t see live? 
Pop: When one watches the film there’s always things you didn’t see.  Nothing specific
Q: Anything specific to the third quarter, when the Thunder made their run?
Pop: Our transition defense was really poor during that period.  I thought offensively we didn’t move the ball.  We were stuck in the mud a little bit.  It was a bad combination offensively and defensively and they took advantage of it.
Q. What would you say Kawhi Leonard has improved the most?
Pop: I don’t know if there was one thing.  Kawhi just is somebody who takes great pride in guarding.  He does a lot fo us.  He  rebounds.  He’s getting more confident offensively.  We’re kinda letting him go a little bit.  Frankly, try not to coach him too much.  Just let him play. Through the playoffs he’s gained some confidence.  So he’s an important part of what we do.
Q. What should the goal be against big offensive players like Kevin Durant or LeBron James? 
Pop: Try to take away some things.  Maybe take away the paint or take away the 3-point shot.  Pick something that you might be able to do and limit them a bit.  Then whatever you might be doing, make them work harder.  They’re not gonna be stopped.  But if those kinds of players can be made to work hard, just take something away, it can work to your advantage.
Q. How is Tim Duncan able to have nights like Monday at the age of 38? 
Pop: You’re asking me questions that are hard to answer.  I just have to give him credit.  It’s kind of like Vince Carter in Dallas.  What the hell’s Vince doing?  I didn’t think Vince would be doing that at his age.  So I’m assuming he does what Timmy does.  They take care of themselves in the sense of what they put in their bodies.  I know Timmy works out all summer doing a variety of things — swimming, boxing.  He stays in good shape as far as the physicality of it and the nutrition part.
And I think that he’s just a mentally tough individual who really feels the responsibility to help carry the program.  He really loves being at practice, in the locker room, with the guys.  I think he wants to extend that as long as he can.  So it’s the mental toughness that he’s driven to do that.  I think all those things together allow him to play at this age on one leg.
Q. Any thoughts on your Big Three tying the Lakers’ for most postseason wins?
Pop:  It means whatever it means.  I don’t really think about things like that.  I know Timmy and the guys don’t either.  All we care about is Game 2.
Q. What gives a guy like Duncan or others the will to come back year after year?
Pop: I think it’s totally dependent on the character and quality of the player, the mindset.  I can’t will that mindset.  Sure, I’m a maniac and sure I’m gonna stick to it, because I’m just built that way.  It could be right, could be wrong.  I don’t know, but I’m not out there playing every day. 
So find 10 or 12 guys  that have that mindset.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to win a championship.  It doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s gonna happen. But to have that dedication and that fortitude to come back every year and try to be the best team you can be by playoff time, it takes character and toughness and that’s all embodied in the players that we have.
You watch guys, see how they react to practices, how they react to their teammates, see how important it is to them.  All those things tell you what you’re gonna get. You can save yourself a lot of problems by trying to do that work early rather than get a guy in your program and then say, ‘We gotta get rid of this guy.’
Q. Did you ever think Tony Parker would develop into the true point guard he’s become?
Pop: When we first got him, I didn’t think he could throw the ball to you. He was a scorer. He was a flat-scorer. Almost on Day 3, we put a little linear thing on paper, and put his name at this end for scoring point. And at the very other end, we put John Stockton as an assist guy.
We said, ‘We want to put you right here in the middle. We don’t want to make you John Stockton, because you’re too good a scorer. But if we can get you into the middle — which is really difficult to do, we’re going to turn you into half and half here — we’re going to do it.’
Over time, I think I can honestly say he’s done that. There’s times I’ll say, ‘You missed so-and-so. And he’ll look at me like, ‘I scored.’ So we go through that. I couldn’t be more proud of the way he’s adjusted his game over the years and become a scoring point. And then like last game, he didn’t score a lot. But he scored enough. The assists were huge.
 Q. Is that a good model for a guy like Russell Westbrook to follow?
Pop: I think that’s a great comparison. He was a scorer. He’s still a scorer because he’s such a dynamic player and so talented. He finds people way more than people give him credit for. There’s no doubt about that. Fans just see the dynamic way that he plays, but he’s perfectly willing to hit the open man.
 Q. When it comes to allocating minutes, is that something that is set before the season begins, like in training camp, or does it evolve throughout the year?
Pop: We’ve done it every year for a decade. We want minutes down during the year, in some cases to prevent injury and have minutes there at the end, but as players have gotten older, it’s become more important. This year, we wanted to keep everybody about 30 or less. That’s always been the plan. It’s nothing new. And then extend them in the playoffs. Again, maybe it’s right maybe it’s wrong. It’s just the way we do it.
Q. Does it take some self-discipline on your part, not to overplay guys?
Pop: I always think about our guys sometimes, and their stats. They really get screwed sometimes, playing for me. If you win 62 games, and some of them are by a decent margin, I bet our guys play fewer fourth quarter minutes than most good players on any team. I’d be willing to bet that. It hurts their stats, without a doubt, but luckily I’ve got players who don’t think about that.
Q. You’ve mentioned how much Duncan loves the practices, the locker room, the guys. When he finally does hang it up, is he the kind of gym rat who will still be showing up to play pick-up games?
Pop: No. He can let all the hoopla and that stuff go. He’s too respectful. He wouldn’t want to intrude on what the new group is doing. He’d probably come by and visit, like David (Robinson) does. I’m sure Timmy will do that. But he’s got other interests. I think he’s probably going to join NASCAR. He loves to speed.
Q. What has to happen for Duncan to have a night like he did Monday?
Pop: Every game is different. Every game is a different palate so to speak. You don’t know how it’s going to come out. You have a basic plan, but as the game goes, you see what’s available, what’s needed, what you can do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t plan every game ahead of time.
Q. He doesn’t show up with a certain look in his eye, or anything like that?
Pop: No. He’s totally cool.
Q. How did he get to be so even keel?
Pop: That’s just his personality. I don’t know what to tell you. Some guys are a little more high key. Sometimes people don’t understand how competitive he is. They see his demeanor, and I’m not sure people understand how hard he competes. He wants to win, very very much. He doesn’t show it in an outward manner, like other people do. He internalizes. That’s fine. It kind of suits our style a little bit better.
Q. Can you envision the moment when Duncan walks away?
Pop: One of these days, it will be like the middle of the third quarter or something like that, and I’ll see him walking toward the exit. It will be like it just hit him, like, ‘I’m done.’ As soon as he does that, I’ll be 10 steps behind. Because I’m not stupid.
Q. Duncan has mentioned he can’t do some of the same things he used to.  Is that due to the physical limitations of getting older, or what can’t he do anymore?
Pop: He’s actually added to his game. He wasn’t shooting jumpers when he came in. He had the bank shot from the wings, but he wasn’t at the elbows or the top of the key and that sort of thing. He needed to do that, because he wasn’t going to be as effective every night on the post, depending on who is guarding him. The knee has made it so he can’t pivot like he used to do, stop and start, which you need to do on the post. He’s a little limited there because of the leg more than anything. He’s smart enough to know he had to add the jumper. Good players do that. Michael (Jordan) did the same thing. He started to shoot the heck out of it.
Q: How do you go about blending a team of guys from so many different countries and cultures? What is that process like?
Pop: First I depend on the fact that bringing them, we believe they have character as such that they care about the group more than themselves as individual players. We hope we’re a leg up to start there. After that, I think it’s just a respect for letting them know you understand they’re from another place and getting in situations with the team camaraderie -wise where you’re looking at something different. You might do something like go to a museum, like the Holocaust Museum. Or you might have talks or films about Martin Luther King.
But there are also other people in the world, things that happened in France and Argentina or the old Yugoslavia. To have a variety of situations where people feel like they’re in a home where they’re appreciated by everybody. It helps build a group that wants to play with each other and play for each other. That’s what we talk about, playing for each other. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna win all the time, but at least you enjoy coming to practice and being with the group.
Q. Is it important to you to figure out what makes a guy from Australia or Argentina tick?
Pop: We all grew up differently. I’m trying to figure out how all those players came from that one small town in Argentina, to do what they did. It still astounds me how that can happen in one spot. It’s just strange.