Could this be the Spurs’ last season to make a run at a title during the ‘Tim Duncan era’, or will we see the decline of the Spurs?
The Spurs were the most complete team last season, with nine players averaging nine points per game or more. The averaged nearly 104 points per game as a team (103.7 to be exact) and it carried them to a record of 50-16, a winning percentage of .757. The Spurs have had 13 consecutive seasons with 50 or more wins, the longest streak in the NBA. With Tim Duncan’s career coming to a close, can the Spurs muster one final push for an NBA championship after reaching the Western Conference Finals last season?
By trading James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder exposed a weakness that is the Spurs greatest strength: their bench. With Harden now on the Houston Rockets, the Spurs have a legitimate shot to win the Western Conference and advance to the finals for the first time since they won the championship in 2007. While the Spurs are a year older, they are still a very dangerous team.
Tony Parker has been cleared to play without the protective glasses doctors prescribed to him after he was an innocent bystander in a club fight this past summer. He had an MVP-like impact for the Spurs last season, averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 assists per games. Manu Ginobili will, more than likely, win the Sixth Man of the Year award now that Harden will start for the Rockets. And who can forget about Duncan. After looking like he was on the decline just a few years ago, Duncan had a solid season, averaging 15 and 9.
The bench is San Antonio’s greatest asset. With Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson and Patrick Mills at his disposal, Popovich has the luxury of limiting his starters’ minutes because the bench is able to hold or stretch-out leads against the opposition. I think the Spurs are the favorite to win the West.
Point guard(s) – Tony Parker: With Duncan and Ginobili ageing, it’s turning into Parker’s team. He isn’t flashy or incredibly athletic, but he is a proven winner and big time point guard. I expect Parker to build-off the solid season he had in 2011-2012 and lead the Spurs back to the top spot in the Western Conference. Again, why would I expect anything less from the NBA’s most-consistent franchise?
Gary Neal will back up Parker.
Position Grade: B+
Shooting guard(s) – Danny Green: Green came out of nowhere last season, establishing career-highs in almost every category. He shot a career-best 43.6% from the three-point line and provided a spark when he started 38 games for the Spurs last season. The Spurs have made a living of giving players, like Green, second chances to become successful. Green started more games last season for the Spurs (38) than he played in with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Manu Ginobili will back up Green when he is healthy enough to return.
Position Grade: C+
Small forward(s) – Kawhi Leonard: Somehow, the Spurs manage to find these players and are able to develop them into good, fundamentally-sound basketball players. I have a feeling that Leonard is going to become a very good player for the Spurs. He reminds me of Bruce Bowen, a rough-and-tough defender who can hit corner three’s. I think Leonard’s overall offensive game is better than Bowen’s and the scary thing is that he is only 21 years old.
Stephen Jackson will back up Leonard
Position Grade: B-
Power forward(s) – Tim Duncan: Heading into his 16th season, Duncan is still getting the job done. I think part of it is due to coach Popovich’s luxury of having very good depth at the forward position, giving Duncan more rest than in previous years. I think Duncan has at least two more solid seasons after this season to cement his legacy as the greatest power forward to ever play in the NBA.
DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner will compete for the remaining playing time.
Position Grade: B+
Center(s) – Boris Diaw: While center might not be his preferred position, Diaw filled the role dutiful last season. This season looks to be no different. Diaw is solid at everything: passing, rebounding, and defending. He will be Popovich’s main man at the center position this season and I expect him to platoon that role with the rising that is Tiago Splitter.
Tiago Splitter will back up Diaw.
Position Grade: C+
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Tony Parker
G: Danny Green
F: Kawhi Leonard
F: Tim Duncan
C: Boris Diaw
Starting Lineup Grade: B+
G: Gary Neal
G: Manu Ginobili
F: Stephen Jackson
F: Tiago Splitter
Bench Grade: B-
Coaching Grade: A- (Gregg Popovich)
I expect the Spurs to win the Southwest Division and claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.