Monday, September 17, 2012

Same Old Spurs (emphasis on "Old") -- San Antonio Spurs Season Preview


Starting Five: PG Tony Parker, SG Manu Ginobili, SF Stephen Jackson, PF Boris Diaw, C Tim Duncan 

Key Bench Players: SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Tiago Splitter, SG Danny Green, F Matt Bonner, G Nando de Colo, SG Gary Neal, PG Patty Mills, G Cory Joseph

Key Additions: G Nando de Colo 

Key Departures: SG James Anderson

New NBA season on the horizon, same ol' Spurs.  Gregg Popovich still patrols the sideline, Tony Parker still runs the offense, Manu Ginobili still provides unlimited #SWAG in the 4th quarter, and Tim Duncan still mans the paint, quarterbacks the D, and goes glass at least once a game.  This is essentially the same Spurs team as last season's team, only one year older.  

This is not to say that being the same team as last year is a bad thing.  Last year's team won a league-high 50 games, was the #1 seed in the West, steamrolled through the first two rounds in the playoffs, and gave Pop some nasty in taking the first two games in the Conference Semi's, until the Thunder simply found another gear and the Spurs could not keep up.




So what can we expect if the Spurs in 2012 are going to be a lot like the Spurs in 2011.  Well, we can assume they will monitor the minutes of Duncan (36 years old) and Ginobili (35 years old) even more so than last year.  They'll shoot a lot of 3's and score a lot of points, and a crew of unheralded bench reserves (Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, de Colo, et al.) will alternate as the hot hand from distance.  Tony Parker will have more freedom to attack, while  Kawhi Leonard will continue to develop into one of the better two-way players in the NBA.  Steven Jackson and Boris Diaw will become more comfortable in the Spurs system.  The Spurs will win a lot of regular season games.

"Key additions" is a misnomer for this preview, as the only "new" player on the roster is 25 year-old Frenchman Nando de Colo, a 6'5" shooting guard who played for Valencia in the Spanish ACB League last season.  De Colo was underwhelming in the Olympics, looking like a competent guard who is above-average in most facets of the game but may not have one "NBA skill" that defines him. In the small Olympic sample, de Colo looked like just a decent athlete, a good but not superb ballhandler, a good shooter but not a sniper by any means.  The lack of an NBA skill may mute de Colo's overall effectiveness in year one.  Regardless, the Spurs could use some fresh legs, and de Colo should receive some backcourt minutes behind fellow Frenchman Tony Parker, Ginobili, Gary Neal, and Danny Green.

With the Lakers and Clippers both adding reinforcements and the Thunder improving from within, the lack of more "Key additions" could be a telling theme for the Spurs as they are passed in the Conference hierarchy.  The most important players on the roster -- guys like Ginobili and Duncan and Parker, and even Jackson and Diaw -- these are players who are what they are, players in or past their prime who will not play beyond the level they have been at for the past few years.  Given that, the Spurs desperately need their young guns to improve.  

Kawhi Leonard is a 6'7, 225 lb. wing who will be 21 this season.  8 points and 5 rebounds was a nice line as a rookie, but Leonard needs to come into camp with a more consistent jumper and a more refined offensive game in order to progress into something more.  6'11" big Tiago Splitter will be 27 this season; is he anything more than the 9 point/5 rebound guy he was last year? Long Island's Danny Green emerged as a sniper last year, making an impact as a shooter off the bench with 9 points per game and a 44% stroke from 3.  The Spurs rewarded him with a new contract, but will Green take another step forward or plateau as a bench scorer and nothing more?   Whatever happened to Pitt big man DeJuan Blair, once a second round steal, but relegated to waving a towel on the bench and making trade demands after his Rebound Rate dropped for the third straight season? 6'3 guard Cory Joseph made the Summer League All-Star team -- can he make a meaningful contribution?  How about Aussie Patty Mills, who was superb in the Olympics and will surprisingly only be 24 this season?

The Spurs' front office, headed by R.C. Buford, remains one of the keenest in the League.  At last year's trade deadline, the Warriors traded All-Star guard Monta Ellis to the Bucks for center Andrew Bogut.  Buford somehow finagled his way into the deal and swapped out Richard Jefferson, one of the League's worst contracts, for Stephen Jackson, a former Spur who regained his form (and his swag).  Buford also picked Boris Diaw up off of the waiver heap, and Diaw quickly turned into a very productive front court player.  Keep an eye out for Buford to make a deal to keep pace with the rest of the West if the Spurs current roster turns out to be good but not great.

Best Case Scenario:  Not only do the Spurs keep their old legs fresh, but Leonard continues to show hints of being an All-Star caliber performer, a sort of poor man's Andre Igoudala, and becomes one of the best rebounding small forwards in the League.  Patty Mills emerges as a legitimate scoring guard off of the bench, and Danny Green improves on last year's numbers and becomes one of the better shooters in the League.  Buford is able to get a player on the cheap at the Trade Deadline, and a rested Spurs team runs the table in the West, making it to their first Finals since 2007.

Absolute Apocalypse:  Instead of staying fresh, Ginobili and Duncan both are banged up throughout the year and miss a ton of time.  Even with Parker putting up career numbers in their absence, the Spurs lack of star power inhibits them from being a contender.  Leonard looks as good as he did last year but nothing more, and neither Splitter nor Green make any improvements on last year's vintage.  Instead of stinking bad enough to get a lottery pick and truly rebuild (Spurs have $24 million coming off the books this year with the contracts of Ginobili and Jackson expiring), the Spurs are too well coached and too well run to not finish in the top 8.  The Spurs eek into the playoffs, where they are authoritatively swept by a younger and far more talented team in the first round.  

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