The West seems to be all about the Thunder and the Lakers. The blue-collar Spurs like it that way. Even though they have been consistently excellent, still have the nucleus of earlier championship teams, and even had the best record last year (50-16), no one is talking about the Spurs.
There are real reasons not to get excited. They pretty much stood pat in the off-season. Standing pat is death to championship aspirations. You must keep getting better because your competition will. Sure, the Spurs are good and don’t need a lot of changes but they aren’t good enough to make no changes.
For one thing, they’re famously old. Tim Duncan is 36, Manu Ginobili is 35, Stephen Jackson is 35, Tony Parker is 30, Boris Diaw is 30, Matt Bonner is 32. Older guys usually have less stamina and are more injury-prone. And an older team will run less and play more of a half-court game. They need a couple of (good) younger guys on the bench.
The Big Three—PF Duncan, SG Ginobili and PG Parker—are back for one more run. Even though they are all past their peak, they are still capable of leading the charge. But to win it all they need a better supporting cast. They’re still hella tough. They went 50-16, after all. They’re just not as good as the Thunder or Lakers. And who knows who else.
The Big Fundamental is down to 28 minutes a game but last season still averaged 15.4 points and 9 rebounds. Like a pitcher who, after 15 seasons, has lost his fastball, he now gets it done with sheer experience, smarts and, yes, fundamentals. Duncan is still a good low post player, great at the pick-and-roll, setting screens and hitting medium-range shots.
C Tiago Splitter was drafted by the Spurs in 2007 (#27), played in Europe for three years and is now in his third year in San Antonio. Last year in 19 minutes he averaged 9 points and 5 boards. He’s on track to play more minutes this year and may finally blossom. Actually, he better blossom. They need a big man to complement Duncan or, better yet, someone that Duncan would complement.
In the Intriguing category is C Eddy Curry, trying to make the roster. He’s finally landed on a team that can handle formerly Volatile/Immature Types (e.g., Stephen Jackson) so it’s possible that Curry may blossom too and become Splitter’s main backup. They need Curry’s size. The backups for Splitter—Diaw and DeJuan Blair—are both fine bench players—but are way undersized.
PF Josh Powell might also make the Spurs final roster, and will if he’s as good as I remember him. If he does, the Spurs will become the sixth team in his six-year NBA career.
Where the Spurs are young is at small forward in Kawhi Leonard, who was drafted last year by the Pacers (#15), then dealt to the Spurs for PG George Hill. In last year’s rookie season, Leonard, in 24 minutes a game, averaged 8 points, 5 rebounds and 1.3 steals, defended well, ran the court, and provided energy. Once again he’ll share the position with Stephen Jackson. That’s a strong duo at small forward. Derrick Brown, best known as a defender, will also get some minutes.
Parker, starting his 12th season, still makes the Spurs go. They have capable backups in Patty Mills and rookie Cory Joseph but no one ready to take over if Parker misses extensive time.
Considering his history of injuries and his age (35), Ginobili’s durability is a concern. Sharing the load at shooting guard will be Danny Green, the probable starter, as well as Gary Neal and James Anderson.
You’d think the Spurs are too good to fail. But it doesn’t take long for a good thing to go bad. Ya gotta be ever vigilant, but the Spurs don’t seem to be. They should have foreseen the day when the Big Three would have to be phased out gradually and replaced by outstanding talent. But the rest of the Spurs roster is rather average. The front office has been complacent but it’s not clear yet how much damage that will do. Normally you could ink them in for a playoff spot but I have a hunch that they’re heading for a fall. This year that fall will probably amount to merely finishing 6th, 7th or 8th.