Welcome to the inaugural edition of eDraft’s NBA Season Preview. We turn our attention to the Southwest Division, covering everyone from the pretenders to the contenders. Today we take a look at the Spurs. This is a talented team, but do they have the depth to win it all?
Key additions: Nando De Colo (53rd overall, 2009 draft)
The Spurs aren’t boring, they just win so often that their excellence has begun to seem routine. To watch this team out shoot, out pass, and out defend opponents on a nightly basis is a blessed thing. That the Spurs have been able to win consistently for over a decade says a great deal about the vision of their ownership, coach Greg Popovich, and above all their awesome core of Tim Duncan (18PPG-10RPG-2.7BLK-27.5PER), Manu Ginobili (10.4PPG-4APG-14.5PER) and Tony Parker (13.9PPG-7.7.APG-17.23PER). All three are top-50 players right now (as old as Duncan and Ginobili are) and should all be Hall of Famers some day. But it helps too that they play in a system perfectly suited for their talents, one that is so efficient it allowed the Spurs to outscore opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions last season.
Watching Popovich plug in otherwise marginal talent to fill the gaps around Duncan, Ginobili and Parker and generate the tremendous offensive output every year forces one to confront the import of systems. The Spurs have an outstanding trio of stars, but would they be just as good with only one star, or even several above-average players? In other words, is it the system which makes the team great or is it truly the talent? It has been said that the graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable people, and someday our talented threesome will be gone as well. The question is then: can the Spurs on go winning forever?
On the face of it the proposition sounds absurd, and it might well be, but I can’t help but think that the glory of this franchise is innate, in the same way that the lousiness of the Kings is also inherent.
In any case, the Spurs will once again be dominant this season. They will challenge the Thunder, the Lakers and the Grizzlies for the Western conference crown, and may have what it takes to unseat the Heat. This team has the talent to go deep in the playoffs, and most importantly, they have the temperament developed over years together to stay cool under pressure. It has become clear to me in this young season watching Jason Kidd steady the Knicks just how important veteran leadership is. The Spurs are chock full of savvy, and never doubt the system or their own skills. Each man on the team has a role and will stick to it no matter the circumstances. In turn, the team is always ready for war.
At the helm, as always, is Duncan—the greatest power forward to ever play the game. While his step surely lacks the old spring he can still give the Spurs 30 minutes a night of good defense and reliable post offense. He is an excellent passer out of the double team and has developed, by this time, a sixth sense as to where his teammates will be. When he gets on a roll there is still no stopping Duncan’s baby hook, or his drop step. He remains a pleasure to watch.
But the real joy comes from the play of long time back-court mates Ginobili and Parker. Ginobili’s game remains essentially indescribable; you must watch him to understand what he brings. His moves are graceful and wild at the same time, and his shot is ever silky. There are few players in the league who as a confident as Ginobili in the clutch; he has made a career out of big shots.
But the team is now Parker’s, and rightly so. The young French point guard is an outstanding playmaker, possesses a deadly mid-range jump shot, and can get into the heart of the defense at will. He is faster than nearly anyone else with the ball and is very good at changing direction in mid stride, leaving defenders disoriented. Parker’s speed has turned the Spurs into a surprisingly good fast break team. Parker gets out ahead of the defense so quickly that he often goes coast to coast and finishes himself, and if the defense does manage to catch up to him, Parker is adept at finding trailing teammates. Parker carried the Spurs through long stretches last season and was the most valuable player in the NBA after James and Durant last year in my opinion.
The Spurs are one of the best three point shooting teams in the NBA, and in some respects their entire offense resembles the Suns teams of old: running the break with frequency and gunning from deep. The Spurs rely on role players and castoffs who find new life in San Antonio and on late-round draft picks who somehow always pan out.
Spurs' management does a great job of evaluating and developing talent, and role players are also given freedom in Popovich’s system to do what they do best. A case in point is Boris Diaw, a talented big man who floundered in Charlotte but made an immediate impact upon joining the Spurs last season. Given the green light to create from the block, Diaw demonstrated his passing prowess in the post and pushed Spurs offensive efficiency into another gear. It helped, too, that Diaw had a number of excellent long-range threats on his team to kick it out to beyond the arc. Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Patrick Mills and Ginobili can all hit the three spotting up or on the break giving the Spurs more weapons than opposing defenses can handle.
Reason for optimism: look for Kawhi Leonard to make the jump this year. He is an incredible talent. Also: I love Steven Jackson on this team, he’s perennially underrated.
Reason for despair: DeJuan Blair’s minutes have been limited with the addition of Diaw, and his best Spurs days are behind him. Look for Blair to be playing somewhere else by the start of next season (I can think of 29 teams who would welcome him).
Projected record: 54-28