Culture of Hoops

2016-17 NBA Preview: San Antonio Spurs

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Presenting an NBA preview of the San Antonio Spurs that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season.

The mass exodus of legends came through San Antonio. Joining Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett in retirement is the best power forward of all time, Tim Duncan. The quiet legend exited just as he entered, quietly. His presence will be missed, but not ultimately affect the trajectory of the Spurs.

They still have Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the final remains of the Spurs dynasty–Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and the mastermind Gregg Popovich. What more can a team need? Let’s look at what we can expect from the Spurs in the first season of the post-Duncan era.

What’s Good…. The System: Tim Duncan is gone, but Gregg Popovich is not. That’s all that matters in the grand scheme of things. Let’s be honest Duncan was not much of a factor last season so the production he’s leaving behind can easily be filled by Pau Gasol. Once Spurs fans realize this their minds should be at ease. With Pau now playing center Popovich’s offense should operate the same or perform even better than last season.

The beauty of Popovich’s system is that it is predicated on ball movement. Every player is important, but they are replaceable. That’s no knock on Duncan either. In football Tom Brady has been accused of being a product of Bill Belichick’s system, but just as in Duncan’s case it is a foolish statement. The system didn’t make them, but they made the system and the system kept their careers going. Pau’s presence will free up LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard for open shots. For Tony Parker, Danny Green, and everyone else its business as usual. And that business is winning.

What’s Bad… Backcourt:The backcourt is what has been holding the Spurs back the past four years. Tony Parker can still score, but he’s not staying in front of top tier point guards anymore. If he was in the east he may have been able to hide. Sadly he’s in the west where savages like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Damian Lillard reside. On most nights the Spurs are at a disadvantage defending point guard. Rookie Dejounte Murray will be good when he’s ready which may not be until next season.

At shooting guard Danny Green is good at what he does—hitting wide open shots. Those shots will be there again this year, but he too isn’t the ideal starting shooting guard. If you stick a defender in his mug chances are he’s having a bad game. Manu Ginobili is in the final year of his career and what he can contribute is unknown. Patty Mills is a solid back up and nothing more. Maybe Pop mixes it up and uses Swiss army knife Kyle Anderson at point guard or maybe Murray plays more than expected come the postseason.

X-Factor… LaMarcus Aldridge: We know what we’re getting from Kawhi Leonard. Same for Parker, Green, and Pau. They have proven they can get their shots and hit them when it matters. LaMarcus Aldridge is still looking to prove himself. He’s no doubt a top five player at his position, but how many duds in the playoffs can you get a free pass for? The Spurs lost to the Thunder in the second round because Aldridge fell off a cliff after Game 2. In the first two games LA eviscerated the Thunder for 38 and 41 points respectively. Once the Thunder went to a two center lineup and got physical his numbers got cut in half.

That cannot happen again if he plans to win a ring. Popovich can get him to the playoffs, what he does in the playoffs is up to him. The Spurs will go as far as LA can take them. Kawhi will shut down the opposing scorer. Parker and Green will put up points. Pau will be the second option down low, but none of it works if he isn’t playing like himself. This is a huge year for Aldridge and I don’t doubt he will have a great regular season. As for the playoffs, that remains to be seen.

Bet On… Kawhi Leonard becoming the leader: Conventional wisdom would say that Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili are now the leaders in the Spurs locker room. That may be the case at the moment, but it shouldn’t be by the time May rolls around. It’s Kawhi’s time to step up. He’s entering year six in San Antonio and has been the understudy of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. He knows what he has to do. He doesn’t have to handle all the press conferences or be anything more than himself.

Kawhi will never be described as chatty and that’s okay, not all leaders are great speakers. His job is to lead by example on the court. In the crucial moments of games he has to be able to take control and finish. He will have to take the younger players under his wing and teach them the Spurs way.

Crystal Ball Says… Spurs will be the same old Spurs: Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the Spurs are close to done. They are rebuilding to a degree, but will remain in the elite of the Western Conference. Kawhi and LA are the new focal points with Parker, Ginobili, and the others working to assist them. Popovich might have to do more teaching than he has in the past with younger guys like Kyle Anderson taking on bigger roles and new faces like Pau Gasol looking to learn the system. If there’s anything we learned about Pop or the Spurs its not to bet against them. That won’t change this season.

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