After finishing the last two seasons with the number one seed in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs are back for yet another season in which they are still considered a title contender.
The Spurs are bringing back a team that won 50 games in a lockout season, had three double-digit winning streaks, won 20 games in a row, and were two games away from playing in the NBA Finals.
Though there are a lot of positive qualities to this team, the last part of the sentence above is what still might have some fans wondering if the Spurs should have made some other alternative moves instead of bringing back the same team minus James Anderson, but plus rookie Nando De Colo.
In part 1 of the season preview, I will begin looking at seven of the Spurs’ 14 players on roster.
The 14 on roster – Part One
1. Tony Parker – Last season, Parker began to show the transition from attack-first point guard to a balanced attack, as he had a career high in assists (7.7 per game). Parker can still light up the scoreboard as he led the Spurs with 18 points per game, but what will be interesting to watch is his fatigue level considering he played deep into April, had bottle glass thrown in his eye in the summer, and then went on to participate in the Olympics.
With the amount of depth the Spurs have in the backcourt, don’t be surprised to see Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich rest Parker more comfortably this season in order to have his starting point guard ready once again for the playoffs.
2. Tim Duncan – “The Big Fundamental” led the Spurs in scoring this preseason with the same type of offensive play he used last season: scoring in the pick-and-roll, in transition, and hitting the outside 15-18 foot jumper. Offensively, this fast paced style of play should help Duncan reserve his energy for the defensive side of the floor where he’s still considered one of the only stopping forces in the paint for the Spurs.
With 6’8” Boris Diaw standing by his side, Duncan is usually seen as the last line of defense between an attacker and the basket. He’ll once again have a major responsibility defensively in manning the paint and doing his best to keep penetrating players out of there.
3. Manu Ginobili – Ginobili is still Ginobili. He’s still throwing passes and making plays that look unorthodox, yet effective. He had a solid Olympic run and will still be a force for opposing teams to deal with, but Ginobili is aging. With the plethora of backup guards and the addition of De Colo who can play shooting and point guard, one could most likely expect Ginobili to be rested several times this season to preserve him for the postseason. Of course in the games where Manu does play, expect him to give it his all. It’s the only way he knows how to play.
4. Kawhi Leonard – I put Leonard’s name fourth because I believe he could actually become the fourth scoring option on this team. Over the summer he showed his capability in executing the pick-and-roll with the ball in his hands. Even in the preseason, the Spurs ran several sets with him as the main ball handler. Leonard is projected to have a big second season, and he could be a difference in helping the Spurs make a return to the NBA Finals.
The reason is because Leonard has an unknown ceiling. He’s no longer considered a guy who is just a lockdown defender; the kid can score points in several ways. As he showed last season, he can hit the outside jumper, and now in the preseason he’s shown the ability to attack the paint and drawn contact to visit the foul line when the ball is in his hands. Leonard has the opportunity to have a huge season; it’ll be interesting to see how the young player will handle his new role as an offensive piece in the game-plan.
5. Danny Green – Though Green’s post season didn’t end the way he probably wanted it to, he’s comeback into training camp with the same determination and if you thought he’d be hesitant to fire away from distance, think again. Green has shown this preseason he’s still a dangerous threat from the outside as he’s now showing the ability to take longer 3-pointers and as of last Friday against the Washington Wizards, he’s taking 3-pointers now in transition. With Parker, Duncan, Leonard, and Diaw out there in the starting lineup, expect Green to continue to receive open looks from the outside this season.
6. Boris Diaw – Diaw will be playing his first full season with the Spurs and though he didn’t have an impressive run with France in the Olympics individually, the Spurs are a team that he can really improve with. His height is still an issue, but his offensive skill set is what makes the Spurs one of the toughest teams to stop. He can hit from the outside, pass in the pick-and-roll, pass from the top of the key, and penetrate on limited occasions. Once he builds more chemistry with the starting five, one would infer his individual game will begin to flourish.
7. Gary Neal – Neal came into this training camp with a more comfortable looking ability in running the point guard position. He’s still a scoring threat as he scored in double figures in six of the Spurs’ seven preseason games, but his ability to run the point gives the Spurs both an established backup point guard, but also another guard who can play both guard positions for lineup adjustments and when Parker or Ginobili need to be rested.
Check back on Tuesday on Project Spurs, as the rest of the roster will be discussed.