I was asked to contribute to a season preview series on Sheridan Hoops on the topic of five things to watch this upcoming season. An excerpt of the post and a link to the full post is available below.
After coming up just short of the NBA Finals in the 2011-2012 season, the San Antonio Spurs used their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder – especially losing four consecutive games after winning 20 in a row – as fuel and motivation for the 2012-13 campaign.
For the first time since 2007, the Spurs, long considered old and boring, found themselves in the NBA Finals after losing just two games in the entire 2013 postseason.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, they came up short yet again, coming within seconds of tasting victory at the end of regulation in Game 6 against the Miami Heat.
1. Can Kawhi Leonard take the next step?
The NBA Finals made one thing obvious: Manu Ginobili is on borrowed time and Kawhi Leonard is becoming a bigger part of the franchise. Leonard had Spurs fans comparing him to Bruce Bowen in his first year out of San Diego State, and he shook off some misconceptions about his offensive game in his sophomore season. Everyone in San Antonio – coaching staff and front office included – is expecting Leonard to take another step forward this coming season and become a bigger part of the offense.
The Finals were proof that Leonard is on his way to becoming a top NBA defender, and he showed enough on offense to make everyone around San Antonio wonder if the guy even has a ceiling. Up until now, Leonard has been seen as a complementary piece to the offense. But he will be expected to carry a bigger offensive burden while guarding the opposing team’s best player every night.
The Spurs have been the Duncan and Parker show for the past decade, with some Ginobili mixed in as well. But they clearly need another player that can penetrate, create offense and not just sit around the perimeter and wait on passes to hit spot-up jumpers. Marco Belinelli is a nice addition, but he can’t do all the things Gary Neal can do.
Cut off Parker’s penetration and the Spurs have had a world of trouble finding offensive options and can become sluggish. Leonard will have to be that second perimeter weapon in the starting unit, and he will have to be consistently reliable for the Spurs to have a shot at a championship.
2. Does Tim Duncan have more in the tank?
Quite simply, Duncan defied Father Time last season.
Usually after 15 seasons, most post players are well into their decline and playing a smaller role. Duncan? He averaged his best numbers since the 2009-10 season. He also turned away more shots than he had in 10 years. Then in the playoffs, he increased almost all his averages across the board.
No one took the Finals loss harder than Duncan, and he will likely be looking at getting to the Spurs’ practice facility earlier before training camp, running the hill and getting himself into prime game shape yet again. Even with all that considered, though, Father Time catches up to even the most evasive of us.
Be sure to read the full post over at Sheridan Hoops
, including my thoughts on Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili in terms of what the Spurs may need from them next season.