The San Antonio Spurs are celebrating their offseason from a dominant 2013-2014 regular season and a more dominant playoffs which saw complete domination of the then defending champion Miami Heat in historic fashion.
Spurs fans and the majority of NBA purists were expecting the rankings for the upcoming season to play into San Antonio’s favor, especially with the majority of the rotation locked in to return next season.
Instead the Oklahoma City Thunder were given the nod by ESPN.com for the best record in the Western Conference (and best record for the entire league) over the Spurs by one game and it’s rekindled the argument by the silver and black faithful that the current NBA champion Spurs don’t get respect from the mainstream media.
Is this true? Are the Spurs being disrespected by the “worldwide leader in sports” per usual or might they have a case?
Before throwing ESPN’s opinion under the bus, they might have a case on their standings and it might encourage San Antonio’s supporters for next season and possibly heading into the playoffs. Let’s examine the factors that will play into the Spurs’ standings in the Western Conference.
Health: We already know the Spurs are expecting to be without Patty Mills at least half of the regular season due to a rotator cuff injury and Manu Ginobili’s stress fracture leaves a question mark on how he’ll start off the season early with more rest and less basketball as he’s known as a rhythm player. The good news is that the Spurs had an injury plagued season last year and still managed to win 62 games last season. Even with the team missing their key back up point guard, their versatility allows them to make up for missing players. Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, and Boris Diaw have been known to handle the ball like point guards and newcomer Kyle Anderson’s character on the court is of a ball handler and distrubor like a point guard. The Spurs will need Mills’ clutch shooting and defense in the playoffs, but they’ll likely not miss him as much during the regular season with their versatility.
Depth: The team has locked in the majority of their core and roster from last season. The Spurs played around a 10-man rotation in the playoffs with their depth during a time the rotations tighten. The regular season and lack of preparation against teams will make it easier for the Spurs to play the majority of the roster along with some call ups from the Austin Toros.
Experience: This isn’t the same experience that will give them the edge in the playoffs as a team, but instead the experience as a team to know how they should play in the regular season and the playoffs. With the team’s aging core and history of injuries (especially during repeating years), they may be more cautious playing with saving energy, playing more conservative, and driving recklessly into the paint (…Manu Ginobili). The Spurs might just become more of a jump shooting team with more of a pick and pop than a roll to stay healthy and become more aggressive for the title hunt in the postseason.
These play a huge factor where the Spurs will be in the regular season standings and it might make a case for ESPN.com’s prediction. The Spurs have nothing to prove in the regular season and the Western Conference is arguably weaker overall than last season heading into the playoffs as of today. With the Spurs already winning a championship with the same team going into this season, homecourt advantage won’t play as much of a factor as it did last season with the uncertainty of how the team would react after Game 7′s heartbreaking loss to the Heat in 2013.
Could the Spurs be the second seed heading into the playoffs? Sure.
That doesn’t mean they won’t repeat as NBA champions. With Oklahoma City predicted as the top seed in the NBA, they’re going into the season with the same team and possibly Kevin Durant logging in the same number of minutes that have seen him wear down as the postseason progresses. This San Antonio Spurs team is now a veteran team in experience in the league and together as a team and that should throw any regular season importance out of the window. We may see this experienced team rest their core more often than last season to save up energy for the playoffs.
In the end, all that matters is this: if the Spurs are healthy going into the 2015 NBA playoffs, they will be considered the favorites regardless of where they are in the Western Conference standings.