The San Antonio Spurs' 2013-14 home opener is today, which is fun. Related: Bold predictions are fun especially, like, 21 of them!
Disclaimer: These bold predictions range from predictable to WHAT THE HELL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU #idiot. You were warned. These predictions don't reflect my thoughts, unless I'm right and you're wrong. Happy basketball everyone. Watch safely.
1. Kawhi Leonard will average 2.5 steals per game.
Kawhi averaged 1.9 steals per game last season, so this a bit of a stretch. But, hear me out. Leonard will presumably assume a larger offensive and defensive role this season, and an uptick in minutes will increase his raw production, which is what I'm banking on here — or something. Leonard corralled 14 steals in the NBA Finals, appropriating his regular season average, and there is room for growth as he steadily grasps the nuances of basketball, when to stab at the opponents dribble, when to crash the passing lane, how to deceive the ball handler and when to use his laser heat vision to detect weakness. Plus, his arms are long, which seems like it would be an advantage. For what it's worth: 2.5 steals per game would be the 26th highest single season mark since the 1990-91 season.
2. Kawhi will smile.
Less likely, but it's bound to happen again. Right?
3. Manu Ginobili will play in at least 70 games next season.
Hey, Manu, your age is showing. The 36-year-old Argentinian averaged a career low 23.2 minutes per game last season, just below his 2011-12 mark (23.3). Spurs coach Gregg Popovich liberally rested Ginobili to preserve his body for the playoffs, and that trend should continue this season, since it makes a lot of sense to rest the third most important offensive focal point on the team. In the past four seasons, Manu has appeared in 79.8 percent in games since the 2009-10 season — extrapolated to about 65 games per season, hence the 70 game benchmark. Manu played in 60 games last season, and reached 34, 80 and 75, respectively, in the previous three seasons. It's certainly possibly that he reaches the 70 game plateau this year, but it's hard to believe Popovich extending Ginobili unnecessarily in low-leverage regular season games, which represent a large portion of the NBA schedule. Bank on Ginobili playing fewer than 70, but remember I predicted this in case I'm right, because I'm smart and stuff.
4. Manu will also post career-highs in points, rebounds and assists per-36 minutes.
More Manu! Not only will he play at least 70 games, but he'll improve upon his career-high averages (per-36 minutes) of 22.6 points, six rebounds and 7.1 assists this season.
Those seem like gaudy numbers, and they are for the average NBA player, but Ginobili eclipsed his career-high in assists last season, sniffed it rebounds, and fell awfully short in points. There's an explanation: Ginobili's field goal percentage in the restricted area plummeted to 61.8 percent, nearly nine percentage points lower than his 2011-12 season. It's clear from the tape, statistics and on television: Ginobili isn't as deceptive, making it difficult to generate shots in the paint, the closest and most efficient shots in basketball. The shots he does generate are oftentimes difficult with a defender draped around his hip — an inevitable byproduct of age. I don't expect Ginobili to regress dramatically, and an uptick in points per 36 minutes is not too unlikely, given his propensity to subsist on high-efficiency shots (lay ups, 3-pointers and free throws). Give me, Manu.
5. Tiago Splitter will finish in the top five in pick-and-roll efficiency.
Only 14 players in the NBA — yes the basketball league — averaged more points per possession than Tiago Splitter in the pick-and-roll last season, according to MySynergySports. Splitter converted 114 of his 172 attempts in the pick-and-roll (66 percent), good for 1.25 points per possession. He'll still be an important part of the Spurs' pick-and-roll intensive offense, and there are no metrics suggesting Splitter will regress in the pick-and-roll. Reaching the top five in efficiency is not unreasonable.
6. The Spurs' starting lineup will lead the league in net rating.
Among five-man units logging at least 200 minutes last season, San Antonio's starting lineup (Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter) finished third in net rating behind the Miami Heat (Chalmers-Wade-Battier-James-Bosh) and the New York Knicks (Kidd-Felton-Smith-Anthony-Chandler) outfits.
San Antonio's quintuplet allowed the fewest points per 100 possessions (87.7!!!!!!) compared to their Miami/New York contemporaries. The problem, oddly, occurred on the offensive end, where they were merely average (105.7). Another year of seasoning will help patch up the emerging Splitter-Duncan frontcourt; Leonard's emergence adds a few additional offensive kinks to throw at opposing defenses; Danny Green is good at shooting the ball far away from the hoop; and Tony Parker is good at basketball. This lineup can be better. Watch out, NBA.
7. Nando De Colo will play in fewer than 10 games this season.
Rapid fire, time: De Colo will play fewer than 10 games this season, because he isn't very good, and the Spurs have better players. Next.
8. De Colo will also average more turnovers per game than assists.
De Colo will average more turnovers per game than assists, because he can't control his inner #NandoDeYolo (translation: throwing the ball into the stands unnecessarily). Next.
9. Patty Mills will cede "lead towel waving duties" to De Colo.
Mills' expanded role in the rotation will make his towel waving responsibilities obsolete, paving the door open for De Colo, sitting on the bench a lot, to assume his role. Towel waving, De Colo. Get used to it.
10. Tony Parker will lead point guards in Player Efficiency Rating.
Only Chris Paul (26.4 PER) and Russell Westbrook (23.9 PER) bested Parker last season. So he only has to pass two guys, right? Well, not exactly. Here's just some point guards vying for the top spot this season, in no particular order: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Steve Nash and De Colo (just kidding).
Parker is in a very advantageous position, in a offense tailored to his skill set, and I'm betting on one final mini-leap this season.
11. Tony will just play basketball.
And not mess around with Brent Barry's wife or hang around Chris Brown and Drake — because we've all been there before, and those things don't end well. This one is tough, because Parker is always a threat to grab headlines. Here's hoping he just plays basketball and saves his other stuff for later (like never).
12. Aron Baynes will play more minutes than Matt Bonner.
Aron Baynes is intriguing for several reasons — he's awfully tall (7-feet), nimble, and he can eat three small Australian children for supper. Bonner can shoot 3's, and he eats sandwiches. San Antonio's offense doesn't require sandwiches, and while Bonner's perimeter shooting gives Parker, Ginobili and Leonard valuable pockets of space to work with, Baynes could potentially fill in reliably for Splitter, and the Spurs wouldn't struggle too much. Baynes, already 26 entering his second season, may struggle handling the stress of protecting the rim, but it's worth a shot; he can eat three children, after all, and no one wants that.
13. Marco Belinelli will teach Baynes Italian, and it will be kinda cool. And weird.
Just because I had this vivid dream of Baynes speaking Italian, and it freaked me out.
14. Boris Diaw will SHOOT THE DAMN BALL … more than six times per game.
Boris never shoots the damn ball. It's infuriating. This season, he'll look at the rim, and throw the basketball at it, especially when he's WIDE OPEN WITH NO ONE FIVE FEET FROM HIM. Ugh, shoot the damn ball, Boris. Sometimes. (Because you're a good passer, too.)
15. Danny Green will lead the league in 3-point percentage.
Green took 413 3-pointers last season. He made 177. But his 42.9 3-point percentage, a damn good percentage, didn't technically lead the Spurs — Matt Bonner made 44.2 percent of his shots beyond the arc, but he didn't log enough minutes to qualify for Basketball Reference's leaderboard.
Among guys who did qualify, Green finished seventh — behind perimeter snipers like Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Ersan Ilyasova, Steve Nash and Shane Battier.
Green already broke the law of basketball in the NBA Finals, and as the Spurs instill crafty ways to free up their most proficient 3-point shooter, he will continue to receive juicy looks. He'll knock down most of them.
16. DeJuan Blair will gobble up 20 rebounds in a 11-point Mavericks victory over the Spurs.
Twitter would explode. Life would cease to exist.
17. The Spurs won't make a trade.
Sure, they have three affordable expiring deals (Diaw, Bonner, Mills), a mid-level contract that isn't egregious (Splitter) and an entire roster of cheap contracts to wield in the trade market. They could easily make a deal happen, if they intended to. The trade market is presumably saturated with real talent — LaMarcus Aldridge is on one end of the spectrum, Brandon Bass constitutes the healthy middle class and Kendrick Perkins' hapless corpse represents the bottom rung — but unless San Antonio gets really freaky, this will be their roster entering the playoffs, until they pick up "Old Dude X" off the scrap heap again.
18. The Spurs will lead the league in defensive efficiency.
They finished second according to Basketball Reference and third according to NBA.com/Stats. So they're definitely capable. Memphis, Indiana, Chicago (with healthy guys!), Miami and Oklahoma City all can realistically leap ahead and nab the No. 1 slot, too. It's a tough race to handicap — since these teams never waver in their execution, and suffocate the life of most NBA's offenses. But if the Spurs' starting lineup is going to lead the league in net rating (like I said earlier!), and since that lineup plays good defense and logs a lot of time together, they'll heavily influence this number in the right direction.
19. Gregg Popovich will average more than one sentence per sideline interview.
Vegas odds: 25/2.
20. Tracy McGrady will un-retire, re-sign with the Spurs, jump into a time continuum vortex and score 35 points a game during the postseason.
Wait. Too bold.
21. We will get over last year's NBA Finals.