You might have heard by now that Las Vegas and several other analytic-minded sites don’t believe that the San Antonio Spurs will make it back to the postseason for the 22nd consecutive year. In fact, they put the over/under of Spurs wins at 43.5 for this coming season. However, we’re here to explore why exactly those people are wrong and why the Spurs will be back yet again once April rolls around.
While everyone is pointing out that Kawhi Leonard is now gone, they also forget that he played all of nine games last season and the team still went on to win 47 games. This year, they will have another superstar along LaMarcus Aldridge to handle some scoring in DeMar DeRozan and while he is not Leonard, he isn’t exactly a bum either. He’s been an All-Star four out of the last five seasons and can play a little bit at the small forward if needed. He also had his best year passing the ball last season, averaging over five assists a game and playing under a coach like Gregg Popovich should bring out the best of him yet again.
Of course, losing Leonard wasn’t the only negative for the Spurs as they also had to give up Danny Green who was not only a fan favorite, but also a good defender on the wing. His shooting can be made up for over the course of a season with other guys getting some more minutes and opportunities to shoot, but his defense will be missed. That will likely be the question of how the Spurs play after the Toronto trade. However, if Lonnie Walker is the athletic freak everyone hopes he is, then there’s a chance he could be the shutdown guy on the perimeter for the Spurs along with Dejounte Murray at the point.
While the defense may be an issue to address over the course of the season, the offense should look considerably better since there will be a known commodity playing in the games that Leonard missed last season and the team shed Tony Parker’s liabilities on the court when he signed with the Charlotte Hornets. There will be some addition by subtraction going on here and a clearer pecking order in the rotation as well. The Spurs may be shifting some guys around the shooting guard and small forward spots depending on what Manu Ginobili does since that will be a position of excess for them, but having Ginobili back would be a huge boon for locker room and court presence.
The biggest factor though is the teams that are perceived to be ahead of the Spurs. Here are the eight teams that Vegas has making the Western Conference Playoffs: Warriors, Rockets, Jazz, Thunder, Lakers, Pelicans, Nuggets and Timberwolves. Those first five are pretty much locks while the Nuggets should get in with a core of guys like Isaiah Thomas, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap. The other two team left over in the Pelicans and Timberwolves absolutely cannot be trusted to meet their win totals of 45.5 and 44.5, respectively.
Anthony Davis has been healthier the past two seasons, playing in 75 regular season games in each season, but he did not play more than 68 in any season before that. Is his health turning around or did the Pelicans get lucky the last two seasons? They also picked up Julius Randle and still have Jrue Holiday on the team, who are great pieces. However, the bench leaves plenty to be desired and that could either force Davis to play a ton more minutes without DeMarcus Cousins to help him out or it could lead to more losses because of poor bench play. I just don’t see this team making it into the playoffs.
The Timberwolves have some great players as well in Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. They’ve even got a solid bench, but with all those things in their favor last year, they managed the same record as the Spurs who were playing without a superstar. Jimmy Butler is reportedly “tired” of Towns and Wiggins not taking the game as seriously as he’d like and he’s openly talked about teaming up with Kyrie Irving. Not to mention he turned down a huge extension from the Timberwolves. While those may not exactly be tangible factors right now, they could play a role like the issues did for Brad Beal and John Wall in Washington.
Of course, these predictions are all before preseason has even started and there could be some major turning point during the season that changes the playoff picture completely. However, I wouldn’t bet the under on Spurs wins and I wouldn’t bet against them making the postseason yet again to break the NBA record for most consecutive trips to the playoffs.