This was...much longer than I expected. I got really carried away and hope you enjoy.
A look at the San Antonio Spurs title hopes this season.
This will most likely be posted around a day or so after the Spurs came off a huge victory in Staples Center over the Lakers. It marks their second win in that arena already (beating the Clippers 96-88 on the 7th of this past month) this season, and for their sake, hopefully not the last.
To me, this is the twilight of this Spurs era. After this season, players like Duncan and Ginobili may be gone (don't let the Manu extension fool you into thinking he's a lock to retire in San Antonio) while a new era of Spurs basketball will be ushered in. Led by players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and DeJuan Blair. The big three is getting up in years and getting down in production. As the hottest team in the West, the question on people's minds surely is how long can they keep it up?
Well don't expect any records broken from them this year in terms of overall record or winning streak. I assume they'll surpass 50 wins just like they have for over a decade and secure a nice top seed in the West. That's not the question, the question is how far do they go from there?
Obviously your guess is as good as mine, but as someone who has watched all 8 of the Spurs games (as you may have not) I'd like to provide some insight on where I see them this year.
First off, let's start with the story that has put more people to switch over to the Spurs games than in years past. Kawhi Leonard. A rookie who earned a starting spot under Gregg Popovich last year obviously has to be doing something right, and boy is he ever. Now in his sophmore campaign he's #1 in the league for FG% and has brought a quick fastbreak pace to the Spurs that people aren't used to seeing. I don't expect this number to stay this high all season, of course. However, his ability to play such fantastic basketball on both ends of the floor is astonishing, and as long as that jumpshot's consistency improves and he's able to step out to the three point line and be a true threat, teams will be vying for this kid for years to come. Not only that, but he'll be an integral part of the title push for the Spurs this year.
The Spurs overall game plan has been very interesting to watch this year. They've pushed the break and attacked the basket rather frequently. Although the Lakers game last night was more slowed down, presumably because of how much they got burned by turnovers early on. Getting 10-15 shots up for Tim Duncan isn't that big of a deal right now, which is my first and largest question mark.
This teams three point shooting has helped carry them for several nights. With so many options beyond the arc available at the same time, teams like the Thunder and Clippers have been unable to stop the barrage. This is not something you can rely on in a seven game series, and when those aren't falling this team needs someone to go to. I think that their frontcourt rotation is a problem for them right now. Duncan is seeing a career low in minutes and he's really the only good post scorer on this team. When they've looked to Tiago Splitter to give them something down low it hasn't been fantastic, and guys like Diaw and Bonner are much more comfortable fading off the pick to the three point line. Blair saw his shot last night at a starting gig probably disappear as he failed to score any points over a team who was playing two small forwards at the same time for a majority of the game. Forgive me for questioning the mind of Popovich, but I think this team will have to start giving Duncan significantly more looks and Splitter significantly more open looks if they want to not live and die by the three.
I'd be shocked if this team is rocking the same rotation come April. Unless Aron Baynes can hop off the injured reserve into a starting role and prove he's some prolific post scorer in his first year in the NBA, the Spurs front office will need to look to find a trade and acquire a second big man option who can take up a hunk of minutes.
San Antonio has struggled with turning the ball over a little bit too much. This is something that becomes more evident when a team begins to lose, however clutch play from guys like Parker and Ginobili have put Proactiv on this blemish. Ultimately this team only has one really good passer with Tony Parker. Again, this issue may become more evident later on. I worry about them facing the Heat later this month. 15 turnovers can easily turn into 30 points against that team. This may be another reason they should slow it down and not force the break but rather look to Duncan down low. I'll reference back to the Lakers game again. I remember a string of posessions in a row that the Spurs would get the rebound when Parker was on the bench, and when the rebounder gave the ball to Gary Neal he decided not to risk the pass but rather slow it down and set something up. This was quite successful and I think had this not been done and Neal instead threw up a pass, the outcome of the game could be very different.
There's more I could touch on (like the strengths of the Spurs bench and the team's league-leading FT%) but I'll instead go to how I see this team in the postseason.
The way they match up to the Clippers is very very good and if they do add another post scorer or that situation is remedied in some way I see that series as very one-sided (sorry lob enthusiasts). The other LA team will have to worry about beating the slower Spurs pace that was exhibited on Tuesday and out-performing/shutting down the bench.
The other big name is the Thunder, who beat the Spurs in the conference finals last year. I think the Spurs still don't have the ability to beat this team in seven games. If they want to win, the Spurs will need to slow the pace down like they did against the Lakers and force people who arent Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to be the scorers, or at least limit those two to less than 30 points. Getting the Thunder big men into foul trouble would be extremely problematic with the slashing of Parker/Ginobili/Leonard and the post proficiency of healthy and rested postseason Tim Duncan.
If there's someone I could rest the burden of my questions on it'd be Gregg Popovich. I'm sure him along with the Spurs front office will find solutions this season to be as dangerous as ever in this potential last go 'round. Even without any trades I could see this team fully healthy take the West in the regular and post season. As for how they match up against the East, that's a totally different story. A story that will begin to be written November 29th as they face the Heat for the first time this season.