Each team enters the season with varying expectations based on the talent on their roster, where they are in their team building cycle, and the delusions of management and fans. Prior to the start of the season I’ll look at what would need to happen for each team to call their regular season a success, and how likely they are to make it happen.
What do you expect? The defending champions are bringing back the usual suspects for another season, hoping to squeeze one more title out of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker and coach Popovich are back too in the quartet’s 13th season together, along with Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, and Marco Belinelli. It’s no wonder with that kind of depth that they were able to get by last season without a single player averaging over 30 minutes per game, and Pop will again lean heavily on his strategy of resting the vets while cycling in young or unproven players to help them gain game experience.
This all has to fall apart at some point. Duncan has to finally break down. Parker has to lose a step. Ginobili has to sustain one too many injuries. It may not happen this year, and it certainly didn’t happen last year, but it will eventually, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Far from the early days of the Duncan era, when he teamed with David Robinson in a post-up centric offense, the last few years have seen the Spurs put on an offensive clinic thanks to their crisp ball movement and solid shooting. This team can get anyone an open look, and they’ll use some of the most creative sets in the league to do it. The entire process is a thing of beauty.
That awe-inspiring play was good enough to rank San Antonio 6th in offensive efficiency despite sitting their best players for large chunks of the regular season. The defense might somehow be more impressive, ranking 4th in efficiency last year. Every player can contribute offensively, making it easier for the coaching staff to use optimal defensive lineups for long stretches. The Splitter/Duncan combo can play together, especially in the regular season, thanks to the spacing provided by everyone else, and the bigs are fantastic together defensively.
It’s hard to say exactly how this season will go. The depth and talent make injuries less of an issue, and Leonard’s ascent should help mask the decline of Duncan and Ginobili, but the roster is old, and a big decline by more than a couple of the key contributors could signal the closing of this core’s title window. In addition to Duncan and Ginobili, Diaw is always a risk to be out of shape, and he is on the wrong side of 30.
We’ll have to wait and see how well the team holds up and whether or not father time ever comes calling for Duncan. A spot in the playoffs is almost assured, however, which is something almost no other team in the West can say. Once there, the health of the team and the luck of the draw will be the biggest factors in determining if the Spurs’ quest for a repeat is successful.
Predicted Finish: 59-23 | 1st in Western Conference