2017-18 Spurs Season Preview: A team in transition? Not yet
It feels like a long time has passed since San Antonio last raised the Larry O’Brien trophy.
An all-time NBA superstar retired, Golden State got good, LeBron James changed teams (again), and Ice Cube is running pro basketball.
The calendar, however, doesn’t lie. Since the San Antonio Spurs won the 2014 NBA Championship on June 15, 2014, only 1201 days have passed. That's 3.29 years. That isn’t a lot of time.
And the more things change, the more they stay the same. San Antonio is still good. They finished the season last year in disappointing fashion, but were losers in the Western Conference Finals. They won 61 games in an ultra-competitive NBA by posting the best defensive rating (103.5) since 2011. Offensively, their 111.1 rating is their second-best in 21 years. The Spurs ended last season at the top of their game. Between untimely injuries to Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, and of course ridiculously solid play from Golden State, the Spurs exited the Playoffs before the final round. Not bad for a team playing its first year without Matt Bonner.
By coming up just short in the Western Conference Finals most teams would simply go back at it again with the same team. The Spurs, however, are in the midst of a roster overhaul.
Out are: David Lee, Dewayne Dedmon, and Jonathon Simmons.
In are: Rudy Gay, Derrick White, and Brandon Paul. A 2017-2018 team with 10 guards on the roster replaces a 2016-2017 squad featuring seven forwards and/or centers.
In the Tim Duncan years, experience always pulled the Spurs through. This season, San Antonio’s roster has 12 players who couldn’t tell you who Vanilla Ice is. Six of those players were born after 1993. The youth movement is clearly in play for San Antonio. Manu Ginobili, in his 15th year, says “I see how much these kids work out and how improved they are. How hungry they are. It’s exciting to witness that.”
So, if Manu doesn’t mind, why should I?
The Spurs are clearly going small to compete with the likes of Golden State and the Houston Rockets. And they are indeed in that company. Tony Parker will miss the beginning of the season, but will rejoin a backcourt lineup with versatile guards Danny Green, Ginobili, Patty Mills, and a more experienced Dejounte Murray. If 6’4” Brandon Paul can give the Spurs spot minutes, suddenly San Antonio has some serious backcourt depth.
Add that depth to MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, future Hall of Fame center Pau Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs should be plenty-excited about this season.
Despite a 25.5 points per game average last season, Leonard is a 16.4 PPG scorer for his career. Expect him to have a dip in offensive production due to the installation of 31 year old Rudy Gay. Gay, an 11 year NBA veteran averages 18.4 points per game for his career, and the Spurs will need all of them this season. Leonard should have no problem refocusing on his defensive prowess and retaking the Defensive Player of the Year trophy at season’s end.
Outside of Leonard, San Antonio’s other true star is LaMarcus Aldridge. The 6’11” forward has been one of the most consistent scorers and rebounders since he joined the Association in 2006. For his career he is a 19.1 PPG scorer and adds 8.3 rebounds per contest. His mid-range game has remained phenomenal- roughly 40% from midrange. However, last season he reestablished situational three-point shooting. He delivered on 41% of his three point attempts last season. Expect the volume of attempts to increase this year.
San Antonio didn’t land any of the coveted free agents this off season; their biggest signing was arguably Patty Mills. That being the case, many pundits may believe this is the season the Spurs finally take that step back from competitiveness in the Western Conference. While it is clear that from a financial perspective the Spurs are looking ahead to next offseason, they are also in a position to play for it all right now.
Leonard and Aldridge have the talent around them in: Gasol, Gay, Mills, Green, Ginobili, and unmistakeable potential in Murray. They also have the best coach in the NBA, Gregg Popovich, who will have them primed to compete for an NBA Championship.
If San Antonio can avoid the injury bug that seems to follow them of late, there is no reason that they could not finish second in the Southwest behind the Houston Rockets, and third in the Western Conference.