San Antonio Spurs Season Preview: The Beautiful Game

Team Capsule

The Spurs are the most entertaining basketball team in the NBA. They have little competition for this title. But how?

The San Antonio Spurs used to represent the clunky, late 1990s/early 2000s style of basketball to a tee. They defended vigorously, played dirty at times, and ran a clunky offense based on hammering teams down low with arguably the best player in the NBA and perfectly placed shooters. Many fans hated the team because the clunky style of basketball combined with little drama made for a lack of interesting storylines.

Now? The Spurs play with the rhythm and flow of an soccer game: fluid moving, crisp passing, exaggerated flopping, and beautiful shot-making. It’s a scientific art, one that creates more offensive value than any in the league and also more aesthetically pleasing entertainment than any team provides. They run the floor, shoot tons of threes, dribble-drive better than nearly anyone else. They have awesome chemistry, rarely making mistakes with communication. And they all know their roles.

Manu Ginobili is the artist, or even a magician, Euro-stepping left and right and flying all over the place with no regard for his own health. He’s breathtaking when he explodes to the rim with reckless abandon, whether he’s scoring for himself or creating a shot for a teammate that nobody saw coming. He’s the ultimate combination of unpredictability, athleticism, quirkiness, and creativity.

Tim Duncan is the cornerstone, the rock the Spurs were built upon. While he might not play as much as he used to, when he does play he’s almost as sturdy. as ever.

Tony Parker is the general, one who knows what he does well and does it very, very often to great effect. He runs the pick-and-roll as well as any point guard. He also finishes around the rim as well as anyone his size has ever done. And while he has his weaknesses, with a little help and knowledge he can command the court.

Gregg Popovich is the scientist, designing schemes and plays that take ultimate advantage of the rules. He’s willing to experiment but ultimately knows what he can rely upon. His teams take more efficient shots than anyone else, either at the rim or in the corners for threes, because of his grand design. And he mixes the individual elements of team to create a potent formula for basketball success. But there’s a bit of an artist in him too – remember when he sat out Tim Duncan with a DNP – OLD? A scientist with a sense of humor, this one is.

With the pieces in place, The Spurs are a guaranteed source of entertainment this year, one that should be appreciated by all. Especially since we don’t know how much longer this show will go on as Ginobili and Duncan are well past their physical primes, and Tony Parker is getting there too. While they are still competitive, we need to appreciate them while we can.

Biggest Strength: Three point shooting

Wow are the Spurs good at shooting. They led the league in three point percentage last year while taking the 7th most attempts. Really only Golden State has the shooting to contend with them. The difference between the Spurs and Golden State is so massive in roughly all other areas, however.

Some of the players who shot astronomically high percentages last year might regress (I’m mainly looking at you, Danny Green), but they have so many shooters it might not matter.

Biggest Weakness: Time

Time is not on San Antonio’s side – with Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili all 30 or older, the Spurs’ core is slowly rotting. All still provide a ton of value on the court, but the problem comes when facing off with other teams who have multiple superstars. Reliability may also be an issue – Ginobili is oft-injured, Duncan can’t play more than 30 minutes on most nights, and Parker continues to get older and is still relied upon as the center of the offense. While the regular season, with all its kinks and idiosyncrasies, can be managed without all three, during the playoffs the Spurs just cannot rely on those three as much as they used to.

Player to Watch: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard is San Antonio’s next great hope. While he averaged only 24 minutes per game overall, by the end of the season the Spurs relied on him on both ends of the floor, maybe to their detriment in the end. Leonard has excellent defensive tools, with height, length, and quickness to boot. But he never quite put them together yet. But when he does, he should be an absolute force.

The Spurs will rely on Kawhi to improve defensively. Offensively, however, they don’t need him to be more than a role player. The team has enough offensive weapons to not rely on him anyway. But the Spurs are so good with player development and letting players grow in their roles that they might let him do more. I’ve always maintained the keys to player development are giving young players time on the court, letting them make mistakes, holding them accountable for effort, and puttng them in position to succeed.  Doing all of these puts young players in a position where they can test their strengths and bounds. The Spurs do this better than anyone, and Kawhi should benefit.

Coach: Gregg Popovich

2011-12 record: 50-16

Key Additions: Nando de Colo

Okay, so that’s not a key addition at all, but it’s the only addition. Nando struggled in the Olympics but could be good in time.

Key Subtractions: James Anderson

Again, not much. Anderson only played late last year in garbage time or whenever they needed someone to commit a foul on the perimeter. Many expected DeJuan Blair to be moved, but he’s still here.

Team Trajectory: Down

The Spurs will still be awesome to watch and a legitimate contender, but with Miami’s improvements and Oklahoma City’s development and LA’s new foundation, I can’t put the Spurs higher than fourth among the title contenders. Considering they were a bit better than this last year, the trajectory has to be going down, especially since Duncan and Ginobili are further past their primes. But this organization seems to find ways to figure things out, so all hope is not lost.

Projected Record: 55-27

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