They did it!! The Spurs finally beat the Warriors in some form of competition! They can’t send their 7ft goon out there to purposefully injure the Spurs best player this time!! Look, even Pop and Kawhi are smiling!!
This had to be one of the closest polls we’ve had to date this summer and while some may consider the Spurs “boring”, I couldn’t disagree more. They’ve had a very interesting summer since their season ended, and they are entering 2017-18 season once again in the discussion for best teams in the league. Safe to say there is a lot to talk about when it comes to the Spurs so let’s not waste any time.
2016-17 season highlights
Whenever you talk about the Spurs, one of the first things you touch on is their consistency. This certainly isn’t news, everyone knows the Spurs have been really good for a really long time. No matter what happens to their roster, or who gets hurt, the assumption is more often than not the Spurs will figure it out and be in the discussion come May/June. This is true, but I want to take a few minutes to really take a step back and look at what kind of franchise we’re talking about here.
Do you realize there are probably some #GoPresGo kids reading this blog right now that don’t know what it’s like for the Spurs to not be a playoff team? That’s because they’ve made it every year since 1997. 1997!! How insane is that? Well, the next longest streak was the Atlanta Hawks from 08-17 (10 seasons). The Grizzlies (7), Clippers (6), Warriors (5) and Rockets (5) round out the other top 5 current streaks in the league. As you can see, nobody is even remotely close. The Spurs became a franchise in 1967-68 when they were the Dallas Chaparrals led by the dominant Bob Verga, and moved to San Antonio for the 1973-74 season. As they enter their 51st season in the NBA, the Spurs have missed the playoffs a total of 5 times. FIVE. That might sound crazy and impressive, but I’m not done. Why do people just assume the Spurs are going to be fine no matter what happens? Maybe because they’ve won at least 50 games for 20 straight YEARS (including lockout winning%) and 25 of the last 28 YEARS. You know how KFC hates Patrick McGillicuddy for his sports success? That’s basically every Spurs fan. For essentially their entire existence they have been the class of the NBA.
Which brings us to this year’s team. As always, let’s take a glance at how their roster looks right this second
In very Spurs fashion, we see a lot of the same names, with a few key additions. For example, Pau Gasol opted out of his deal and took less money so the Spurs could afford to sign Rudy Gay because of course he did. Manu decided to bless us with another year of him playing basketball which I don’t know how you couldn’t support, and obviously with Kawhi they have one of the best players in the league. Sprinkle in some promising young talent like Mills, Anderson, Murray, and you have a team that as a whole has just a $114,052,719 payroll. This is good for 12th highest in the league, and I’m not sure that’s fair for everyone else. We’ve already talked about the Thunder, Blazers, and Bucks, teams that are spending tens of millions more, yet aren’t even close to contending for a championship. To put that into perspective, of the teams that have higher payrolls than the Spurs this season that were in the playoffs last year, the Spurs are one of only three teams that are under the luxury tax, and none of those other teams have as much space as the Spurs $1.4M. The Spurs are basically kicking your ass AND maintaining flexibility, something that is extremely rare in today’s league.
In looking at this roster though, I can see why some Spurs fans may be feeling a little nervous for probably the first time in their lives. First off, the Spurs are in a tough spot for Tony Parker their 35 year old point guard. After rupturing his quadriceps, many are under the impression that we wouldn’t see Parker back until the All Star break which isn’t great. The Spurs obviously overcame that with the play of Mills/Murray, but Parker is their 4th highest paid player, and has made it clear he is not retiring. They also are relying heavily on a 40 year old Manu and 37 year old Gasol, and I don’t care how much they rest during the year, time catches up with everyone. Their prized FA signing in Gay, while only 31 has his own questions as he’s coming back from an Achilles injury, which can be tricky.
If he’s 100% healthy, Rudy Gay can absolutely make a difference for this team. He is a plus offensive player who will help take some of the scoring pressure off Kawhi. I would imagine even in some lineups you could even play him at the four. The problem is, he isn’t a spring chicken and there isn’t the best track record of guys his age coming back strong. Sure guys like Kobe have done it, but Rudy Gay is not Kobe.
And then theres the elephant in the room. LaMarcus Aldridge. Looking from the outside, it would appear that Spurs fans hate this dude with the fire of a thousand suns. I think it’s fair to say his postseason performance last year was certainly NOT what Spurs fans were expecting, especially with how solid he played in the playoffs the year before. I mean he shot 36% from 10-16ft, 31% from 16-3P, and 14% from three. By comparison the year before he was 48%/52%/100%. You may not know, but the midrange game is supposed to be his strength. The difference was with Duncan gone, Alridge had to play more Center, playing that position 51% of the time compared to 44% the year before. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t just his shooting woes that plagued him, LaMarcus could NOT stop turning the ball over. A total of 28 turnovers in 16 games, this was an increase from where he was at all year, and 8 of them came from bad passes while 11 of them came from just losing the ball. He was clearly pressing and everybody knew it
There’s a reason you see Spurs fans ready to throw LMA in any hot trade rumor, because with two years and over $43M left on his deal, I think it’s fair to say he’s been a bit of a disappointment since coming to SA as a free agent.
Also it should be mentioned, this team no longer has Dewayne Dedmon or Jonathon Simmons on the roster, two very promising young players who left in free agency. Was this season going to depend on those two guys? Of course not, but when you’re talking about the Spurs and how they rest their rotation players, having those type of depth pieces was important. How this new group handles that is what makes this team so exciting for me. We all know Pop is a goddamn basketball genius, but this roster does not have a lot of size. Part of me thinks that’s a conscious decision, as the Spurs realized in their matchup with GS last year, that maybe they had too much size and not enough wings. What makes the Spurs fascinating is that while it seems every other team in the West is loading up with as much talent as possible to challenge GS, the Spurs are over here just like “meh, we’ll figure it out with what we have”.
Obviously, the Spurs success is directly tied to known basketball robot Kawhi Leonard. Entering his 7th season in the league, he is one of the few players who has legit improved every single year. Here was a guy that as a 20 year old averaged 7.9 points a game and made less than 1 three per night. Now at age 25, he put up 25.5 and made 2.0 threes per night. His basketball evolution has been amazing to watch considering he wasn’t even a lottery pick. What I find interesting about his development on the offensive end is how much more comfortable he is away from the basket. Early in his career, his average FGA distance was 11-12ft. The last two years he’s been at 13.3 and 14.8ft respectively. What’s insane is that despite taking more shots from further away, his efficiency hasn’t dipped. He just completed the second best shooting season from 16ft-3P of his career at an outrageous 49.3%. Last season Kawhi was 14th in FGA from midrange, but shot it better than any of the 13 guys ahead of him at 47.3%. If you’re looking for where the Spurs offense is going to come from, that’s probably a great place to start.
How much better can Kawhi get at shooting? Well, I think it will be hard to top his 2015 season when he had 50/44% splits for the entire year, but he’s a career 49.5% shooter from the field, so I would imagine he stays right around that 48-50% mark. The biggest thing will be if he can continue to improve from behind the arc. Make no mistake about it, Kawhi from deep is now a legit threat, and the way the Spurs move the ball this cannot be ignored. Extra passes like you read about. Do I think he’ll get as high as that 44%? Maybe not, but I do think he’ll be better than the 38% we saw last year.
It may seem like Kawhi is the perfect player, because he’s pretty damn close, but if we are going to be honest, his defense did take a slight step back last year. He did have the highest defensive rating of his career (a still VERY respectable 102), but it wasn’t quite the same lockdown defense we’ve grown accustomed to from Kawhi. Here’s what I mean:
Last year, with Kawhi defending someone, their FG% was 45.0%. All other times their FG% was 45.8%, so only a 0.8% drop. Basically nothing.
Compare that to 2015-16 when Kawhi would defend someone, their FG% 39.2% compared to 44.8% all other times, which was a drop of 5.6%. Of players that played 72 games (like Kawhi did), this was the second highest difference in the league after Durant.
Perhaps the added offensive responsibility impacted his defense slightly, perhaps it was just bad luck, but with the roster situation what it is, and the pieces they lost, Kawhi the defender is going to have to look a whole lot more like the 2015 version than last year’s version if the Spurs finally want to get past the Warriors.
At the end of the day, I think the Spurs have earned the right for us to just assume they will figure it out. They still have Pop/Kawhi which are the most important pieces, but they certainly are not a team without legit questions. We’ve seen this team win 55 games and lose a playoff series to a 6 seed, and we’ve seen this team play the best basketball on the planet and win the whole damn thing.
While the result may be uncertain, the one thing we know for sure is that the Spurs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Official Greenie Prediction: 53 wins