The San Antonio Spurs will open the 2016 regular season tonight with a very different look to the team, as , for the first time in 19 years, Tim Duncan will not walk onto the court with the rest of the team. Losing not only the face of the franchise, but the very heart and soul of the franchise, can truly change a team. Just look at the Los Angeles Lakers this year. The lack of Kobe Bryant on the roster gives them an entirely different character (and hopefully far fewer nationally televised games…)
But the Spurs are not the Lakers. While the Greatest Spur Ever is no longer playing, the team’s ethos has not necessarily changed. It certainly helps with a coach of Gregg Popovich’s caliber and a superstar with Kawhi Leonard’s lack of facial expression. This team is still really really good, and will still play team-oriented, winning basketball.
While the big acquisition news this off-season was Kevin Durant taking his talents to the Bay Area, the Spurs flew under the radar in signing Pau Gasol to replace Duncan. Granted, Gasol isn’t Durant, and the Warriors were already the cream of the crop in the West, but these Spurs are going to give the current Western Conference champs a run for their money.
Arguably the best two-way player in the league leads this team in Kawhi Leonard, and he’s “backed-up” by one of the premiere scoring forwards in LaMarcus Aldridge. Throw in Gasol, a very underrated all-around center, and you have a front court that can score in bunches. It will be interesting to watch the interplay between Aldridge and Gasol, but I expect that it will be a relatively seamless transition. Gasol is a smart player who is used to not being the alpha or even second fiddle on the team, and his passing skills should shine in this offense.
But the Spurs cannot go into the season with everything in perfect order, and the back court handles that part this year. Tony Parker has clearly lost a step, and not only does the offense look different when he’s not on his game, but the West is full of stud point guards that he will have to guard most nights of the week. If Danny Green slides over to guard the point that puts Parker on the shooting guard, which also isn’t a great idea. However, the silver (and black) lining in this situation is Patty Mills coming off the bench to get his 25 minutes a game. The Aussie can score – just watch his Rio 2016 highlights.
The bench unit lost one of it’s most important pieces this off season in Boris Diaw, but the addition of a few new players and the maturation of a few current ones should hopefully keep it humming. Jonathan Simmons was one of my favorite players last season, and another year in the Pop system should really help showcase his skills in attacking the basket. Add that to the fact that Danny Green is going to miss some time at the beginning of the season, meaning more minutes for Simmons, and this year could be his coming out party. Kyle Anderson should also benefit greatly from another year of tutelage by the Spurs coaching staff. “Slo Mo” is considered the heir apparent to Diaw’s point forward role, and showed flashes of brilliance last year. The Spurs just picked up his fourth-year contract option, and he should also benefit from more playing time while Green is sidelined.
Going into this season, Golden State is widely considered in a class of their own in the West, and deservedly so. But the Spurs are not going to just role over and hand them the Western Conference title. Vegas has placed the Spurs’ over/under win total at 58.5, 2 more wins than the defending NBA champions and 5 wins over the LA Clippers, the closest Western Conference team. This is clearly a very good team, and a lot can happen over the course of an 82 game season.
The chase for seis starts tonight at 10:30 eastern against the Warriors on TNT. So put on your silver and black and get ready for #GoSpursGo.