“One More Run”, Pt. 17: San Antonio Spurs Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Tony Parker, SG Danny Green, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Tim Duncan, C Thiago Splitter
Key Bench Players: SG Manu Ginobili, PG Cory Joseph, SG Marco Belinelli, PF Boris Diaw, PF Matt Bonner
Offseason Additions: Marco Belinelli
Offseason Subtractions: G Gary Neal
FACT OR FICTION: The Spurs have enough in them for their fifth consecutive “one more run”?

FACT. But that’s not the real question.
FACT OR FICTION: The 2013-2014 Spurs can’t win a title unless Kawhi Leonard takes a leap.
FACT. We saw a little what the Spurs look like with Kawhi Leonard as a borderline All-Star-caliber player in the NBA Finals last season. He dropped 15 points, snatched 11 boards and 2 steals on a .513/.248/.702 slash line in the most pressure packed moments of the season. Leonard did all of this while serving up premium defense, maximum concentration and an eerie robotic calm that belied the fact that he hadn’t even turned 22. He wasn’t the best Spur in the series–that honor goes to the extraordinary Tim Duncan–but he wasn’t that far behind.

Going into 2013-2014, Leonard is going to have to replicate that same type of impact over an 82 game stretch if San Antonio wants to keep up with an unrelenting Western Conference. It’s not so much the attrition to Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. The team’s All-Star point guard has somehow just turned 31, though it feels like he’s been in the league for 15-20 years with his unerringly consistent excellence every single year. The team’s former two-time MVP big man is 37 years old, but his superior conditioning, style of play and coach Gregg Popovich’s excellent handling of his minutes should keep us from continually doubting Timmy’s ability to stay amongst the NBA’s elite.

However, if the Finals taught us anything, it’s that Manu Ginobili’s time as a June contributor may be over. The three-time champion swingman averaged just 11 points on .433 FG%, with four assists against 3 turnovers per game. It was by far his worst Finals performance ever, which shouldn’t be surprising considering his age (36) and injuries (44 games missed the past two seasons). It’s not so much that he just had a bad stretch in June after a difficult season–it’s that I don’t know how Ginobili will make it through an 82 game season and then, even if he escaped injury, will have enough energy left to make significant contributions in May or June.

With that in mind, for the Spurs to fight off the very notably attrition to one of their core contributors, Leonard will have to significantly up his regular season numbers. From what we witnessed in the Finals, it’s not such a difficult question. But what is a tremendously difficult question is: will what the Spurs witnessed in Game 6 stop them from getting back to title contention?

From all the reports I’ve read, the Spurs are still carrying the wounds of that fateful Chris Bosh offensive rebound Ray Allen step back three on their sleeves. I’m still not sure whether this will propel them back to the championship round, as did the 2008 Finals did to the 2008-2009 Lakers, or its specter will keep them down for good, as it did the 1994 New York Knicks (sorry for the cheap shot, boys). Regardless of what the players will harbor in their minds, there’s little doubt that Gregg Popovich will coach any differently. Most of a 58-win squad returns, with one change in Marco Belinelli replacing the departed Gary Neal. Though I expect some erosion based on two very long postseason runs in a row (and Pop subsequently giving even more time off to his aging veterans), make no mistake: this is still a very potent title contender.

Best Case Scenario: The Spurs run it back one year with a much sweeter result. Leonard makes The Leap necessary for San Antonio to keep their customary 1 or 2-seed and for the team to get over the hump in the Finals for the first time in seven years.

Absolute Apocalypse: The same fear that Spurs fans everywhere have every year–the Spurs get old. Duncan looks old, Ginobili is washed up, Diaw very literally has boobs and Leonard’s development stalls. San Antonio makes the playoffs but as a 7-seed, in a Lakers-like fall from grace. The future is now, and it doesn’t look great.

Expected outcome:  2nd in the Southwest, 4th in the Western Conference

Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series:

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats

Miami Heat
Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Minnesota Timberwolves
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz

Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks
Houston Rockets
Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Pelicans

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