The long awaited preview is finally here! I've been spamming you guys with links to other teams that aren't as cool as the Spurs, so now you get to read ours.
We did something a little different than everyone else. We did a collaborated preview with all of your favorite PtR writers. WOW!
Team Name: Spurs
Last Year’s Record: 50 - 32
Key Losses*: Ian Mahinmi, Theo Ratliff, Roger Mason, Jr., Keith Bogans
Key Additions: Tiago Splitter, James Anderson, Gary Neal, Garrett Temple, Alonzo Gee
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The most anticipated move of the Spurs off season was the addition of Tiago Splitter. Nearly everyone saw him coming, and thankfully he did. Tiago finished his season in the ACB by winning the title and MVP award. The Spurs signed Tiago 27 days after the final championship game. He got married and they interrupted his honeymoon, even. For a more in depth look, see the player introduction I wrote.
A few days prior, the Spurs drafted James Anderson with the 20th pick. Anderson is a 6'6" guard from Oklahoma State. For a more in depth look at him, see the intro CapHill wrote.
Late last season, the Spurs picked up Garrett Temple for a 10-day contract, then later signed for the remainder of the season. Temple, a 6'6" guard from LSU, brings a lot to the table for the Spurs. To learn more about him, take a look at his CapHill profile.
A seasoned player, Gary Neal is originally from Towson. Neal, a 6'5" 3-point B-52 Bomber, played in Turkey for ‘07, for a team in Spain's FC Barcelona, Italy in 08-09. He agreed to a three year contract to the Spurs. Read more about him here.
Toros standout Alonzo Gee has certainly surprised most of us. He was the NBADL Rookie of the Year for the 2009-2010 season. This impressed the front office so much, they offered him a 2-year contract. Read his profile here.
The Spurs also drafted Ryan Richards in the second round. He is, a 7' PF from England, but has yet to be signed as he plays for Gran Canaria in the ACB. The current plan is to keep him overseas to develop, despite his repeated statements that he would prefer to play for the Austin Toros.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
There are a few areas that this team, by all rights, should excel in. The first is something near and dear to the hearts of many die-hard Spurs fans, as well as an area that they excelled in last year; defense at the rim. This might actually surprise some folks, but in ‘09-10 the Spurs were a top 5 team in this category, and with Splitter and an improving DeJuan Blair aboard, the interior defense isn’t getting any weaker. The improvements that those two bring to the protecting the paint should be more than enough to cover for any slippage from Timmy or Antonio McDyess. The team defense last year had some major leaks when it came to mid-range shooting, but they were fine inside. And seeing how the mid-range jumper is one of the least efficient shots in basketball, the Spurs defend well where it really matters the most: at the rim and around the arc - although the 3pt defense needs some improvement to get back to where it was during the seasons that ended with a trophy.
The second point of pride - and quite possibly the one thing the Spurs will do better than anything else - is rebounding. Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess have been among the league leaders in rebound rate almost every single year they’ve been in the NBA. Last year the Spurs finished third in the league in total rebound rate. This year, they’ve got another young wing player that rebounds the ball very well for his position in James Anderson. Now replace the minutes Bonner played last year with a slightly better rebounder in Splitter. Add in more minutes for the guy who had the highest rebound rate of any rotation player in the league last year, DeJuan Blair, and you’ve got a recipe for greatness. The Beast is quicker, stronger, and more athletic than he’s ever been, and he’s going to be an absolute monster on the boards. Getting a couple more possessions than your opponent does every game can be very advantageous.
The third thing I’d like to concentrate on is the Spurs ability to score at the rim. Once again, we shall refer to hoopdata (a fantastic stat reference site, if I do say so myself). The Spurs offense around the rim, much like their defense, is well above average -- 6th in the league last year. This is mostly thanks to the exploits of Blair and Duncan, but Tiago Splitter should also help in this regard, and it’s a given that Richard Jefferson is deadly anytime he gets to the rim. Now if you can remember the way a healthy Tony Parker can get to the rim at will, you’ll have an idea of why scoring at the cup should be no problem for the 2010-11 Spurs.
Basically, what I’m saying is that despite appearances, the Spurs have one of the best front lines in the league, and should be able to at least hold their own against anyone up front. Don’t worry about the big men, Spurs fans - they’ve got things under control. They own the rim.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
As most Spurs fans have already pointed out in one way or another, the lack of accurate outside shooting (emphasis on accurate since we had guys who were supposed to be shooters but couldn’t buy a shot to save their careers when it mattered) was evident in last year’s playoff sweep to the Phoenix Suns. While management has made moves to address this need with the acquisition of rookie James Anderson and a few hired guns such as Gary Neal and veteran Bobby Simmons, color me cautious.
PtR’s own Tim C. has already addressed what all of these shooters are capable of, and Spurs fans are also looking forward to a healthy Manu Ginobili, newly-extended Matt Bonner and the ever-improving MIP runner-up George Hill to join the long-range bombing contingent. But what makes me wary is that these guys, however pure a stroke or dead-eye a shot they possess, will have a hard time when those looks aren’t there, which leads me to a related problem (aren’t they all?) -- inside/post scoring.
Tim C. has mentioned that the team’s ability to score inside the rim is a strength, but we could be so much more than "above average" ya know, because the Spurs always, always are in pursuit of excellence. If we can be more consistent in knocking down our outside shots and then some, things would be easier for the GoatPuff and his merry giant crew to operate inside. Also, our shooters in the last two or three years have shown they can wax hot during the regular season, but have yet to prove their mettle in career-defining moments that the playoffs are known for.
Team defense remains a concern. While the Spurs were still a cut above most teams in holding opponents’ scoring per game (8th) and overall defensive rating (8th, based on Basketball Reference’s advanced stats), it’s a far cry from the team’s dominating defensive performances in its championship years. Your daddy’s Spurs used to be the by-word back then when people spoke of suffocating, lockdown defense. But now, all you hear is how Kevin Garnett’s motor mouth and flyiiing, soaring defensive presence makes the Celtics’ D the most ferocious stone fortress in the league, or how the Bobcats (the Bobcats, fer cryin’ out loud!) are scraping and clawing their way to a playoff spot by being a top defensive unit. I’d like for the Spurs to climb back to at least top 3 in PPG allowed, for starters. Last year I felt we gave up waaay too many points, threes and other open shots.
Tiago Splitter’s skill in defending pick-and-rolls will be something to monitor as the season goes along, and equally important is George Hill’s development defensively, especially since a lot of fans noted his difficulty in fighting through screens on and off the ball. The team is still looking for its next Bruce Bowen amidst question marks in the small forward depth chart behind RJ, who has his own share of doubters to prove wrong. Will Tim Duncan’s strength-building offseason get him back to his old, defensive wizard self? I could go on and on, but without excellent defense as its usual calling card, the team will find it hard to contend for the title, much less secure home court advantage in the early rounds.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Championship or bust! Is that realistic? Probably not, but that’s always the goal for the Spurs organization. You won’t hear anything else. Now, we all know that the Western Conference is the Lakers’ to lose, but the 2-8 seeds will probably be closely grouped again this year. Most of the significant free-agency moves occurred out East, so Western teams will be depending on incremental improvements from the existing roster and some free-agent additions to move up the rankings. The Spurs have bolstered their interior defense with the addition of Splitter, added some outside shooting with Anderson and Neal, and gotten a summer worth of work from Blair, who’s going to get some love in the MIP race.
Will this be enough to topple the World Champs? I don’t know, but other than the Lakers, there’s not a single team in the West that should scare the Spurs. That’s not to say that the Spurs aren’t an injury to one of the Big 3 away from falling out of contention, but so are all the other non-LA teams. I just happen to think that the Spurs’ flaws are fewer than those of the other playoff contenders, especially with the good roster depth this year. So yes, this Spurs fan is drinking the Contender Kool-Aid yet again (black cherry flavor, if anyone was wondering), and the Western Conference Finals will be a nice place to land.
And once again, the Spurs will kill in the 2011 NBA Draft. It’s inevitable.
5. Where would you put the team’s chances of winning it all in June?
While there are a few other weaknesses I purposely missed above, let me rinse and repeat something that’s irritated Spurs fans for so long - the age issue. Let’s face it - while the roster average age is relatively young compared to the league, this concern has been mostly directed to our three key championship cogs - especially Tim Duncan. And why not? The team will live and die with its superstars, and even if for 2 years running we’ve been calling this Spurs lineup "the best team that Duncan’s ever had", there’s a reason why RC and Pop have been almost at wits’ end assembling what could have been a bigger dynasty, had this current roster been in place during Tim’s prime years. Keywords: could have.
There’s hardly going to be a more perfect time to finally go down our high horses and start pondering the post-Duncan era than this upcoming season. When Tony Parker says that this year is probably the "last chance" for this core to win a title, it’s not that he’s sending signals of abandoning ship for brighter lights -- it’s just called being realistic. When Duncan comes to training camp for 2-3 years in a row "in the best shape of his life" or "slimmer, well-rested" and then labors heavily up and down the court in May as the Spurs’ playoff hopes go down in flames, it’s not because the other team got lucky or shot an aberration of a percentage from the field -- that’s the sound of Father Time ringing the bell telling us that this great ride is nearing its end.
So yeah, it’s probably that easy. If our Big Three aren’t playing at a championship-caliber level come playoff time, I’d be a little wary of our chances. Unless George Hill or DeJuan Blair suddenly make a quantum leap in terms of production to compensate or RJ transmogrifies into Big 4th instead of a peanut (again), it’s going to be a tough, tough road. But hey, every new season, I remain hopeful that the Spurs have a shot -- it’s been that way for more than a decade, right? The Spurs have spoiled me like that.
Do you ever wonder why when people write their signatures, most stroke their pens almost wildly towards the end, attempting to punctuate something nearly unintelligible with a little flair? While his is the exact opposite of unintelligible, we’re at the point where Duncan is putting his signature - finishing touches, if you want something clearer - on an already remarkable and legendary career. I can only hope, even if we know we’ll all be again calling this season "the most up-and-down" we’ve had in the TD era for the 3rd straight year, that it ends with a flourish and almost David Robinson-like.
If not, then we’ll go through another summer of Spurs espionage, reloading and reshaping for another push until Timmy says he’s had enough. When that happens, remind me to stop being so blindly hopeful for a ‘chip every basketball new year.