The Spurs just finished suffering one of the toughest playoff exits in recent years. A fully healthy squad lost four strait games to a team that they seemed to have had figured out and many thought they would dominate. Many fans are probably sad and feel like their "last real chance" at a championship was lost and now they will be forced to endure years of mediocrity before they can return to glory. As much as I can fully understand these feelings and why they exist, I can't say I share them. In fact, I was more excited by this season than I was with any other season since 2007. Why you ask? It has something to do with the number 2.
Yes Spurs fans, the reason I didn't go crazy over the loss is because of Kawhi Leonard. Because my goals for the team were met, and even exceeded. You see, I love to see young players improve. I love seeing when rookies can come in and make an impact right away because it gets me excited to think about their futures. Kawhi granted me this excitement this season so the loss was not as hard to take. As good as he played in his rookie season, he can still continue to improve, as can all the other young players we have on the roster who are part of 'the movement' towards a new core group. With the Spurs organisation putting such an emphasis on internal development, it's inevitable that one day, these players (or at least some of them) will be the replacements for the big three so they each have things to work on.
I'll start with James for a couple reasons. First of all, he isn't really expected to be on the team next season so I might as well get him out the way first. Secondly, it seems that everyone has forgotten about James. Two years ago he was the next big thing. The next gem that the Spurs found in the draft. Now no one even mentions him anymore other than to say. "Oh snap it's James Anderson getting playing time!!!" I really thought, and still think, this guy can be something special in this league, he just needs to be able to prove it. So what does James have to work on this summer? His consistency. That's it. We haven't seen enough of him to say what he does good and bad on the court so whatever that is, he just needs to be able to do it consistently. Go to the playgrounds and play a million pick up games with friends, family, random ballers. He needs to play 5 on 5 basketball and be able to be consistent in a 5 on 5 setting. All the practice in the gym by himself is going to do nothing for James if he can't play when the team is playing with him.
I like Cory Joseph. A lot of people have said that they don't see the hype in him but I actually think he can be a good PG in this league. If not an all star at least a starter and no worse than a really good backup. He has the tools; athleticism, quickness, bball IQ and he already has defensive ability and a nice shooting stroke. All Cory needs is the experience of running a pro team. I think the year he had in Austin was huge for him and I think a summer worth of extra work could do wonders for him. The Spurs system tends to be tough on point guards but it also makes them look really good when they play it well. George Hill and Beno Udrih are perfect examples of how good a ponit guard can be in this system and I think Cory might have similar results if he can grasp it well. Summer League will also be huge for him.
Blair came out of the gates and had an outstanding rookie season which he followed up with a really good second year. By his third year it finally hit us. This guy hasn't made much of any improvement since he came into the league. Yes he's lost some weight. Yes he's improved his free throw mechanics. Yes he's added a couple shots to his repertoire. But as far as his production level goes he's still basically the same guy he was as a rookie. This has to stop. The last two offseasons DB has not had a chance to work with the Spurs coaches, either because he devoted all his time to losing weight, or there was the lockout. Now he has no excuse. I would really like to see DB work on his defense but I don't think you could really work on defense that way. ((I think it's more of a mindset) So it wouldn't hurt at all if Blair came back with a reliable 14-16 foot jumper. We've tried and failed at posting him up so a nice jumper will open up so much more for not only him, but for his teammates as well. He could also stand to get better at finishing against taller players at the rim as well and why not add 8 or so % points to his free throws as well. Couldn't hurt. And stop rapping. Please!
Honesty I don't think Gary needs to do that much improvement. Seriously. I don't. This is a second year player, I know, but the guy has played for years overseas and has already developed a very reliable offensive game. If there's one thing he can work on is his point guard skills. I can't remember how many times Gary was taking the ball up the court and turned it over with just a little pressure applied. Not good. Gotta get a better handle on that nail gun. (see what I did there?) I think he'll be fine if this is his focus this summer. Again, I would love if he could come back a better defender. But that would require him getting stronger, faster and more athletic as well so I don't see that happening.
Can I just say that I'm tried of Tiago's name still not passing spell check. Fix this. Now as for what he has to work on, I think his strength is the most important thing. Tiago has to get stronger. He gets bullied in the paint and guards are able to force up shots against him and have the strength to get them to go in. That can't happen. It's so demoralizing when you do all you can to get in position and get your hands up to contest and a little guy out-muscles you and gets a shot off anyway. That is the most important thing I think for Mr. Splitter. After that the only thing he NEEDS to do is fix his free throws. Again. Airballs just will not cut it anymore. When a team uses the hack-a-somebody against Pop then we have a problem. It would also help is Tiago came back a better rebounder. Other than that I think Tiago is fine. If he wants to add a little 12 footer to his game then by all means, just as long as he doesn't get too crazy with it.
I was so excited to see Danny play as well as he did for us in the regular season, but equally as disappointed with his disappearing act in the playoffs. I think this highlighted his flaws; he's too one-dimensional. He's a shooter and although he's a great shooter, he's nothing more than a shooter. Yes his defense is so good that he can be on the floor even if he isn't shooting well but there has to be a limit. I think Pop saw he was at his limit when he took him out of the starting lineup. Danny just needs to add something else to his game that makes the defense have to honor him for more than just shooting. He can still be a spot-up shooter, but something like a one dribble pull up jumper could go a long way. Danny Green HAS ti work on his dribbling ability. Has to. Too many times he's gotten switched onto a much slower big and ended with a contested jumper. Not going to work Danny. Get your handle up so you can get past players in this situation or when they close out too hard on a three point shot. As good of a shooter as Danny Green is, adding this simple thing to his game can take him from good young player to an absolute lock as starter.
So I'll end this where I began, with Kawhi Leonard. As good as he has been this season, it's unreasonable to think that he shouldn't try to improve on it. He has everything in him to be a star player, he just needs to game to suit. So for this summer I think Kawhi should work on his ball handling as well as his ability to shoot off the dribble. This a major part of any great player's game. Pull up jumpers and the ability to get all the way to the rim can propel his status from role player to star player in a few short seasons. I actually had the hardest time figuring out what Kawhi needs to add to his game because he does just about everything we want him to. He can shoot, get to the rim, has a bit of a pull up and he's already a good finisher. Not to mention his rebounding and defense are good as well. I think he just needs to refine his game and get better at what he does now. He already knows how to have success in the Spurs system so improving in the areas he's already good at might be his best bet since I don't see what new he could add. (he's not going to start posting up yet, although that would be cool)
That's my view of the new movement the Spurs now have going. There are also a few options that they can add like our European players or any trades we might make. And I'm going to be paying very close attention to this year's draft. The Spurs might pull a few surprises so I'll look out for that. Regardless of what new players we add to the program, the guys we have on the roster right now need to make improvements. Personally, I am most excited to see Kawhi, Cory and Danny improve and add to their games. I want to know what you guys think.