With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Greg Oden/Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
No. 1: Spurs own the regular season
In 5 out of the last 6 regular seasons the San Antonio Spurs have claimed either the best record or the second best record in the Western Conference. In every one of Tim Duncan's 16 seasons the Spurs have won over 50 games, save the lockout-shortened1999 season when they went 37-13 (.740% winning). Thus, we can deduce that Tim Duncan's WARP rests somewhere around 50 games per season for his career. Now it's crazy to say this, but the Spurs are probably going to do it again. With such dominance and grace, the Spurs have rolled through the past decade and a half on a regular season tear being a real, lasting dynasty of this NBA era. And given the stunning depth the Spurs possess- two deep at nearly every position- I would be shocked if they were not perched atop the Western Conference standings come next April. It's obvious that the continuity throughout Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker's reign of terror has brought a sort of mystic energy to the Spurs to the point that they're almost a folk tale these days. So is it half-baked at all to say the Spurs will own teams in the regular season? Definitely not, especially if history repeats itself like it has in all of Tim Duncan's years.
No. 2: The veterans will have no gas left in the tank come playoff time
Gregg Popovich is the ultimate players coach. Pop seems to be one of the only coaches in the NBA who truly listens to what his players have to say and really respects/protects their bodies as well. Now Pop has gotten fined for resting his stars in the past, and there's no doubt it's a tactic he plans to continue this season especially given the age of San Antonio's big 3 - Duncan (38 next playoffs), Ginobili (35), and Parker (31). With the Spurs depth, it's easy to rest their best guys because their bench can single-handedly win them games as we've seen in the past. Yet, there comes a point even with the proper amount of rest and a tight minutes restriction, that veterans even as prolific as Duncan and Ginobili have been just can't do it in crunch time anymore. Now I'm not writing off Duncan and Ginobili, I'm simply implying that maybe it's time they took a step back, looked at what they still do well, and carved out lesser roles in the team unit so that they can still maintain their dominance.
Duncan played great when he was fresh; look at the first half of Game 6 where he went ape shit on Chris Bosh. However, you can't help but wonder where Duncan's offensive game ran off to in that second half. Further, if Duncan just had a little more spring left, that extra burst of energy he did when he was young he would've made this shot routinely or the tip back to boot. Duncan is never going to be able to play upper 30 minutes per game effectively again, especially during the back end of a games after a long playoff grind. If you think that Duncan's situation is going to improve in some way or that he will miraculously be able to do it better next year you're delusional. The Spurs played Duncan's year immaculately, and it ended up not working out; can't help but state that for Duncan and feast-or-famine Ginobili this year's finals looked dangerously like a farewell ride. In a year, where 4 of the other projected top Western Conference teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Warriors) are very good and very young, it's easy to imagine the Spurs getting beat by that has more energy come April. Because remember as deep as your team may be, you can only play 5 players at once.
No. 3: Splitter will play well below his pay grade
For a guy who's getting $10 million next year, Tiago Splitter isn't very good. You can clamor all you want that it's more about his fit into the rotation- he does play very well underneath Timmy- and that the Spurs love continuity like this guy loves crack. Still Tiago was bad last season; Tiago averaged an unimpressive 10/6 (p/r) all the while ranking 20th in PER, plus 17th in both value added and estimated wins added amongst centers (all behind Andray Blatche who was also a free agent this summer). Further, his rebound rate was 31st among centers, which is terrible. How on earth does a guy who is statistically below average get $10 million? That's a terrible contract - a Tyrus Thomas-esque contract at that! Then when you look at his postseason play, what impresses you- that he shot a terrific field goal percentage? He never did too much, but was anemic on the offense end during crunch time. Then you throw in embarrassing plays like this one, and the many other times he was stuffed by the likes of Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier that aren't on youtube. For a 28 year old who looks to have plateaued, Splitter's 2012-2013 resume doesn't really sparkle, but somehow R.C. Buford still has faith in him. I get that the Spurs won on the laurels of Tim Duncan and guys like Fabricio Oberto or Rasha Nesterovic, but that was in-his-prime-Timmy not past-his-prime-Timmy. Do the Spurs really think they can get by with Splitter, especially at a point where they need more out of Tim's counterpart as he gradually gives you less? It's just inconceivable. Tiago Splitter may be the $36 million dollar man, but I can't imagine a universe where he's worth it or even lives up to it. But hey, what do I know?