The season starts NOW. Holy FSM am I ready for it.
As a Spurs fan, I think we deal with two issues when starting a new season. One, the Spurs organization doesn't seem excited. Do you recall an interview with Pop saying something like "Man, this is going to be a great year! I can't believe the talent on this team. Easily the most talented team we've ever had." No. Me neither.
Two, they will play the regular season without excitement. Not too high. Not too low. How many times over the next 2-3 months do you think we will hear a player or coach say, "We're just trying to get better day-to-day. Each day is a step to the end of the season. We are trying to build on what we learn everyday." 500? At least. You won't hear Tim say, "Man, this team is stacked. We're playing great defense right now and it will only get better. I just can't see how anybody is going to beat us come May." Just business as usual.
News Alert - This Team Is Stacked
Well, I'm here to tell you this team is stacked. Top to bottom, this is a stout team with a great mix of attributes. We have everything we've had in the past and a couple things we have been missing. We have scorers, we have rebounders, we have playmakers, we have 3-point shooters, we have balance, we have depth, we have youth, we have athleticism, we have experience, we have length, and we have Tim.
Me, I have unbounded enthusiasm. I am stoked to the gills. Let me tell you some of the reasons why.
Let's start at the top. We still have the Big 3. You win in the NBA with great players and we have three great players. We have three great players who have been in our system. We have three great players who have won before and still know what it takes to win. We have three great players who are still great. Tim might not be the best he's ever been, but he's not far from it. Manu probably isn't the best he's ever been, but he's not far from it. Tony is still getting better. We have three awesome players who contribute at both ends of the floor.
Do we have a fourth great? Very possibly. Richard "Rage" Jefferson will fit in wonderfully with this team. He can play off the ball and get shots off the play of others, and he can create shots for himself. He can sit in the corner and bury the open 3, or he can post up his man. He can also take his man off the dribble. He will spend most of his energy on the defensive end bullying the other team's best wing. He'll be a great if he is really good being a bully.
The Quiet Giant
Antonio McDyess is a quiet man and his play will be quiet. His ability to grab tough defensive rebounds, play physical defense, and hit open jumpers will be a huge part of the team's success. I think Antonio is the best big man to play next to Tim since David Robinson retired. He just has a great all-around game that will complement Tim's game wonderfully.
We return three great 3-point shooters, all of whom should flourish with slightly reduced roles. Roger Mason, Michael Finley, and Matt Bonner shot 42.1%, 41.1%, and 44.0% respectively from long range last year. These are fantastic numbers that we want to see replicated. What we don't want to see replicated are 30.4, 28.8, and 23.8. Those were their minutes per game. Due to injuries and a lack of depth in the front court, all three played more minutes than I think is good for the team. I think we had to lean too hard on them. But, they are all back and they should all still be able to shoot.
Cubits, Baby, Cubits
You know I got on the George Hill bandwagon very early during the '08 Summer League debacle. I bought my George Hill jersey just about the time Pop sent him to the bench and declared him not ready for the playoffs. My faith wavered not. I started to really feel good about my decisions at '09 Summer League when George started showing his leadership skills. Now, after a very impressive preseason and effusive praise from Pop, I believe I know what my Halloween costume will be Saturday. Anybody know where I can find some long arms?
Oldies But Newies
The Spurs brought in a couple vets as situational players. Again, these guys are great complements to the team. Theo Ratliff and Keith Bogans were both brought in to play defense. Defense, defense, defense. I don't expect either to play more than about 8 minutes per game, but they should be very effective minutes. Will they score much? No. But if they can harass shooters, bang in the paint, and grab a couple rebounds . . . mission accomplished.
Beast, Man-Child, Freak of Nature
Yep, DeJuan Blair. He of the preseason double-double. He's the great wild card in the season. The greatest point of excitement. The unlimited upside. He can take over a game without ever running a play for him. Will he? On some nights, yes. Other nights, no. Anything he gives us will be a bonus. And I expect him to give us a lot.
Some Things I Will Keep An Eye On
Our defense in the last 3 minutes of games. Who's playing and how effective are we? You know, I know, and my dog knows that Pop will play with lineups during a game. He will play with different defenses. He will see what works. He will see what doesn't work. But, in the last 3 minutes, when it is winning time, he will go with his best. Pop, above all other things, will want to find out who his best defenders are and whether or not they can execute in the crunch. I expect we'll see a lot of Tony, Manu, Rage, Tim, and Antonio at the end of games. Look for George to be a situational substitution for Tony and Manu. Besides who is playing, how they play will be important. Will we play suffocating defense down the stretch of a game? This is the most important question in our season.
Manu's explosiveness. Manu has been the Spurs 4th-quarter master. He's the guy that has found a way to make plays. The 4th quarter is also when he has really looked to be aggressive scoring his own points. He needs his explosiveness to do it. When will he get it back and how much of it will he have? If Manu is able to recapture his 2008 physical form, well, I fear for the league. His explosiveness makes everybody that plays with him much, much better.
The second unit. I completely agree with Stampler. Our bench is the deepest in the league and, unlike the last two years, our second unit will build leads. In fact, as Stampler said, they will blow people out. Last year, everybody after the big 3 was a role player. Somebody that fit in with a particular skill. This year, we have guys that can make plays. Theo can block shots. DeJuan can get offensive rebounds. George can play tenacious defense. Rage can score his own points. This second unit has guys that can run over a team. Oh, and Manu will be leading that nasty second unit. Keep an eye on the second unit. Their ability to open up leads will be a huge benefit. However, their ability to close leads will be even better. How many times last year did it feel like our goose was cooked early in the second quarter? Tim and Tony had started -- Manu was injured -- the other team came out strong and got us down 8 early, then Tim and Tony went to the bench. We were trying to fight our way back into games with Fab, KT, Mason, Ime, and Jacque. This year, it will be George, Manu, FinDog, Blair, and Ratliff (we could also substitute Rage in for FinDog since I think we will rarely see 3 of the Big 4 on the bench). I don't know about you, but that lineup looks pretty damn good. I think it could win some games.
Tim Duncan. King of the Spurs universe. In some ways, I expect this to be a down year for Tim statistically for anybody keeping an eye from a distance. I expect his points will be lower and you know that is 90% of what people pay attention to. I think his shot attempts and free throw attempts will be down. I think this will largely be because his minutes will be down AND that the team will run very little offense through him. HOWEVER, I think Tim is going to step up as a great garbage man. Expect his offensive rebound numbers to be up. Expect his rebounds per minute to be up. Expect his field goal percentage to go up. I think we will see relatively little of a very efficient Tim Duncan. Yeah, I'm worried about his knee and his mobility. But, we'll never know how he's doing. He'll play. He'll run the court. He won't complain.
Tony Parker. Offensive leader of the team. Tony just gets better every year on the offensive end. His one man fast break is one of the most amazing things in the NBA. The other team's need to game plan for him most likely represents itself in the fact that a relatively poor Spurs rebounding team last year was first in the league in defensive rebounding. Teams have to get back. Look for Tony to maintain his scoring average at 20-21 points per game, but look for his assists to get up in the 8+ range. Tony has better offensive players with him this year, and that will result in more passes to open players who can score.
Manu Ginobili. Leader of the second unit. Manu will be the pseudo-point guard of the second unit. George may bring the ball up the court, but Manu will initiate the plays. Again agreeing with Stampler, look for Manu to have great assist numbers playing with guys who can score on the second unit. Keep an eye on his 3-point shooting. If he gets his average up near 40%, he's going to be a nasty cover for teams.
Richard Jefferson. Defensive stopper. Rage's ability to be the primary wing defender will be critical to the team's overall defensive ability. If he can make the great scorers in the league work hard, then the Spurs will be in great shape. I know he'll fit in offensively. He'll sit in the corner and hit the open 3 when the other guys are doing their thing. He'll spend some time in the post when matchups call for it. And, he will be dangerous in the open floor with Tony and Manu.
Antonio McDyess. Veteran. I expect boring and solid. I expect many games where he doesn't do much but play 16 minutes and grab 4 rebounds. Those won't bother me. It's how he plays against the elite teams in the league that I want to see. Will he give us 10 and 10 against the Lakers? Can he lock up Gasol? Can he harass Dirk? Will he pull Shaq away from the basket? That's what we need from him. Don't judge him by a game against the Kings. Judge him by his ability to make solid plays in big games.
Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, Roger Mason. Shooters. These guys are here to shoot. Period. They will earn court time based on their ability to knock down 3 balls. As I said earlier, these guys can all shoot and I expect all of them to have fewer minutes. If any of them find that they don't have a good stroke this year, expect that person to see extended pine time. Don't get me wrong, they all know the system and be where they need to be. But they have to make shots.
George Hill. Backup point guard. The development of George Hill will be great to watch this season. I think we will see him playing 22 minutes per game. 14-16 as Tony's backup and 6-8 at shooting guard. Two things really impressed me in the game against the Thunder. One, he not only knocked down his corner threes, but he shot them aggressively and with confidence. Two, he attacked the rim and made a Tony-style layup where he extended his arm and flipped it up before the help defender could get over. Last year, he would try to get all the way to the rim and flip the ball up wildly off the side of the rim. He made layups harder than they needed to be. It looks like in one year, his offensive game has developed tremendously. But he's still a better defender. He's in the Bruce Bowen mold. He loves to defend. I think George is going to have a tremendous year. I think he'll end the year as one of the 20 best point guards in the league. I don't even think it will be debatable. Maybe, just this once, Pop isn't snowing us and George really is his favorite player.
DeJuan Blair. Wild card. If he gives us nothing, I think we have a great team. However, he's very capable of giving us 20 and 10 on any night. The best thing about Blair, and what separates him from any other Spur in the last 10 years, is that he can do it without ever having a play run for him. He can do it all without taking anything away from the team. DeJuan has something you don't see in very many hustle rebounders. Great touch. He has fantastic touch around the basket which gives him the ability to score. And score a bunch. DeJuan is a natural scorer. He knows how to use his body. He knows how to use the rim to protect against shot blockers. He has great footwork as well. His ability to put the ball in the bucket is what makes him special. He's not just a rebounder, which he will do plenty of, he's a scorer. And he scores off his rebounds. He's all upside. When you get a chance to watch him, watch his feet and watch how he scores. He's Ginobili-esque in his ability to get shots up in traffic and have them go in. I'm telling you. He's special.
Everybody else. Theo Ratliff, Keith Bogans, Marcus Haislip, Ian Mahinmi, and Malik Hairston. This team is so deep I'm afraid I forgot somebody. I think all these guys can help the team. I don't think any of them are 20 minutes per game guys. The contributions of these guys, along with the development of George and DeJuan, is what will keep our big guns fresh. Their ability to play well is what will get us a one or two seed in the West and home court advantage. They are important, but I think there will be small roles for each of them.
Back to basics. The team needs to get back to being a tenacious group. Our defense slipped a lot last year. Teams shot really well against us and we didn't cause turnovers and we didn't block shots. We need to get back to making teams uncomfortable. I think we have the personnel to do it. Defense is what the team will work hardest on all year. That's why Jefferson is so important. Look for us to be better in all three areas. Our defensive field goal percentage will be lower, we'll have more steals, and we'll block more shots. In general, I think teams will find us to be much more rugged.
Easy baskets. Our scoring out of our half court sets will be the same as always with a little less Tim. Tony and Manu will run the pick-and-roll. They'll drive. They'll kick out to 3-point shooters. Wash, rinse, repeat. However, I think we will be on the break more. For three reasons. One, we have more athletic personnel that will flourish in the open court with Tony's speed spearheading the attack. Two, our defense will create some havoc. Turnovers and blocked shots, and even stops, lead to more running opportunities. We wont' be the Suns, but we will get up and down the court some. Three, we will be a better offensive rebounding team. We really can't be worse, but I'd like to see us get to the middle of the pack.
I really think this will be the best team of the Spurs championship era. Pop won't push the older guys during the regular season like he used to. So I don't know if we will win 65 games. We very well might though if our second unit is as good as I think they will be. My schedule analysis said we win 56 games. I think that is worst case. I think we'll win 62-63 games. Best case, this team can win 66-67. Seriously, this is a very good team. This team is significantly better than last year. They are significantly better than every team in the West except the Lakers. This team is significantly better than every team in the East except the, Cavs, and . This team should blow people out this year. I expect our point differential to be near 10 points per game this year through the end of January. We will be a juggernaut.