After a long four months, the NBA is finally back. That means all the pundits are putting together their power rankings and projected win totals and we get to curse their name for once again ranking our team too low. The Spurs have traditionally been reluctantly placed near the top but there always seemed to be a warning about their imminent demise. After stringing together two deep playoff runs and coming very close to a title, though, everyone seems to be respecting the Spurs' chances now.
Let's start with some power rankings:
CBS Sports NBA - Matt Moore - 3rd in the league, behind the Heat and the Bulls
The Heat are returning champs, have the best player in the planet and made some high upside additions to an already rock solid core. So I truly get why they rank first. It's a bit harder figuring out the Bulls ranking, to be honest. Sure, Derrick Rose is back and that should propel the Bulls to legitimate contender status. But it might take them a while to readjust the offense to Rose.
NBC Sports' Pro Basketball Talk - Kurt Helin - 2nd in the league behind the Heat
The Spurs are ranked second in this power ranking and that seems more fitting. The Bulls are lurking at the number three spot but the Spurs are wisely getting the benefit of the doubt despite a so-so preseason.
SBNation - Jason Patt and ESPN - Marc Stein: 3rd in the league behind the Heat and Clippers
I'm clearly more skeptic about the Clippers' chances than most. They went and got the shooters Chris Paul and Blake Griffin need but they are painfully thin up front and are counting on major improvement by Jordan and Griffin as defenders, which might not be in the cards. Especially strange is Stein's reasoning:
Totally understand when people ask: How can the Spurs not be the West favorites? What, exactly, did they lose from their Finals team? Can't help it, though. Just have a nagging feeling it will be hard for them get all the way back. 2013, remember, was their first Finals appearance since 2007.
When was the last time the Clippers reached the Finals? Or better yet, when was the last time a Chris Paul-led team made it past the Conference Semis?
With he power rankings out of the way, let's get to the season previews:
CBS Sports NBA - Moore, Young, Harper - First in the Southwest Division - 56 average projected wins
That seems about right. The Spurs are ranked first in the West but below the Bulls and Heat in the league. San Antonio probably has the talent to fight for best record in the league but that has never been their MO. Rest and experimentation come first for Pop, so it makes sense for the Spurs to land in that sub 60 win area.
Sports Illustrated - Paul Forrester - First in the Southwest Division - 58 projected wins
Another 50-win season is almost a given. The challenge is to find enough ways to win those games so that the Spurs are prepared for the different styles of play they will have to conquer in the playoffs.
I agree that the Spurs will win at a very high pace but might be a little too preocupied with finding the right lineup combinations to win more than 60 games. At the same time, Forrester ranks the Thunder first in the West with 60 wins even after the news of Russell Westbrook's injury, which seems a little too optimistic in my eyes. The top of the West is loaded and there are up to five teams that could finish first. But I wouldn't bet against the Spurs.
Grantland - Zach Lowe - Contenders - No win projection
We know what we're getting here: the league's most diligent motion-based offense, with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as its hubs, and a defense that revived itself based on Duncan's nimbler game, Kawhi Leonard's ascension, and Gregg Popovich's patience in building the Duncan-Splitter pairing. The Spurs were basically co-champs last season, and though we should expect some decline from Duncan and Ginobili, the younger guys are ready to pick up the slack.
Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie - Kelly Dwyer - First in the Southwest - 57 wins
Dwyer marvels at the Spurs' continued success while understanding that predicting how the team will do in the win column in the regular season is besides the point:
Popovich will rest players, but he will also attempt to win enough games to keep the currently Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder away from the top spot, while trying to hold back comers like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. On top of that, the ever mindful Spurs coaching staff will once again dig deep into what helps and what doesn't when it comes to attempting the best possible shot, while forcing the opposition into a shot they should be keen on taking. That's the general ideal that all staffs attempt to follow, but only the Spurs seem to always be a half-step ahead of the league when it comes to following through on that hope.
All while counting down the hours. Shoot for wins in the high 50s, sure, but just make it until April when one can prepare for two or hopefully three and four potential opponents to toss those brains and that talent at over a seven-game term. Yes, the team is just a few seasons removed from a first round ouster, but they were also a defensive rebound away from the team's fifth title of the Tim Duncan era.
The regular season? Watch as the Spurs stifle a yawn.
SBNation team preview - San Antonio Spurs
SBNation's season preview is fantastic and I'm not just saying that because they pay me. Great insight on every team in the league by a panel of amazing writers and a fantastic presentation. So go check it out. As for the section about the Spurs, the video breakdown of Splitter's defense is illuminating. As Drew Garrison puts it:
In the end, Ginobili stayed, Neal left and Splitter fetched himself a four-year, $36 million contract to play beside Tim Duncan is that too high a price tag for a player who averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game and was rendered useless in the Finals?
No, at least not if you look beyond those numbers. Splitter's game doesn't lend itself to attention-grabbing production, but he was an important piece of the Spurs' run to the Finals.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Spurs sign - and then waive - Josh Howard
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 5: The Pacers and Cavaliers
- 30 preseason predictions: Los Angeles Lakers
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 4: The Bulls
- 30 preseason predictions: Detroit Pistons