In case you missed any previous installments, here they are: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.
To recap: I rank each team from 1-10 on their projected starters, bench, coach and watchability, using a 1-10 scale, and rate them overall based on a (starters x 5) + (bench x 2) + (coaching x 2) + watchability to give them an overall score. Why does watchability matter? Because we're not robots here, that's why.
I also included a best-case scenario, a worst-case scenario, a realistic scenario and their franchise's all-time best player's degrees to Manu Ginobili, using this tool, because of course I did.
I'm breaking down these previews into small, bite-size chunks to make them more palatable to read, around 1,000-1,500 words each, obviously spending more time on the contenders than the minnows. Enjoy and leave me all kinds of comments about why I'm terribly wrong.
Projected Starters (9): C Tiago Splitter, PF Tim Duncan, SF Kawhi Leonard, SG Danny Green, PG Tony Parker
Two top-ten superstars in Duncan and Parker, an emerging two-way star in Leonard and two youngish talents in Green and Splitter that are both good-to-great defenders in their scheme and also perfect for the pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick offense San Antonio runs. Defensively, this quintet is as good as it gets, though I must admit I am down a bit on Splitter, who just isn't as consistent a player as I'd like him to be, doesn't rebound enough, and seems to get intimidated by athletic guys at times. If you throw another uncoordinated 7-foot slug at him he's fine, but he has problems with the 6-9 guy who can jump and plays physically.
I think teams are really going to make an effort to force the Spurs into small-ball as much as possible to get either Duncan or Splitter off the floor because it's just too difficult to score on that tandem, especially when one of your two bigs is a non-threat as is most often the case across the league. Playing smaller more will hurt Splitter's game and make it look like his contract extension was a mistake, but it will be a boon for Leonard, who'll have more freedom to dominate on the glass and use his coast-to-coast talents in transition with the fewer bigs clogging the court. It should also benefit the rest of the roster, as the Spurs will have to rely less on their shaky reserve bigs.
Projected Bench (6): C Aron Baynes, PF Boris Diaw, SF Marco Belinelli, SG Manu Ginobili, PG Cory Joseph, PF Matt Bonner, PG Patty Mills, PF Jeff Ayres, G Nando De Colo
A lot more question marks come with the bench, where the rating could improve to an eight or sink to a four, depending on how well Ginobili bounces back from his poor season last year or if he is indeed done, as just about everyone in the national media (who pretty much only started watching the Spurs from the second round of the playoffs on) thinks. It doesn't matter if it was print or television, whether it was ESPN, TNT, The Starters (nee The Basketball Jones) or whomever, they're all convinced that Manu is gone and never coming back, and using that as an excuse to pick anyone but them to come out of the west.
Watchability (8): 10 for when the big three plays, 6 when they don't.
Coaching (9): Pop is the best in the business, even though he picked a bad night to have a bad night in Game 6.
I do worry how losing his top two assistants will hurt him and wonder if he'll be more dictatorial than ever. Can't really see Sean Marks or Ime Udoka standing up to him.
The preseason was certainly an encouraging sign that Gino can, even at 36, return to the being the tour-de-force he was during the second half of the 11-12 season (albeit for 24 minutes a night) and I think being fully healthy and playing alongside another ball-handler/creator in Belinelli should help him tremendously, but until the curtain drops for real, we can only hope. It's foolish to think that Ginobili will ever take better care of the ball, especially at his advanced age, but hopefully he can shoot it better this year and be on the the receiving end of some catch-and-shoots rather than having to be the one to create them for others all the time.
One thing I demand from Ginobili this season though is that he has to drop the unfrozen caveman basketball player act and quit pretending to be oblivious about how he played individually after playoff games. "Forgive me but I am just a frozen caveman. Your world frightens and confuses me. I do not understand the rules of this "basketball" game that you people ask me about. I do not know the objectives. Either way they give me food and let me lay with my woman when it is over, so I do not understand the point of the game. Sometimes the strange orange bouncy rock comes into my hands and my caveman instincts are to get rid of it because it is not food and I do not trust it. I try to throw the rock into the orange circle in the sky or at other people on my tribe. Sometimes I throw it to people on other tribes. I do not know if I am supposed to do this or not. All I know is that I do not want to hold the rock, as it frightens and confuses me. I never know how I have performed in these so-called games, but I have deduced that when the tallest of our tribe grabs me by the head that he is pleased with me and when the eldest of our tribe yells at me, I must have done something bad."
Best-Case Scenario: Everyone stays relatively healthy, the Spurs roll through the regular season, earn home-court advantage, and find a way to be one rebound better this time around. Selfishly, it'd be nice if Ginobili could have a better playoff run as well.
Worst-Case Scenario: Take your pick... 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012...
Realistic Scenario: I think they're gonna do it -- I really do. I believe in this roster. I believe in the big three. I believe in Leonard and Green and even Splitter, to a point. I believe in Pop's system. And I believe the Spurs at their best are unbeatable. It's just a matter of getting them to play at their best.
Degrees Between All-Time Best Player to Manu Ginobili: 1
Ginobili meets Duncan...
ginobili first NBA game (via 288pipi)
I've been waiting all summer for tonight.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs
- 30 preseason predictions: Houston Rockets
- 30 preseason predictions: Boston Celtics
- 30 preseason predictions: New Orleans Pelicans
- 30 Preseason Predictions: Sacramento Kings