I think it's pretty much impossible for any reasonable person to suggest that this wasn't the Spurs best regular season in franchise history, considering the circumstances. Not only are Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili considerably past their primes (and perhaps Tony Parker too, though we'll get to that), but the team had to deal with their biggest injury epidemic since the 1996-97 season. Through it all, they came out of that 500 yards of foul-smelling awfulness perfectly clean on the other side, finishing with a franchise-record 30 road wins on their way to the best record in the NBA, despite playing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The playoffs are a different beast altogether, but the regular season for the Spurs has been a rousing, smashing success and they've set themselves up for their best possible chance for a fifth ring, not only by securing home court advantage but also by giving everyone plenty of rest along the way. I'm not sure if you've heard, but no Spur averaged as many as 30 minutes this season. It should go without saying that Gregg Popovich deserves a ton of credit for guiding the team through the injury muck and also, despite his protests to the contrary, I think he did chase that best record near the end, once he saw that it was achievable. Who says he's inflexible?
Without further ado, here's the final regular season grades for the fellas Pop gets an A+.
Jeff Ayres: C-
73 G, 13.0 MPG, 3.3 PTS, .580/NA/.691, 3.5 Rebs, 0.8 Ast, 0.2 Stl, 0.3 Blk, 0.9 TOs, +1.6 per game, 108.7 ORtg, 101.8 DRtg, .121 WS/48, 11.1 PER, 5 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: Seemed to pick up the playbook well enough and contrary to his predecessor hasn't complained about his fluctuating role. He "knows who he is" in Pop parlance, which goes a long way toward fitting in with the team. I thought he was a bit of a hothead as a Pacer, but hasn't had any problems keeping his emotions in check here. Also, a pretty decent passer, which I didn't expect at all.
Things that made me sad: Are you sitting down? Look, I don't know how to tell you this, so I'll just blurt it out, just rip off that bandage, y'know? Jeff Ayres' hands are terrible. While he apparently has been working on improving this issue all season long, it seems that act of catching a basketball aimed right at him from 15 feet away is as difficult as catching a foul ball without a glove on a windy night at Wrigley Field. I'm not sure I'd be surprised to find out that he had vision problems or some nerve damage in his hands, because this is just not normal for a professional athlete to be this uncoordinated. Also, he fouls a bunch.
Stat you didn't know: Ayres led the club in field goal shooting at 58 percent and two-point field goal shooting which was... 58 percent. When he catches the ball, he usually knows what to do with it. The rash of early-season missed dunks is mostly a bad memory.
Conclusion: While Ayres and Aron Baynes have gone back and forth as Pop's favored fourth big, it's pretty impossible to not make the case for Ayres as the victor. His is a textbook case that our eyes deceive us sometimes and it's better to dig into the numbers. Surprisingly, Ayres averaged fewer fouls and turnovers than Baynes per 36 minutes, and his defensive rating was a lot stingier. He's slightly worse as a rebounder and a passer, but he blocks twice as many shots and swipes twice as many balls. The most glaring difference though is at the basket, where Ayres converts at a considerably higher rate than Banger. As I've often stated, I don't really want to see either guy play, but if one has to, I guess Ayres makes more sense.
Aron Baynes: D+
53 G, 9.3 MPG, 3.0 PTS, .436/NA/.905, 2.7 Rebs, 0.6 Ast, 0.1 Stl, 0.1 Blk, 0.7 TOs, +0.5 per game, 108.3 ORtg, 104.5 DRtg, .055 WS/48, 9.7 PER, 10 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: You wouldn't know it necessarily from looking at him but Baynes was a pretty solid rebounder, second on the club at 10.6 per 36 minutes. He was better than even Duncan on offensive boards, coming up with 4.2 of them per 36 minutes. He was also a pretty facile passer when he got to play with decent guys around him on the second unit.
Things that made me sad: For a dude that looks tough and rugged, Baynes had a difficult time staying on the floor and avoiding nagging injuries. Every time he looked to be making traction in Pop's rotation, he'd have a physical setback. It remains to be seen whether he can recover from his latest, a cracked rib, or if he's lost the spot minutes job to Ayres for the postseason run.
Stat you didn't know: It's a tiny sample size, but Baynes actually led the club with a 90.5 free throw percentage, making 19 of 21 attempts. Such a flawless stroke from the stripe (combined with the aforementioned awfulness down low) suggests that the Big Banger should spend less time banging next year and more time shooting from the high post a la Duncan.
Conclusion: Just about every other area of Baynes' game aside from rebounding was a huge disappointment. He doesn't challenge shots. Like, at all. He had five blocks all season, fewer than Belinelli, Parker or Mills. He swiped but two steals. His turnover and foul rates were higher than Ayres'. But most damning of all was Baynes' finishing inside. Maybe he didn't get the benefit of the whistle enough, but a .436 shooting percentage for a big man is atrocious, especially when he doesn't shoot outside very much. You just can't put a guy like that on the floor too much, especially in a democratic offense where dudes will actually (gasp) pass it to him.
Marco Belinelli: B+
80 G, 25.2 MPG, 11.4 PTS, .485/.430/.847, 2.8 Rebs, 2.2 Ast, 0.6 Stl, 0.1 Blk, 1.2 TOs, +3.3 per game, 109.9 ORtg, 102.6 DRtg, .140 WS/48, 15.0 PER, 49 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: Take your pick. We were expecting modest improvement from Belinelli from his career norms but instead he wildly exceeded them, reaching career-highs in boards and dimes while blowing away his previous bests in shooting from both inside and outside the three-point line. His previous best from two was .473, as a 22-year-old with the Warriors. With the Spurs he shot .525. Meanwhile his previous best from downtown was .414 in 2010-11 playing with Chris Paul at New Orleans. With the Spurs he shot .430. Belinelli's best two assets were his pump fake, which he exploited with deadly effectiveness, and his ability to move without the ball, especially on back cuts. He scored oodles of layups this way, finally playing with a collection of teammates who can pass.
Things that made me sad: Belinelli made major strides defensively playing for Tom Thibodeau last season, but he slid back a bit in that regard this season. He wasn't awful by any means -he wasn't Gary Neal-but he wasn't an asset either. He also shot too many long twos for my taste, but that's picking nits. Belinelli's Twitter exploits didn't sadden me per se, but hopefully that's a lesson learned.
Stat you didn't know: Because of the team's midseason injury epidemic, Rocky finished second on the club in minutes, the only one beside Duncan to exceed the 2,000 mark with 2016. Think about that, the team's eighth man finished second in minutes for the regular season. If that doesn't put their overall achievement in context, I don't know what could.
Conclusion: It's almost inevitable that Belinelli will be less and less featured as the playoffs go along, to the point that to the layman he might be looked upon as a "playoff disappointment," when it's all said and done. Don't get it twisted though, he played over his head in the regular season because of necessity and while he filled in extremely well -easily the best season of any veteran newcomer during the Pop era-it's worth remembering that he's still Leonard's backup and Leonard is slated to get a ton of playoff minutes. Unless Pop is planning on playing a ton of small-ball, those minutes will come in Belinelli's expense. He's in the ideal situation for a role player though: If he shows a hot hand early, he'll play more. If he doesn't, he won't.
Matt Bonner: D
61 G, 11.3 MPG, 3.2 PTS, .445/.429/.750, 2.1 Rebs, 0.5 Ast, 0.2 Stl, 0.2 Blk, 0.3 TOs, +1.8 per game, 108.9 ORtg, 101.9 DRtg, .121 WS/48, 11.2 PER, 20 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: As cold as it is to say, the most pleasant surprise regarding Bonner is that finally, in 2013-14, Pop pulled the plug and gave up on him, looking at other viable options for his fourth big. Obviously, Bonner's own rash of injuries contributed greatly to that, as did Diaw's terrific season as the designated "stretch four," but by and large even when he was available Rocket only played in garbage time.
Things that made me sad: How much attention Bonner still gets from Spurs media and bloggers even though he's become a complete non-entity on the floor. Look, I get that he's a great guy. But please, I beg you, stop this already. At this point it's like showcasing a mascot. Why not just put a red wig on the Coyote and call it a day?
Stat you didn't know: Bonner actually played in eight more games and saw nearly 200 more minutes of floor time than Baynes. This was shocking to me. I can hardly recall seeing Rocket out there but have plenty of Baynes memories. I guess there have been quite a few blowout fourth quarters where Pop played him the whole way through.
Conclusion: I'm not anticipating it -at all-but I wouldn't be averse to Bonner having one final Steve Kerr-esque "playoff moment" in one of these games to contribute to a huge Spurs win. Besides that though, I'm more than ready to move on. It's time.
Austin Daye: C
14G, 8.2 MPG, 4.1 PTS, .382/.414/.571, 1.4 Rebs, 0.4 Ast, 0.3 Stl, 0.3 Blk, 0.4 TOs, +1.4 per game, 114.8 ORtg, 107.7 DRtg, .080 WS/48, 13.5 PER, 3 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: His three-point stroke is smoother than I anticipated. Daye's length has the potential to cause problems on defense, if Pop and the coaching staff could ever convince him to not bite on every pump fake and to not foul jump shooters. Not completely allergic to rebounding or passing.
Things that made me sad: That foul against Harden shooting the three the other day, but otherwise not much. I'm sure he'll fall in disfavor with your grumpy narrator soon enough.
Stat you didn't know: Daye scored 22 points March 24th against Philly. He's played 14 games as a Spur. Diaw's career-high as a Spur, in 174 games? 22 points.
Conclusion: I'm more curious about what Daye will look like next fall, with a full off-season and training camp as a Spur than almost anyone else on the roster. For now though, we're gonna see some slim-cut maroon suits.
Boris Diaw: B
79 G, 25.0 MPG, 9.1 PTS, .521/.402/.739, 4.1 Rebs, 2.8 Ast, 0.6 Stl, 0.4 Blk, 1.5 TOs, +4.0 per game, 109.3 ORtg, 101.3 DRtg, .120 WS/48, 14.1 PER, 55 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: After two seasons of prodding and begging, the coaching staff finally got Diaw to shoot the freaking ball, with mostly awesome results. Seeing him take wide open jumpers is one thing, but when Diaw takes the initiative to bully his way down low with a series of feints, spin moves, pump fakes and up-and-unders, like a fun house mirror version of Parker, it's really a sight to behold. I'm looking forward to him embarrassing long athletic dudes like Dallas' Brandon Wright, Houston's Terrence Jones and of course Serge Ibaka. Diaw's passing wasn't surprising by any means, but it continues to be a valuable weapon.
Things that made me sad: Pretty much ever since Bill Simmons put the hex on him by questioning the Land Walrus' bona fides as a three-point shooter, his accuracy from downtown has fallen off a cliff - 27.3 percent in April. In fact, his overall shooting for this month is just 36.7percent when it's been over 50 percent every other month on the season. Also, Diaw gets fewer rebounds per 36 minutes than Bonner. Please Pop, whatever you do, don't leave Diaw in as the only big late in games. We even saw that tactic backfire in the fourth quarter at Houston the other day. He just can't be counted on to rebound when it matters.
Stat you didn't know: On a team of streaky three-point shooters, Diaw is king. You think 27.3 percent in April is bad? Try 11.1 percent in December, over a 15 game sample size. Then, bizarrely, he was the hottest man on the planet in January, converting 81.3 percent of his threes over 13 games. Hopefully he'll get hot again as the weather does.
Conclusion: Diaw is generally thought of as the team's nominal seventh man, but in terms of minutes played don't be surprised if he winds up fourth in the postseason, behind only Leonard, Parker and Duncan. Really, it won't be much of a surprise at all if he winds up starting the final three rounds if the Spurs draw the Rockets, Thunder and Heat. Similar to Ginobili, Diaw helps whichever unit he's with, so I'm worried what the bench would look like without him. Playing Splitter gives the bench unit one fewer shooter and one fewer play-maker, and generally makes Ginobili's intentions more predictable (read: turnover-able). Regardless of how he's used going forward though, he's been very good this season and I'd guess the Spurs will exhaust all options to re-sign him.
Tim Duncan: A-
74 G, 29.2 MPG, 15.1 PTS, .490/.000/.731, 9.7 Rebs, 3.0 Ast, 0.6 Stl, 1.9 Blk, 2.1 TOs, +4.0 per game, 107.4 ORtg, 100.7 DRtg, .164 WS/48, 21.3 PER, 131 YTS Points
Pleasant surprises: Only missed one game due to injury all season, to start with. Led the team in PER, points scored and minutes at 37-years-old. Carried the team in the midseason when the best players by his side were Diaw, Belinelli and Mills. His per-36-minute averages were 18.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists, numbers good enough to get Dwight Howard 2nd team All-NBA, basically. Constantly adjusted his game for the good of the team, depending on whether Parker was in the lineup or not, whether it was Splitter or Diaw starting with him, and how hot the wings were. Threw down a couple alley-oops for good measure.
Things that made me sad: That jumper, mostly. It's just unsightly at times. Also, that knee hyperextension he suffered at Dallas, though thankfully it wasn't serious. Mostly though what makes me sad is that Duncan didn't make the All-Star team and he won't be picked even third team All-NBA come awards season. Both of these things are disgraceful.
Stat you didn't know: While it's true that Duncan shot far worse this season from midrange, he did hit 45 percent of his shots from 3-10 feet, where he converted 41.7 of those last year. Also, his drop-off from 10-16 feet wasn't too severe, from 40.5 to 38.6. It's only from 16-22 feet where he really declined.
Conclusion: Duncan, a week shy of his 38th birthday, remains the Spurs best player, though Leonard is coming on strong. As a two-way player he's right there with Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol, at least on a per-minute basis, and his passing came on really strong at the end of the season. People point to his partnership with Splitter for being critical to the defense, but the numbers are nearly identical with Diaw. The real correlative factor is having Leonard (and not, by extension, Belinelli). He'll have to play without his Brazilian comrade quite a bit over the next two months, but he'll get a break in the first round not having to bang inside with anyone overly physical since Memphis isn't the opponent. We don't know whether Duncan has enough left to take the Spurs through four challenging rounds, but he was rested as much as possible by Pop considering the circumstances. A couple extra missed games here or there probably wouldn't have made a difference.