[I always run out of time to finish these, so we're skipping ahead a bit to get the Spurs in under the gun. I'll still do the others, ASAP.]
San Antonio Spurs
Who's New: F LaMarcus Aldridge (free agent), F David West (free agent), G Ray McCallum (trade), F Rasual Butler (free agent), C Boban Marjanovic (free agent), G Jonathon Simmons (free agent)
Who's Gone: C Tiago Splitter (trade), G Marco Belinelli (free agent), G Cory Joseph (free agent), C Aron Baynes (free agent), F Jeff Ayres (free agent), G Reggie Williams (free agent)
Off-season Grade: A-. I can't give them an "A" because Aldridge refused to announce who he was going to sign with via a television special, a first-person magazine exclusive or even by penning an op-ed on "The Players' Tribune." How are we supposed to take him seriously as a star player now?
2015-16 Slogan: "When nothing seems to help, I think of the stonecutter hammering away at his rock. Then I have a glass of wine and go to bed. And then in the morning I go sign LaMarcus Aldridge."
What Else Is New?: Well, Gregg Popovich just got named as the head coach of the U.S. men's national team for 2017-2020, which he admitted was always a lifetime goal. He also committed to coach the Spurs until at least 2019, which was one of Aldridge's prerequisites for picking San Antonio. Meanwhile, assistant Becky Hammon became the first woman to coach in league history and led the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League title.
What else? Former Spurs players/assistants Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego have rejoined the organization in various capacities.
Also, Boris Diaw wrote a children's book about his safari exploit and then competed in Euro-Basket 2015 alongside Tony Parker for Les Bleus. How'd Parker fare in the tournament? At least he wasn't eaten by a tiger.
Finally, the team will have new black alternate jerseys. At first I really liked them, but now I don't know. The front seems a bit busy with the over-sized logo and then the number in the corner. One or both of those should've been smaller.
Your Likely Starters:
C Tim Duncan
F LaMarcus Aldridge
F Kawhi Leonard
G Danny Green
G Tony Parker
It's still gonna take me a bit to get used to Aldridge in a Spurs jersey. He's tormented them for so long, been the main culprit for so many losses --nobody's beaten San Antonio more consistently than the Blazers the past few years, the 2014 playoffs aside-- that having him fight for truth, justice and the fate for all mankind is a bit jarring still. Aldridge's career 20.2 points-per-game against the Spurs is his seventh-most against any team and his .535 field goal percentage is his second-highest.
It remains to be seen how Aldridge's gravity will alter how the Spurs play and how people play against them. Do you give him the open jumper to keep the paint clamped down against Parker? Do you risk guarding Duncan with some relative bum? How does your pick-and-roll coverage vary when it's Leonard running it instead of Parker? We've already seen Aldridge make some good, quick decisions when doubled down low, but I want to see if can make the hi-lo pass with Duncan as smoothly as Tim can to him. As a shooter Aldridge has been more accurate on long twos than mid-range jumpers four of the past five years, and I'm guessing he'll stretch his range out even more to the three-point line.
I'm looking for more aggression from Aldridge in his own end. He didn't go after rebounds hard at all during the preseason and didn't contest shots well either. Rim protection is supposed to be his strength, not the pick-and-roll, but he revealed that the Spurs are going to be more aggressive defensively in the half court, and he'll be expected to hedge hard on guys instead of laying back like he did with Portland. Whenever he shares the court with Duncan, he'll be the guy who has to exert energy all over the place like Chris Bosh does in Miami while Duncan stays near the rim.
Duncan main job will be keep everyone organized, to clean up around the rim, get easy points and set screens. He might be the fifth option with the starters but we'll see him stretch his legs a bit when Aldridge is on the bench. I like the idea of him playing with Ginobili and Diaw on the second unit. Those guys against opposing benches really isn't fair.
Green thankfully returned to the fold, taking a below-market four-year, $40 million contract. There aren't many places where he'll get as many open shots and not have the responsibility of guarding the opponent's top perimeter scorer, so while I don't necessarily buy the notion of him as a "system" player, I do agree that he'll probably look better with the Spurs than anywhere else.
Acquiring Aldridge frees Leonard to keep developing his game as a facilitator and hopefully not force up too many contested shots. I'd still like for him to have that defense first mentality above all else because that's where he's really special and I'd be thrilled to see him get to five or six assists per game while shooting close to 50 percent rather than gunning for 20 a night at a lower percentage. Mainly I'm hopeful Leonard plays a bunch of minutes leading the second unit, because they're gonna need his athleticism.
Physically Parker is pretty close to the end. He can't beat people off the dribble to get to the rim anymore and he has no lift at all on his teardrops, to the point where he should strongly consider abandoning them altogether. His game is all about his experience and savvy at this point, similar to Ginobili. The silver lining is Parker knows the offense so well and is so attuned to working off bigs that he'll score 8-10 points off back cuts, ball reversals and people chasing the roll man while he still has the ball. I'm less sold on how useful he'll be standing in the corner while Leonard's running things, that's never been his specialty. Defensively they'll try to hide him as much as possible but that gets difficult against the best teams.
Your Likely Bench:
G Manu Ginobili
F Boris Diaw
F David West
G Patty Mills
F Kyle Anderson
F Rasual Butler
C Boban Marjanovic
G Ray McCallum
Ginobili has been excellent in the preseason and I'm optimistic about his prospects as long as his minute totals stay low and they don't wear him down. His percentages should increase if he can work off the ball more and be a catch-and-shoot guy for Leonard. I'm pretty adamant about him needing to play with at least one starter if not two, because that second quintet, Mills aside is s-l-o-o-o-w, and Manu can no longer get to the rim even with a screen. He can drive and create getting the ball on the move against a rotating defense that's off-balance. Against a set defense though with no stars to worry about? I don't see that going well.
How the Spurs use Diaw will be interesting. He seems the least interested of anyone right now and that's par for the course. I expect West to leapfrog him as the third big until the All-Star break, whereupon Boris will get more serious about carving out a role. He's going to feel less pressure than ever to shoot now playing with all these talented bigs and I don't think that's necessarily good for his game. The best Diaw is an aggressive Diaw opponents have to account for.
West figures to have a smoother transition to the Spurs than Aldridge will. He's a plug-and-play vet who won't demand Isos or anything like that. My concerns with him are all on defense, especially if he's out there without Duncan. A Diaw-West pairing seems like a really bad idea to me.
Hopefully a healthy Mills can hit the ground running this time around. We know he can shoot the three and provide energy but the question remains if he can do anything else. Mills has to eliminate the bad shots from his game and has to get better at getting to the rim. If he's going to be totally one-dimensional, then McCallum might have more value honestly.
Pounders know I'm not sold on Anderson for a hundred different reasons. He doesn't play hard all the time, he disappears for long stretches, he reaches too much on defense instead of moving his feet, he can't play without the ball and can't create room for himself with it. His mid-range shot has coming along well but the three is a different story.
McCallum's defensive intensity has been a pleasant surprise and the stroke on his jumper looks solid. All the stats say we shouldn't expect anything from him, but I'm gonna be open minded until I see more. He's never played with good bench players before or good defenders period, so maybe the Spurs will bring out the best in him.
Butler got some small-ball work at the four but I'm not wild about that idea at all. I'd be fine with him battling Anderson for the backup three but I don't see how the defense and rebounding can hold up with him in there and only one big.
Marjanovic is a curiosity for now. His weakness is supposed to be moving laterally and defending the pick-and-roll, but I don't think it'll be a big issue as a deep reserve. You don't run into too many Chris Pauls out there guarding bench units. Marjanovic will block and alter shots when he's in there. I'm more concerned about how his offense will translate. As tall as he is I don't know if he's crafty enough to get many shots off outside of put-backs. His refusal to back down and try to score against a smaller defender against Houston was disappointing.
I see Matt Bonner as strictly an emergency player at this point and mostly just a good locker room guy. Simmons can get some time on nights Ginobili is being rested, but my guess is he still has plenty of Austin in his future. He's another guy who has to learn to play without the ball.
Your Coach: Gregg Popovich
Pop will be experimenting with lineups like crazy all the way to the end as usual. How the offense will work around Aldridge, Leonard and Parker will be fascinating but I'm more curious about how he'll handle the bench. I see no reason why one of Aldridge and Duncan shouldn't be on the floor at all times and ditto for Leonard and Green. He might disagree. The players say almost the entire focus of camp has been on defense, so I don't see why you'd pass up on having one strong rim protector and perimeter defender out there at all times, but I'm not the guy they asked to coach the Olympic team either.
Bottom Line: The Spurs are a contender, but Parker and Ginobili both have to show they're not finished for them to have a real chance. If they can recapture their 2014 form, another parade down the Riverwalk is a distinct possibility. I can see them get off to a so-so start until the pieces fit into place and then go on a tear from the All-Star break on. The way the match-ups go San Antonio is the team the Warriors fear most, while the Spurs are more concerned about the Clippers and the Thunder.