The regular season is upon us. After one of the most exciting summers in franchise history the new-look Spurs will face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.
Starting off with a win against a fellow contender would obviously be great but for a team that has undergone changes in the offseason, everyone seamlessly adapting to a new set of circumstances is equally important. Preseason gave us an indication of how this iteration of the Spurs will look like but there are still some unanswered questions.
Here are five that the first game of the season could help answer.
1. Can Tony Parker still hang with the league's elite?
There's no better test for Tony Parker than having to deal with Russell Westbrook on the first game of the season. Westbrook is one of the most physical and aggressive defenders at the point guard position and he will toe the line between pressuring the ball and fouling on almost every possession. Whether Parker can absorb the contact and still be able to score or set up teammates will tell us a lot about what we can expect from him early in the season.
On the other end he will probably be hidden at some point on one of Oklahoma City's terrible shooting guards but he will likely start the game on Westbrook. Parker has declined on the defensive end this past few seasons so expecting him to contain one of the best one-on-one scorers in the league is not realistic. He will be expected to force Westbrook to at least take harder shots than the ones he prefers and to do well at the team level, though.
Reading too much on just one game is obviously unwise, but after wondering for months if Parker could play at a high level again, we get a chance to see him attempt to do that against elite competition. It should be fun.
2. What will the big man rotation look like?
Gregg Popovich shortened the rotation for the last few games of preseason but never actually went with his regulars for an entire game. Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Boris Diaw missed some games and David West's minutes fluctuated, with him receiving just nine minutes against the Rockets. Boban Marjanovic got some run but could start the season in very large street clothes. We just haven't seen what the Spurs' revamped big man rotation looks like. That changes tonight.
Aldridge and Duncan will start but it will be interesting to see who checks out first and who comes off the bench first. Ideally Duncan would get some rest while West checks in for him, then re-entering the game when it's Aldridge's time to go to the bench. That way the team will always have a rim protector on the floor.
I have a feeling Pop will want to take a look at whether the Diaw-West pairing is viable, but the Thunder might not be the right opponent for that, since they bring a very good offensive seven-footer off the bench in Enes Kanter.
3. How many minutes will Kyle Anderson get?
Kyle Anderson seems to have earned the fourth wing role but we don't know what that means in terms of playing time. Will he get the 20+ minutes Marco Belinelli used to get or will Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green absorb some of them? Everyone is expecting Anderson's leash to be short and any defensive mistake to send him to the bench but the Spurs need someone to sop up minutes and it's not like Belinelli was a defensive stalwart. How Anderson does on offense might actually determine how long he's on the court.
Rasual Butler will be on the bench and he's proven shooter. If Anderson hesitates to pull the trigger and his off the dribble game is off, Pop might decide to go with experience and fit over talent in some games. Slowmo has earned a real shot at establishing himself as a permanent part of the rotation. Now he has to capitalize on it.
4. How many shots are enough for LaMarcus Aldridge?
Aldridge's comments on an interview with USA Today about wanting to get his touches was a bigger story earlier in the offseason than now. During preseason his teammates looked for him and it was obvious to anyone watching that while not relying on him as much as the Trail Blazers did, they don't just want to slot him in Splitter's old role either.
It's still interesting to see if Aldridge -- who ranked fourth in the league in shot attempts per 36 minutes last season behind notorious chuckers Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony -- will be happy with a smaller offensive role or will force some shots if the ball doesn't find him as often as he hopes.
No one has a better sense of the pulse of his locker room than Gregg Popovich, so this shouldn't really be a problem. A full adjustment by Aldridge, however, might take some time.
5. Is Kawhi Leonard ready to be a superstar?
Defense is half the game and Leonard is one of the best in the league at it. The reigning Defensive Player of the year is an absolute terror, hounding ball-handlers into turnovers and providing timely help defense. His value on that end is huge. That, as well as a great complementary skill set on offense, is enough to call Leonard a star and at worst a top 20 player in the league.
What's missing for him to become a superstar, a true franchise player is a dominant offensive game. Leonard has been getting ready to handle a bigger share of the offense for a couple of years now and it seems the time has come for the transition. If he not only contains Kevin Durant but actually makes him work on defense with his solid post game and improving ball-handling skills, Leonard will show everyone that the next step on his evolution is well underway.