Okay, *technically* the NBA season started on Tuesday. I saw something about it while I was flipping the dial looking for highbrow fare on The Discovery Channel. The real NBA however, the one revolving around the Spurs, starts tips tonight. So here are ten predictions about how the season will go for the fellas.
1. Tim Duncan will set a career-high in field goal percentage.
Bunnies! Bunnies everywhere. So many bunnies that he we should call him whatever the rabbit version of shepherd is. Bunnyherder? Nah, that doesn't sound right. The point is that a higher percentage of Duncan's shots than ever before will come from point blank range right at the rim as he takes over Tiago Splitter's "roll man" job in the offense to make way for LaMarcus Aldridge's pick-and-pops from all over the key.
Believe it or not, but Duncan's career-high for field goal percentage came in his rookie year, the first year they started keeping track of that stat I believe, and it's probably lower than you might think, just 54.9 percent. It's probably not a coincidence it happened when he was playing with a fellow big who was an All-Star talent in David Robinson. Now he's in that situation again, for the first time in about 15 years, only with a role reversal.
I'm expecting Duncan's to shoot well over 60 percent and it wouldn't shock me if he's closer to 65. He won't attempt many but the ones he gets should be great looks.
2. Kawhi Leonard will average five assists per game.
Not only will Leonard have the ball a ton with the regular starting group, but I expect him to lead the second unit quite a bit as well. Defenders will play him to drive, passing lanes will be open, and Leonard has developed to the point where he can now find guys on the move and get them the ball. This seems like a really ambitious --or perhaps just stupid-- prediction, but what can I say, I think Leonard's gonna have the ball A LOT this season and he can get a couple dimes off pick-and-pops to Aldridge alone.
3. Danny Green will make 250 threes this season.
Now this seems crazy. Nobody besides Stephen Curry canned even 240 bombs last season and Green's hit 191, a career-high (also a Spurs franchise record). I just think the Spurs have so many guys who draw defenders into their orbits and who are also cognizant of getting the ball to shooters that Green will be able to get off 6-8 good looks per game. With fewer shooters on the squad he'll be their Kyle Korver, the one the others look to swing the ball to. 250 threes is an obscene number, but it's just a tiny bit more than three per game and if he stays healthy, I think he can really challenge it.
4. Kyle Anderson will gradually fall out of Pop's rotation.
One reason I think Green might have a monster year is because there will be more minutes for him to play. Nobody thinks it's wise to play Manu Ginobili more than 20 minutes a night at this stage and Marco Belinelli is a King now. Anderson will get the first shot to be the fourth wing, but the guess here is Pop will grow exasperated with his defensive shortcomings and inconsistent shooting. But it's okay though because...
5. The Spurs will trade for a wing shooter at the deadline.
My hunch is this is why they extended Anderson for another season. It's insurance and cost certainty, both for them and for any potential suitors looking for cheap wings to fill out their bench in 2016-17. With Leonard and Green having signed to long-term deals already, Anderson's role can only grow so much in San Antonio, even if the coaches like him, and moreover with Duncan and Ginobili's windows being what they are, the Spurs are very much in a "win now and worry about later, later" mindset. If they see a trade out there to make them better for the playoffs, they'll pursue it. I can easily see a scenario where they flip Anderson, Bonner, Butler etc. for a shooter with the agreement that the other team will then waive Bonner for the Spurs to re-sign like they did with Brent Barry in 2007-08 when they traded for Kurt Thomas.
6. Tony Parker's numbers will be down, but PATFO will be very happy with him.
Parker's role in the offense will be affected almost as much as Duncan's with the arrival of Aldridge and the emergence of Leonard. At his age, it had to change. Thankfully he's mature and secure enough to realize it and adapt, as he's spoken about doing throughout training camp. Parker will initiate the offense, run a ton of pick-and-pop's, score some easy ones when the defense over-commits, and spend a lot of time standing in the corner while Leonard has the ball. Consequently I see his shot attempts decreasing quite a bit, and his percentages plummeting as well. The thing understand is it the numbers won't be reflective of Parker's overall play. He'll be shooting threes from the corner and taking bailout 20-footers with the shot clock dwindling and the offense unable to create anything else. I expect to see his assists increase quite a bit, but for the most part he'll shift to the Avery Johnson role on the team, the glue that holds it all together. Le petit générale, 2.0, you might say.
7. LaMarcus Aldridge will double his career-high in threes.
Aldridge sank 37-of-105 (.352) last season after never attempting more than 28 threes in any year prior to that and I see him extending his range with the Spurs, especially when he's sharing the floor with Duncan. Something like 75-for-210 seems possible. If Anthony Davis is going to shoot a bunch of threes this season then I don't see why Aldridge wouldn't.
8. Manu Ginobili will shoot over 40 percent from three-point land.
Touching on Jesus Gomez's post from yesterday, Ginobili, like most shooters, is a lot more accurate off the catch than when he tries to dribble and create threes on his own. I think between Leonard being put in the facilitator role a lot more and Aldridge kicking it out when doubled, Ginobili will get more chances to be a catch-and-shoot guy than he has been in the past. I don't see him looking to create much for himself at all at this stage and only being aggressive off the catch when defenses are in rotation and a step behind. I'd be surprised if he attempts more than seven shots a night, to be honest. His percentages will be high, but no one will really notice because he'll take so few.
9. Tim Duncan will finally scratch the Rockets off his playoff bucket list.
It's hard to imagine, but Duncan's never faced the Houston Rockets in the playoffs. He's played --and defeated-- every other Western Conference team, including the Seattle Supersonics, and they don't even exist anymore. He's also knocked off several Eastern Conference teams. The Spurs haven't faced Houston in the playoffs since 1995 though, and those weren't good times for anyone but JRW.
I'm a sucker for narrative and symmetry and all that, so I'm predicting the Spurs to face and knock off the Rox in the second round next spring.
10. The Spurs will defeat the Cavs in seven games to win their sixth championship.
Sure, why not? I think the Warriors will suffer through some adversity this time around the way most title winners do and have some injury issues to contend with that will cost them in the standings. I don't like their bench much at all either. The Clippers look very dangerous on paper, but I don't think they have enough shooting. I'm not picking any team that has Enes Kanter starting at center and Dion Waiters forever launching long twos. And I'll be damned before I pick LeBron James to win, so I guess by default that leaves the Spurs, in a classic seven game series, just one more ego bruiser for James to remember Tim and Manu by as they ride off into the sunset.