The Spurs' busy summer makeover is pretty much complete, with 14 roster spots now filled after the signings of Serbian behemoth Boban Marjanovic and D-League alum Jonathon Simmons. Gregg Popovich's coaching staff is faced with the challenge of assimilating the team's major acquisitions (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West) into the core they've retained.
The change is tactical and quantifiable: To accommodate the new arrivals, the team said goodbye, tchau and arrivederci to a combined 60.5 minutes per game in Cory Joseph, Tiago Splitter and Marco Belinelli. With Baynes and Ayres on the way out as well, there's another 23.5 minutes at the 4-5 spots that will need to be taken up.
The former three all leave behind unique roles and skill sets. Splitter was, when healthy, the starting center the team could rely on to stymie pick-and-rolls, contest shots, and frustrate casual fans by laying in a perfectly dunkable basketball; Joseph proved to be more than a steady playmaker, an already-solid defender who showed he was ready to take on a bigger role; and Belinelli even in a down year was still a floor-spacer and secondary ball-handler for the reserves with the meanest pump fake in the NBA.
It adds up to one of the bigger adjustments we've seen in this era of Spurs ball, at least from one year to the next.
Starting is easy
Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tony Parker make up one of the more formidable starting fives in the league, and will in all likelihood be the team's most-used lineup next year, *health permitting*. The younger guys should all eclipse 30 minutes a game.
Rest nights and Pop's occasional whimsy mean we might see the Spurs approach last season's total of 23 different starting lineups, but I would still take the under there.
How much will Tim play?
Duncan will play less than the 29 MPG he did last year. The 2,227 total minutes he spent on the floor in 2014-15 was the most he's played this decade, and having three other talented bigs mean that around 25 is a reasonable number to expect for the man who will turn 40 in 2016.
Offense *should be* easy
The system itself should remain largely the same. Movement will still be king, outside shots will be produced, and the open mid-range looks that were once looked away by Banger and Splitter will now go to Aldridge and West, both players who have done damage for years between 16 feet and the three-point line.
Defensive questions and the bigs rotations
What will dictate rotations more is likely the fit on the other end. Seth Partnow made some valid points about not declaring San Antonio champs prematurely, largely on account of this uncertainty. (His article raises a number of questions regarding the Splitter-Aldridge trade-off but only addresses one, admittedly, key point: the loss of rim protection. Tiago has long been an underrated defender outside of his own team's fanbase and a drop-off can be expected. But as fantastic a marriage it was on one end of the floor, it was hardly as fruitful offensively.)
Duncan and Aldridge should complement each other well, with Big Fun assuming the center-specific duties the former Blazer has never really taken to.
Aldridge played 35 minutes a game last season and should be able to handle roughly the same. That leaves 45 between West and Diaw to mostly split, with Bonner and, presumably, newcomer Marjanovic playing spot minutes.
But who will play best together? The third most-used lineup from last year was Diaw, Duncan, Ginobili, Leonard and Parker. They logged 156 minutes together and were outscored by 6.6 points, one of worst point-differentials on the year. The Diaw-Duncan tandem was actually the least effective big man combo last year and one of the weaker duos the year before.
The other combinations are less clear. I see West spelling Duncan somewhere before the end of the first quarter, with Aldridge staying on until the second. Boris should be able to play nicely with either of the newcomers once he enters, and I think he and West can form a solid The Other Guys dynamic on and off the floor (West and Wahlberg are both excellent scowlers).
Whenever they're on the floor together, Bonner and Aldridge could be a sneaky-good pairing, as well, since the Red Rocket -- although not a shot-blocker -- has no qualms with banging down low. The spacing the two could provide the offense could really open things up.
Marjanovic is a big unknown, and that's fine as a fifth big who doesn't have many expectations. If the 7'3'' center is able to pick up on the early tenets of verticality and run the floor well, the pickup will look like a coup.
What becomes of The Foreign Legion?
The nickname never really took (with me either), and there is still an international presence in San Antonio, but the second unit as we knew it is no more.
That unit was responsible for countless second-quarter runs over the past few years, where the Spurs reserves simply out-executed and out-scored their counterparts. Creating that separation will again be important in securing wins and keeping the old guys on the bench in the fourth quarter.
Patty Mills will be back with his full-court energy and shooting, and Boris and Manu (even with a downtick in minutes) will be able to create, as they always have. The chemistry may take a while to come around, but this unit should once again be one of the strongest in the league, seizing and building upon leads.
I don't see a big role for Ray McCallum, who might be treated as Cory Joseph in year one.
Who plays behind Kawhi?
The Spurs have proven the past few years that they don't need a traditional small forward to back Kawhi up, but there is a need for more wing help with Marco gone and Manu's load likely to take another step back.
Jonathon Simmons and Kyle Anderson can't both spend most of the season in Austin, can they? Anderson logged a lot of miles on I-35 last year, making the commute between San Antonio and the ATX often in the same week. Meanwhile the older Jonathon Simmons played years in Austin before being called up.
After one won Vegas Summer League MVP and the other took MVP honors for the final, the team will likely give both a shot during the early months. The triumvirate at PTR have their opinions about it. My two cents: Simmons will probably seize the role, while Kyle Anderson will hopefully work on his jumper enough to become a 21-year-old version of 37-year-old Paul Pierce.