Ever since the Spurs added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West while managing to retain their core of the "Big Four" plus Danny Green, they've been regarded if not as the odds-on favorites to win the Western Conference next year, then at least in the conversation. I don't quite think it's going to be the formality that some think it will be. For one thing, Tim Duncan will be entering his fifth decade on this planet during the first round of the playoffs. For another, Tony Parker played like the team's third-best point guard last year (not a compliment). There was also the matter of Manu Ginobili looking, if not quite done, then certainly burnt on the surface.
I'm not too concerned about the starters. I think they're going to be quite good, even if Parker continues his decline. Aldridge is a top-10 player, Leonard is at worst in the top 15, and I hold Duncan in similar regard. Green, meanwhile, is a top-10 shooting guard. If Tony Parker is the biggest question mark, you have a seriously good starting lineup.
But the bench is a different matter. There's talent there, no question, but everyone on the second unit is below par athletically. They'll all be challenged to get to the rim and to stay in front of their men on defense. The only one with above-average energy and lateral quickness is Mills, but he's slight of frame and short. There are intriguing options at the end of the bench in Jonathon Simmons and Ray McCallum, but they'll probably be on the outside looking in, at least at the start.
Despite Aldridge's reported preference to play as a power-forward instead of center, the Spurs' best bet to have a quality rim-protector at all times (especially in this age of small-ball and "pace-and-space" basketball) would be to have either Duncan or Aldridge on the floor, staggering their minutes as need be. Ideally, both play together of course, but that's not practical for extended stretches because of their minute restrictions. I don't like the idea of West and Boris Diaw (or one of them with Matt Bonner) sharing the court at all. I'd rather split that duo up. My guess is Duncan and Aldridge will play about as many minutes apart as they will together.
I have a similar view of Ginobili and Kyle Anderson. I think both are too limited defensively to risk playing together. I am hopeful Gregg Popovich will see the wisdom in staggering Leonard and Green so that one or the other can check the top perimeter threat on the floor at all times.
I cobbled together a crude rotation for how all this might work. There are 48 minutes in a regulation game and five people play at a time, so that's 240 available minutes. I'd ration them like so:
Tim Duncan: 30
LaMarcus Aldridge: 34
Kawhi Leonard: 34
Danny Green: 30
Tony Parker: 31
Boris Diaw: 18
David West: 14
Kyle Anderson: 12
Manu Ginobili: 20
Patty Mills: 17
Here's the rotation:
Again, this is by no means perfect. It's just something I doodled over ten minutes. There's a minute in the fourth quarter where Mills would be on the court without Ginobili or Parker, so I guess Diaw or Anderson would have the playmaking duties for those two possessions. Whatever. The thing to remember is that I'm not suggesting that Duncan or Parker will finish the year averaging over 30 minutes a game. There will be plenty of blowouts where they'll surrender their fourth-quarters to Boban Marjanovic (assuming he's not broken), Simmons, McCallum, Bonner and so on. There will be rest days for the graybeards. There will inevitably be injuries. I'm expecting McCallum to take over Cory Joseph's role as the guy who starts in Parker's place so that Mills can stay as the spark-plug off the bench. I figure Simmons will be the understudy to Ginobili, though it's certainly possible he leapfrogs Anderson at some point. A million variables will be in play, as always.
The above is just an academic exercise. It's not at all a guess what Pop will do but rather what he could do.