This summer has seen more roster turnover in San Antonio than any offseason in recent memory. While the team is certainly better equipped for a deep playoff run than it was three months ago, there are still many questions about the roster fit. Will LaMarcus' iso-heavy post play work in the offense? Who is the backup center? And perhaps most importantly, is there enough bench depth?
It's a question that's been tossed around regularly ever since Aron Baynes, Marco Belinelli, and Cory Joseph departed for Detroit, Sacramento, and Toronto. Satchel Price of SB Nation notes that these are "...significant names to replace." I'm skeptical of the ‘significant' qualifier. As much as we loved them in the Silver and Black ...
Baynes, Belinelli, and Joseph were good, but replaceable
The trio provided key contributions in the 2014 title run. Baynes was an unexpected energizer in the Portland series, Belinelli hit some pivotal shots, including a momentum-crusher in the Finals, and CoJo had the series-swinging, history-altering poster.
They adequately filled demanding roles during the tumultuous injury-plagued months last winter. Bearing in mind, there's an important distinction to be made: Baynes, Belinelli, and especially Joseph provided key contributions during their tenures in San Antonio, but they themselves were not key contributors.
Baynes was foul prone and could not manage to defend fast big men in the paint. Marco's defensive shortcomings canceled his offensive production; the Spurs were nearly 10 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor last year1! CoJo was never more than the backup to the backup, and couldn't play himself into the rotation when Parker and Mills were both healthy.
It's nice to call these guys replaceable, but someone actually has to do the replacing. This begs the question:
How will Pop spread the available minutes?
The guard and big man positions are pretty quick fixes. If Tony and Patty don't miss a combined 45 games like last season, and if McCallum can play serviceable spot minutes and Kawhi's playmaking role is expanded, they should be able to take over the 1444 minutes Joseph left behind. Aldridge, West, and some garbage-time Marjanovic will easily overclock the 3087 available big man minutes.
Let's not discount what LaMarcus Aldridge provides for this team. In his career thus far, LMA has been a bastion of consistently good play, the kind of consistency Tiago was never able to maintain. Last year, Aldridge played more minutes than Splitter and Baynes combined. In short, substituting Aldridge for Tiago has immediately added depth to the roster if only for the fact that Aldridge can play 15-20 more games per season.
It gets a bit hairier with the wing rotation. Marco's departure leaves 1388 minutes to redistribute, and a potentially reduced Manu role could mean even more minutes are on the table. But since the Spurs were so much worse with Marco on the floor, Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons just need to not kill the Spurs to make up for Belinelli's performance. Kawhi and Danny already log (relatively) substantial playing time, but if Anderson and Simmons don't pan out, it wouldn't surprise me to see Kawhi or Danny edge closer to 35 minutes a game.
Diaw and Mills should return to form
The bench performance last year was peculiar; while the Spurs were second in the league in bench points per game, it featured many players with average to below average seasons. Manu was more inconsistent than usual. As Mills worked back from his shoulder surgery, his three point percentages from January to April were 47%, 26%, 35%, 30%1. As for Diaw, you have to go back to his 2012 Bobcat days to find worse numbers from him (that year, Boris was so bad that one of the worst teams in NBA history cut him).
Manu will likely continue into mediocrity with flashes of brilliance, but there's no reason to expect the same trend from Mills and Diaw. Patty is now over a year removed from his shoulder surgery and finally has ‘...full confidence' in his rotator cuff. What makes Boris such a great player in spite of his below-average athleticism is the fact that he's unpredictable. When he avoided open threes like the plague, he clogged up driving lanes and slowed down the offense. Reinstilling confidence in Diaw's jumper could be Coach Engelland's primary task heading into next year. As long as these two can return to form, the deeper bench players won't be major factors because...
Depth doesn't matter in the postseason
Pop, like most coaches, seriously cuts down the bench minutes come postseason. Since the run-and-gun Spurs' era began in 2011, the bench has played on average 12.9 fewer minutes per game in the postseason than the regular season2. The lineup typically shrinks to a 9-man rotation. The only differences we should expect between the 2015 and 2016 playoff rotations are Aldridge for Splitter and West for Belinelli. I don't care what team they're facing — that's a nightmare matchup for any contender.
And let's just talk about that starting lineup for a second. In terms of positional rankings, every starter is easily in the top 5 except for Parker. To have Tony (who — despite last year's decline — is still an extremely valuable player) as the weakest link is a testament to just how unbelievable this team could be.
1 Per Basketball Reference
2 Per Hoops Stats