Yes, the Spurs are coming off a franchise-best 67 wins last season and, yes, they’re still projected to be one of the top teams in 2016-17, but ask almost any objective fan who is winning it all next June and you’ll get one of two answers. And, really, probably just one.
There are good reasons to think the Warriors run away with this thing, but there’s a large chunk of the Internet already dedicated to that. Today, let’s take a look at what factors should have you believing in San Antonio’s odds as slow-burning usurpers to the throne.
Kawhi Leonard is still improving
Last season’s MVP runner-up and DPOY is still just 25 and coming off a year where he dominated on both sides of the floor. Leonard said he spent the offseason working on all aspects of his game, and nothing in particular, but there’s still room for him to grow as a creator and facilitator within the offense. If one of the league’s best pull-up shooters from last year can also consistently be a passing threat in the pick and roll, defenses will have their relatively tiny-looking hands full.
The top of the West looks pretty thin
The Clippers are still the Clippers, for better or worse, and the Warriors will be pretty good, too. But things in the Western Conference get pretty murky beyond its presumptive top three teams.
The Blazers need to prove they can take another step forward. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant. The Grizzlies lack depth at some key positions. The Rockets may be awful at defense. The Jazz, one of the summer’s sexier picks to make the jump (a few lists have them ahead of SA), still need to be a playoff team first and are starting another season on the wrong foot, thanks to a Gordon Hayward finger injury. Also, how far down the list of the NBA’s top players do you have to go before you find someone from Utah?
As usual, the Spurs will tinker and adjust and look to become the best version of themselves by next spring. In the meantime, they should be able to mop up enough wins to remain a top-three seed, which should have them above 55 wins yet again.
Dewayne Dedmon offers real upside and lineup versatility
Dedmon could play a big part in this San Antonio team eventually reaching its ceiling. As things stand, much of the its success on the defensive end sits on LaMarcus Aldridge’s shoulders. Yes, Leonard will still be a disruptive force on the perimeter that helps when he can, but it’ll be Aldridge’s job to take on the primary big-man defensive duties most nights now that Duncan’s gone. Depending on how vulnerable they are guarding the pick and roll, lineups anchored by Pau Gasol or David Lee may be untenable.
That sets the baseline for Dewayne Dedmon’s role as a spot defensive specialist, but he’s got the potential to make a bigger impact as the season rolls along, since he could theoretically play alongside Aldridge, Gasol, Lee or a small-ball four.
Advanced stats (note: SMALL SAMPLE SIZE) like him in almost every respect. He was one of the league’s most efficient pick-and-roll players (1.38 points per possession), put up a terrific block rate (5.4%), and had easily the Magic’s best plus-minus numbers (+15 per 100 possessions). Unfortunately, they also point to him being a foul machine, which is why it might take him a while to become the reliable rim-running, shot-blocking difference maker he has the chance to be.
One thing that he has going for him, however, is that
Tim Duncan is still around
Big Fun’s retirement in July seemingly spelled doom for San Antonio’s league-leading defense, while jeopardizing its valued culture and cache of corporate knowledge. The latter two may be preserved with Duncan taking on a makeshift role on Pop’s staff.
Danny Green has new eyes
Green’s shooting numbers (37.6% from the field, 33.2% from three) were so bad last year that they negated much of what he did on the other end as one of the NBA’s best defensive two-guards. His 10.5 PER was the lowest of his career, and only Kevin Martin had a worse net rating on the team.
Green didn’t blame his off year on his eyes, but that didn’t stop him from getting LASIK surgery in May. If he can be even close to the shooter he was in 2014-15, the Spurs’ starting unit will have that much more punch.
The bigs may be shooting threes, too
In his last year at Portland, Aldridge shot 107 three-pointers and made 35% of them. Gasol shot a few less last season and hit at roughly the same clip. The spacing this season will be much improved over last year, when Duncan was often given the shot from the elbow that he no longer had the legs to hit consistently.
Kyle Anderson’s poised to take the next step
Boris Diaw is gone, leaving behind a vacancy for a big man who can do a bit of everything. That’s a role that Anderson appears ready to fill after two years of earning Pop’s trust at the end of the bench. He said he’ll try Anderson out at the 1, 3 and 4 this year, which will not only test the player’s limits but also stretch the team’s versatility in new ways.
Davis Bertans may be ready to contribute from day one
The future of the NBA is positionless, perimeter-oriented and, probably, Latvian.
Battles aren’t won (or lost) on paper
Just ask that one warthog that fought off the lioness, or the Novgorod Republic of the 13th century. Better yet, remember that
The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals
NBA Twitter hasn’t forgotten, and neither should we.