The Spurs finished in the top three in offensive and defensive rating last year. Will they be able to do that next season? Where do you expect them to rank in 2016/17?
Michael Erler: At first, the temptation was to say "good heavens, no, don't be absurd," on account of the expected drop-off between Duncan's defense (both individually and the way he communicated/coordinated with his teammates) and Gasol's, but then I decided to actually do some research on the matter instead of writing out of my butt.
It turns out the Spurs had A LOT of breathing room when it comes to defensive rating. In fact, the difference between them (96.6) and the fourth-place Celtics (100.9) is about the same as Boston and 19th-place Memphis (105.4), so you'd need for them to have some serious slippage to drop out of the top three, barring injuries to Leonard and/or Green.
And offensively, they should only improve, though honestly I have no earthly idea how they finished third last year. The Thunder are headed for a drop but a handful of other candidates like the Clips, Cavs, Blazers or Rockets. So it's possible that the Spurs could improve on last year's figure and still finish outside of the top three.
So all that is a clumsy, un-nuanced way of saying I expect offensive improvement and defensive regression, but I have no idea if they'll finish top three in both again. But the odds are they won't, because it sounds like the kind of thing that's hard to do once, much less twice in a row. I'm going with 5th in offense, 3rd in defense
Bruno Passos: Offense - 3rd. Defense - 2nd.
The spacing and ball movement should improve with Pau as a better high-low complement to Aldridge, and I think there's a bit less redundancy in the big-man rotation than there was last year. With that comes a cloud of uncertainty (Can Pop stagger Pau and David Lee so that opponents can't pick and roll San Antonio to death? Can Dewayne Dedmon manage his fouls? How often will SA go small with Davis Bertans or Kyle Anderson at the four?), but I think the pieces are there for the Spurs to match up as necessary against almost any team.
Tony Parker will still be the wee straw that stirs the drink, and there will be enough stability on the perimeter to facilitate Kawhi's steady ascendance into basketball enlightenment. Even if he doesn't maintain his ridiculous shooting numbers from three, Danny Green's should return to the mean (right?). Overall I like the combination of continuity and new offensive talent the Spurs bring into next season, and I'm not as worried about Diaw and West's departures.
The Warriors will almost certainly lead the way in most offensive metrics, and I think the Spurs would be (a distant) second in rating if they weren't going to be spending most of the season beta testing the new roster.
The bigger questions are how much the team's league-best defense will slide in the wake of Big Fun's exit, and what everyone else can do to pick up the slack. They still have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but Kawhi can't be everywhere; there will be mistakes he can't erase, and it won't be Timmy appearing at just the right moment to nullify the play.
Still, there are some good habits on the defense that I don't think will go away. The transition D should hold up, and there are a number of players who rebound well for their position to chip in on the defensive glass. The team's defensive rating with Duncan off the floor was 100.9, which would've still been good enough for first last year. I'll project a bit more of a dip than that, given all the new faces, but overall they should be fine.
Eli Horowitz: Statistically, the Spurs finished 3rd in offensive efficiency and 1st in defensive efficiency. Offensively, they should be in the top 5 again. Last year's top 5 were the Warriors, Thunder, Spurs, Cavs, and Raptors. Knocking on the door at 6-8 were the Clippers, Blazers, and Rockets. With the loss of Durant, the Thunder may fall from the top 3. Additionally, Toronto could plateau and be defended more effectively next season. Those two teams are more likely to be passed than the Spurs.
The Spurs upgraded offensively by adding Gasol and Lee to replace a retiring Duncan. The shooting of Bertans and possibly Garino help as well. But most importantly, the Spurs motion offense remains effective even with new players and changes. In a league where every team faces significant roster changes annually, I trust the Spurs system over teams that rely on individual styles.
Defensively, the Spurs finished 1st last season followed in order by Atlanta, Indiana, Golden State, and Boston. The loss of Duncan hurts, and Gasol's defensive ability has been scrutinized relentlessly during his time in Chicago. But Atlanta lost Al Horford, and Indiana lost defensive stars Hill and Mahinmi. Boston should push towards the top with Horford and the continued development of their young wings. A healthy Clippers team should also be in the mix. Golden State is even more versatile now.
Gasol's Chicago teams dropped from the top 5 before him to 11th and 15th over the last two seasons. The Spurs shouldn't drop that extensively given their talent on the wings in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but having Gasol and Tony Parker in the starting five will have its hiccups. They should dip, but still be in the 4-8 range.
Jesus Gomez: I don't think we'll see a repeat performance. The Spurs really were special last year. We are talking about the best regular season in franchise history. Not only did the team come together sooner than expected but there were also no big injuries. The Spurs actually had the best net rating in the league in a year in which the Warriors won 73 games. That was a ridiculous regular season.
Not having Duncan should have a huge impact on the defense, especially since a poor defender like Gasol will be taking the vast majority of the minutes. An injury at the forward spots would force Gregg Popovich to rely heavily on rookie or fringe players. Parker was actually solid on defense during most of the regular season but he's a year older. I think the Spurs won't finish with the best defensive rating in the league again, but I do think they will be in the top three.
Curiously, I think the offense will take a bigger step back in terms of numbers, despite Pau being an upgrade over 2015/16 Duncan. It will take some time to sort out how to get everyone touches and the bench will likely miss Boris Diaw. David Lee is not on the same level and Livio Jean-Charles and Dewayne Dedmon are huge question marks on that end. There are also other teams that will likely improve on offense, like the Clippers, Rockets and Cavaliers. I can see the Spurs slipping down to sixth, below those three teams, the Warriors and either the Thunder or the Raptors.
Chris Itz: Good heavens, no, don't be absurd. I don't think it's reasonable to think that the Spurs are going to finish in the top-three in either category, really. Not without seeing them sans Timmy first.
The Spurs were better offensively last season with Duncan off the floor, but with so many new players to work into the system it seems like a stretch to think that they will edge out the Clippers, Rockets, Raptors, Thunder, Blazers and maybe even the T-Wolves to find their place in the top-three with the Warriors and Cavs.
The Spurs' offense last season kind of went with Manu and it never got its groove back after Manu went down with an injury, you know the one. The Spurs were 10th in offensive rating for the last 33 games of the season post-Manu-injury, just behind Minnesota. The team's offensive rating was helped by a stellar 32-game stretch of play from the beginning of December to Manu's injury, where they actually had the best offensive rating in the league, which probably won't happen again.
I just don't see a top three finish offensively, I'll go with a fifth place finish.
As far as defense goes, Timmy was a rock, THE rock, even. It's not just that he was the captain of the defense for 15 years, the vocal big man directing traffic, it's that even last season he was unquestionably an elite rim protector. Take a minute and peruse Nylon Calculus' Rim Protection stats and see for yourself if you have doubts.
Or more simply, when Duncan missed a 10-game stretch in late January/early February to try to get his right knee to settle down and act right the Spurs' league-best-by-a-wide-margin defensive rating slipped to 10th. And of course he also posted the league's best individual defensive rating last season.
The defense will slip, no question. Duncan will very much be missed on that end. The defense will still be very good, as the Spurs still sport the best defensive-wing-duo in the game, but it's going to slide back into the pack and once a team's back in the pack, it doesn't take much to go from 3rd to 8th.
That said, it wouldn't surprise me if Extraneous G, that's Gregg Popovich to the uninitiated, figures out a way to keep them at the top, but with the Jazz, Celtics and Warriors set up to be monsters in their own end, I'm going with a fourth place finish. Unless, of course, Tim decides to bequeath his magical knee brace and the 20-sided die he crafted as a young child to a certain Spaniard. One can hope.