The NBA season begins tonight. For the first time in . . . forever, the San Antonio Spurs are an afterthought. On The Ringer preseason podcast, one of the three participants claimed that he could not name more than five players on the Spurs roster.
The three guys on the podcast were debating whether the 2021-2022 Spurs would exceed the Las Vegas plus-minus of 28.5 wins. Wow, things have changed for a team that was a playoff lock (and a lock to win at least 50 games) for two decades. And not only a playoff lock, but a legitimate Finals contender for all of those seasons until the uninspiring DeMar DeRozan / LaMarcus Aldridge years. Nothing against either of those players, but we all knew that while they might keep the Spurs competitive, they would not bring a sixth ring to the Spurs.
Okay, those “Spurs might win it all” years are gone — for the time being. Does that mean we don’t have anything to look forward to this season? Or course not. As the new NBA season begins, I am looking forward to many things. The first two involve the Spurs, the remainder involve the other twenty-nine teams.
- The Spurs have more than a few guys who just might step up and become All-Star quality players, and I am looking forward to see if some players do that. Without DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay on the team, someone may step up and become the go-to guy down the stretch. If not, the Spurs might become a coach’s dream of playing the same offense down the stretch as the team plays in the first three quarters: move the ball, get a good shot every trip, and don’t worry about which star is “supposed to” take the last shot.
- The Spurs’ ”best player” the last several years has supposedly been DeRozan. But those of us who believe in the advanced stats might not agree with that conclusion. As much I appreciated DeRozan’s willingness to want the ball in the fourth quarter, the numbers show that he was essentially a break-even player. In other words, his unwillingness/inability to shoot threes and play defense cancelled out his readily apparent offensive skills. I want to see if the players who fill those minutes can replicate his skills without the downside of his defensive and three-point shooting shortcomings.
- Living in LA, I hear all the hype about the Lakers. I am very curious to see if this version of the Lakers can coalesce into a good team. Even more than prior years, the Lakers have two legitimate superstars (LeBron James and Anthony Davis), one confounding star (Russell Westbrook), and a surprising number of players on minimum contracts. Some of those players are former All-Stars. A friend commented that this year’s Lakers looks a lot like the USA Olympic team – from 2012. Of course, those Olympians are all nine years older. As a side note, I will be attending the Suns – Lakers game this Friday thanks to super-client Ken. I hope CP3 plays so I can root for the Lakers and all their old guys.
- I am interested to see whether Klay Thompson will be able to come back from back-to-back lost seasons. I can’t remember another player who has tried to do that in the prime of his career (Bill Walton?), but I am rooting for a strong Klay Komeback.
- I will be watching the Kyrie Irving situation with curiosity. I am still not sure what he is trying to promote by not getting vaccinated. Will Kyrie really put his career on hold, or in jeopardy? It seems like the answer is yes. I also note that he is not the only NBA player not to get vaccinated — for instance, Michael Porter, Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. Kyrie is just the poster child for the decision. (It seems that Kyrie’s case is getting more attention because New York City’s vaccine protections attempt to avoid unvaccinated persons infecting others — thus preventing Kyrie from playing — while Colorado and other states do not yet have such a rule.)
- I am looking forward to seeing how this class of rookies performs. However, some of those rookies play on teams who are very low on the watchability scale. Prime example – Jalen Suggs on Orlando. Am I curious enough about Suggs to take the time to watch that team play?
- Finally, I am looking for a return to relative NBA normalcy. Fans in the stands, an 82-game schedule that won’t be as exhausting as last year’s 72-game sprint, and debates about who is in the MVP race. Most of all, I am looking forward to see which teams might just out-perform low expectations. You know, like that group of youngsters playing for the oldest coach of the year as he chases the record for most coaching wins. Coach ‘em up, Pop!