Have you watched the first round? And if you have, do you think there are some lessons for the Spurs in the playoffs?
Mark Barrington: I’ve been watching a ton of basketball, and despite the fact that I think of myself as mostly a Spurs fan, I’ve been having a great time watching other teams battle. The biggest lesson so far is that the NBA is a league based on star power, and the exciting thing is that there are a bunch of new stars that have emerged in the league in the last few years. The Mavericks really have only one great player, and a couple of fairly good ones, but just because Luka Doncic is amazing, they had a good shot at knocking out the Clippers super team that Kawhi Leonard assembled in Los Angeles. As long as Donci is healthy and on the court, it hardly matters who he’s playing with, the Mavericks will be competitive. In the Portland/Denver series, it really was a battle between Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic, with the Joker prevailing because he has a better supporting cast, but Dame making it entertaining. It’s looking like one superstar is enough to get you into the second round (at least in the East, ask Atlanta), but the superstar lineup of Brooklyn is going to be very difficult to bet against. Can’t wait until Giannis tries to take them on single-handedly in the next round.
The lesson for the Spurs is that they need an emergent superstar to compete in the league. Nobody on the roster currently fits that criteria, and it’s unlikely that they can add a star picking 12th in the draft. They will either need to get lucky in the lottery or do something daring to pick up a franchise leader. I don’t think either of those two things are likely, but there’s always a chance of a breakout from one of the young guys. The Spurs already have an outstanding supporting cast, but they need a leader, which they haven’t had since Duncan left. Kawhi was on his way to becoming that, until he forced his way off the team, and while DeMar DeRozan has been very good, he’s just not on the superstar level. If the Spurs want to be championship contenders, they would either need a top 4 pick or a superstar free agent, which wouldn’t be available this off-season. Unless they can move up in this year’s draft, expect another middle of the road year from the Silver and Black. Trust the process, I guess.
Marilyn Dubinski: I don’t usually watch the playoffs once the Spurs are out (I’m more of a Spurs fan than an NBA fan, per se), but I have kept a watchful eye on the results and checked some highlights out the next day. The biggest thing the Spurs lack is a go-to guy to carry them, and not just in the clutch. This team had a serious tendency to either be extremely hot or cold on offense, with everything coming in spurts and lacking a “steady” mode. When those cold spells hit, there wasn’t that star player they could lean on and say “here, make something happen until the rest of the guys get their groove back”. They used to have that in either of the Big 3, Kawhi Leonard, and even LaMarcus Aldridge to an extent, but while DeMar DeRozan tried admirably to play the part, his game is too predictable and doesn’t produce enough points fast enough to make up for the Spurs’ super dry spells.
Just about all of the current playoff teams have that type of player. It’s possible that one already exists from within and just needs time in the role, but the Spurs can’t bank on that happening and should still search for another option. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker have had their moments of taking over but have yet to show they can do it on a nightly basis. Looking for that type of player should be their top priority this offseason.
Bruno Passos: It’s not news to anyone but high-end talent and shot creation reign supreme today, and those remain the biggest chasms between the Spurs and the teams making waves right now. The first is self-explanatory while the latter really streamlines how you can build lineups and trump defenses as things get tighter in a series. San Antonio’s draft positions, cap flexibility and market desirability have generally restricted access to top-20 guys, but I think there are some notes to be taken from building a young core of primarily complementary players. The Spurs need to swing bigger, either for sheer talent or at least in how a primary creator can bring balance and structure to things, and it may take shaking up some of the young pieces to make it happen.
Jesus Gomez: I’ve been watching and the theme so far, as the others have said, is that top-tier talent is what matters most in the NBA. But I also think this postseason is showing us that the league is in flux and we don’t know as much as we thought we did about what’s coming next, which could be good thing for a team like the Spurs.
The Celtics, at one point, seemed to be on their way to be a perennial contender and now are in disarray. The Clippers similarly built around two elite wings, which was supposed to be the best recipe going forward, and barely made it past the first round. Last year’s finalists are out and it’s hard to see them make their way back to that stage any time soon without major overhauls. Meanwhile, teams that everyone doubted like the Jazz, the Suns and, to a lesser extent, the Bucks, are looking strong.
Maybe the chaos is the result of having two atypical seasons in a row and things will go back to normal soon, but it’s also possible we see some huge shakeups from franchises that underachieved and a transitional period before truly special teams emerge (other than the Nets), which is great news for the Spurs. If they do things well in the next couple of years, they might be able to take advantage of the upheaval to return to contention sooner than expected.
J.R. Wilco: The primary lesson I learned from the first round, and I watched a ton of coverage of every series, it’s that the top of the NBA is as open as I remember it being since before LeBron’s days in Miami. The secondary lesson isn’t necessarily one I’d never learned before (but it’s nice to get refreshers from time to time) and that’s that the injury bug can and will strike anyone at anytime without warning. You can count me among those who suspected that the Lakers would be able to ride out their injury woes through the regular season and hit the playoffs with a vengeance. They couldn’t, and now we’ll get the treat of a non-repeat NBA champion again — three years in a row. Woo hoo! And there are still options to support if you’d like to see a team win that’s never got a ring before ... though it’s probably best not to hold your breath for that.