2017-18 Preview: San Antonio Spurs

By Darryl Howerton #21

Most of the Western Conference contenders—the Thunder, Rockets, Clippers, etc.—shook up their starting units to create new matchups with the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who remained unchanged for the most part. As for the Spurs, they managed a semblance of both strategic mindsets, maintaining their trademarked chemistry by keeping 11 holdovers from last year’s 61-win West Finals squad, while also finding the wherewithal to add stellar scorer Rudy Gay to an already-strong bench. Is Gay the missing piece on a team that pretty much returns every key player? Only time will tell, which bodes well for the Spurs, because one thing they know following their unparalleled run the past 20 years: time—and Gregg Popovich—is on their side.

Spurs 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Patty Mills, Tony Parker, Dejounte Murray Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
Newcomers Derrick White Rudy Gay, Brandon Paul Joffrey Lauvergne
Gone Jonathon Simmons David Lee, Dewayne Dedmon, Joel Anthony
Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: Offense should never be a problem when you have a Hall-of-Fame quintet like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol—even if four of the five are north of age 32. There is just too much corporate knowledge shared by the three cornerstone Spurs—not to mention the genius genes shared by the aging giants—for San Antonio to rank anywhere outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency (they rated seventh in 2016-17). Part of their high rate of success not only comes from the old men, but also the 30-and-under complementary crew featuring longtime starting guard Danny Green, bench warriors Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson, all of whom are primed for their most playing time ever in 2017-18. Mix in Rudy Gay, a converted super sub who used to average 18 points in 36 minutes during his 11-year NBA career, and you quickly see how other contenders may have trouble matching up with San Antonio’s second squad once again. Developing prospects Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes and Dejounte Murray only add to the exploits, following standout play in international action, summer league and playoff action last season, respectively. With Popovich likely playing more small-ball lineups this season, look for San Antonio’s league leading three-point percentage (.391) to have even more impact this season where Bertans, Mills, Ginobili, Green, Leonard, Forbes and Paul will see even more of the green light.

Defense: Gone are the traditional two-big lineups that clogged up both power forward and center slots for 48 minutes a night when former one-dimensional Spurs bigs David Lee, Dewayne Dedmon and Joel Anthony teamed up with Aldridge and Gasol to lead the Spurs to the No. 1 ranking in defensive efficiency. With only one big-man addition this offseason—Joffrey Lauvergne, to replace the three subtractions—San Antonio is going to have to rely on key defensive and rebounding work from converted stretch power forwards like Anderson and Bertans, along with Gay and even Leonard at times. How these well-rounded, yet offensive-minded players mesh with the Spurs centers could be telling if the Spurs are able to maintain their status in the West. In Parker, Mills, Murray and Wright, the Spurs have four point guards who can defend the ball three-quarters court on defense and be just as stalwart at ball pressure in halfcourt action (note: Parker should be completely healed from a playoff-damaged quad injury sometime in December).

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: With former super sub Mills starting in place of 16-year starter Parker for at least the first month-and-a-half, San Antonio will have a distinctive new look, though likely ending with presumably similar results. At age 29, Mills may finally get his due as becoming a legit top 20 point guard in today’s NBA. His shots, his ball pressure and his leadership is on point at all times as a reserve. Mills will have to show consistency as a starter. However, the individual Spur with perhaps the most upside is fourth-year pro Anderson, whose slo-mo, old-man game has been getting rave reviews from summer workout buddies Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis. Anderson’s stellar Real Plus-Minus scores (+1.30 last season) indicates an unsung standout in our midst, but teammates are more excited about the 24-year-old forward’s developing all-around game, which is certain to catch an opponent or two (or 29) off guard this year.

Durability: Spurs fans bemoan the moments in May when key rotation players Parker, Lee and then MVP candidate Leonard all went down with injuries, right as the Spurs were set to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the 2017 West Finals title. Alas, the trio missed most of the series, which resulted in a 4-0 sweep in favor of the Warriors. If San Antonio is going to get by the likes of the Clippers, Rockets, Thunder—not to mention the Warriors—the Spurs will need all aforementioned old heads at full strength. As for the regular season—thanks to Pop’s depth and deft hand on the roster—that is not as much of a problem. Starting Spurs missed many games last year during the regular season—Parker (19), Green (14), Leonard (8), Aldridge (10) and Gasol (18)—but that did not keep the super second squad or thriller third team from filling in capably and marching San Antonio to a 61-win season. That said, the Spurs will need their annual MVP candidate Leonard, along with as many cohorts as possible, playing at full strength in April-May-June if they are going to have any chance of dethroning the Warriors.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Synergy: Though the Warriors and Cavaliers follow the Spurs’ blueprint in keeping teams together, it is safe to say no group of teammates has logged as many minutes together as four-time NBA champions Parker and Ginobili, not to mention other Spurs teammates from their 2014 NBA championship squad. In fact, San Antonio has six Spurs in the 5,000-Minute Rule club, with Parker (43,903 career minutes as a Spur), Ginobili (31,547), Leonard (15,060), Green (14,044) and Mills (7,774). Former Portland All-Star and third-year Spur Aldridge himself has settled over the 5,000 minute mark, clocking 5,469 minutes already in the Silver & Black. It is not every day in the NBA where you can field chemistry like this.

Experience: Speaking of championship rings, the Spurs do quite well when it comes time to showcase championship jewelry at the dinner table with five San Antonio players calling themselves champions (Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Mills, Green), while a sixth, center Pau Gasol, also picked up a couple rings of his own as a starting big man for the Lakers’ 2010 and 2011 NBA championship teams. No team has playoff experience like these aging Spurs. Consider this: three of the top five active postseason leaders in minutes are current Spurs: 1. LeBron James, Cavs, 9127; 2. Parker, Spurs, 7691; 3. Dwyane Wade, free agent, 6570; 4. Ginobili, Spurs, 5968; 5. Gasol, Spurs, 4,735.

Win Frame: 55-60 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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