2016-17 in Review: 61-21, Swept by the Golden State Warriors in Western Conference Semifinals

Key Offseason Acquisitions: Joffrey LauvergneRudy Gay, Derrick White, Brandon Paul 

Key Offseason Losses: Jonathon Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon, (possibly) David Lee 

Projected Starting Lineup: PG Dejounte Murray, SG Danny Green, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Pau Gasol

2017-18 Outlook: In the NBA’s current climate, it’s hard not to discuss teams (especially contenders) in the context of how they match up against the Golden State Warriors. It’s just where the league currently lies. In an arms race for elite players, the Warriors have all the cannons while everyone else is trying to upgrade the rocks their bringing to the fight.

Up through the end of last season, the San Antonio Spurs were seen by most as the Western Conference team most able to defeat the Warriors. Then, Chris Paul landed with the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired two All-Star level players.

After all the mayhem, the Spurs are looking up at not only Golden State but also Houston and Oklahoma City (whose deals which landed Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were so lopsided that Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber was envious).

For San Antonio, their great equalizers are head coach Gregg Popovich and perennial All-Star, Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has proven to be the best perimeter defender in the world, an elite shooter, and a constantly improving shot creator and playmaker. On the other hand, Popovich is a master of navigating an NBA regular season, one of the best in-game strategists, and likely the only active coach who provides a distinct advantage for his team.

Statistical data suggests that professional athletes generally hit their physical peak around age 27. That’s when an athlete’s mind, body, and spirit are hitting on all cylinders. If that is true, Leonard (entering his age-26 season) is just hitting his peak; something the rest of the league must dread. Although, Leonard is nursing a quad injury and will have to work his way back without any preseason reps.

Leonard, though, will need help from the rest of the San Antonio Spurs cast if they want to usurp Golden State as the class of the Western Conference.  

Power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, has largely underachieved since his signing with San Antonio. While in Portland, Aldridge annually used the playoffs to remind everyone that he deserves attention amongst the game’s elite class. That has not been the case since he’s worn San Antonio’s uniform.

It’s no secret that the Spurs aspire to spread the floor. By having Aldridge, a more than a capable shooter, at the four spot and even Pau Gasol at the five should help accomplish that, or so one would think. Over the years, Aldridge has showcased a really nice post game and elite skill from mid-range. But it’s his lack of production, from three that really leaves fans scratching their heads. In his first eight seasons, LaMarcus Aldridge had attempted 116 shots from behind the arc. Then, in his last season with the Trail Blazers, that number exploded to 105 that season alone, while he knocked down a respectable 35-percent of them. With the Spurs, Aldridge shot 0-16 for the entirety of the 2015-16 season from three. But in the prior season, he was 23-56 (41-percent) from behind the arc. In this context, Aldridge’s shot selection should be of particular interest this season.

The rest of the roster is a mix of veterans the Spurs will rely on to find one more productive season out of and young players they need to develop in a hurry.

Dejounte Murray should have the starting point guard spot locked in – a huge responsibility for a second-year guard who’s only logged 322 professional minutes to hold. Murray’s backup, Patty Mills, does give the Spurs some margin of error. Mills is good enough to start, but coming off the bench provides San Antonio one of the best 0ff-the-bench third guards in the league.

Starting shooting guard, Danny Green, struggled mightily two seasons ago. He got back on the right track to some extent last season, but he’ll need to find his three-point shot again. While Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are both running close to empty.

The two longtime Spurs have little left to prove professionally but could provide a significant spark if they’re healthy and playing well come playoff time. Of the newcomers, veteran forward, Rudy Gay, could provide the Spurs with a spark, but he’s working his way back from an achilles injury that is notorious for derailing careers.

It must be a little frustrating for the Spurs to realize that given the NBA landscape (especially at the top of the West) so much is out of their control. However, the things they can control is more than enough to give them a chance at a championship, and a chance is more than enough of a reason to go for it. Boom or bust.

Projected Strengths: Coaching, shooting, perimeter defense, ball movement

Projected Weaknesses: Being in Western Conference, lack of elite talent around Kawhi Leonard, too dependent on older players (Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili/Pau Gasol)

Projected Record: 57-25

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