The NBA gods have answered our prayers! Not only basketball but big preseason moves that should provide an exciting 2011-2012 season. With only four days remaining until the opening games the time for predictions and season previews begins. I took a glance at San Antonio to see what the year may look like.
Last year the Spurs ended the regular season with one of their best records in franchise history at 61-21. It was a season full of success as the youth off the bench helped the big three collect a number one seed entering the playoffs. Waiting for them was a young, talented, and confident Memphis Grizzlies team that dispatched the Spurs in six games. It was only the fourth time in NBA history where an eighth seeded team won a series in the first round. It was also the first playoff series victory in Grizzlies history. It was rough for fans to see the Spurs go down after such a run in the regular season, but Memphis was a pre-playoffs nightmare match-up from the start. The Memphis bigs dominated San Antonio and made it clear that if the Spurs didn’t make some moves they weren’t going to go any deeper while Tim is still in the league.
That’s all over now though. It is time to look ahead. The highlights from last season included great play from new additions Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair. Along with George Hill, their consistent play helped give San Antonio the best record in the West. George Hill was traded to move up in the draft and collect an impressive looking Kawhi Leonard from San Diego St. Losing Hill is big, but Leonard has sky high potential and after leading the Aztecs in points and rebounds in only his sophomore season I’d say it’s a promising future. The young pieces are still in place and the Spurs may yet have one more push to the title. Unfortunately they didn’t make as big a splash in free agency as I would have liked. It will be interesting to see the adjustments. So who will take the floor in game 1? Let’s take a look.
Tony will start at point guard as usual. He is 29 and in his prime. Clearly the best player on the team leading in points and assists, Tony determines how well the Spurs do. He must continue facilitate and maximize this teams potential for them to be successful but I don’t think he will have any problem with that. With Hill gone they had a hole to fill so they signed free agent T.J. Ford on December 9 to back up Parker. T J. Ford’s a guy that has shown he can perform. He once averaged 15 points per game in 2008-09 and almost eight assists per game in 2006-07. His career has been rattled with injuries so his path of development has progressed slowly. But playing under Pop and the veterans in this Spurs system will improve his game. I like it.
The words “Ginobili is old” are comical to me. The Argentinian scored 17.4 points and averaged just under five assists per game last season. He may be aging, but much like a fine wine he only gets better. Sure he’s lost a step, and keeping him healthy will require more attention, but as far as I see it, his game is still above many at that position. Gary Neal will likely come off the bench for Manu.
San Antonio was unable to pick up a small forward in free agency and will most likely be forced to pay another season of Jefferson’s contract. For now he has dodged the amnesty provision and will start, but Jefferson’s lack of production can not be overstated, especially after a look at the bill. His numbers have gone completely pedestrian since joining the Spurs in 09’, a measly 11 points per game off over 25+ mins. So a break out season is a must if the Spurs want to go further in the playoffs. Come on Richard! You averaged 20 points per game in Milwaukee! Time to elevate your game!
Tim is the anchor of the team and absolutely the starting power forward. His numbers have taken a drop in the past seasons and it’s obvious he isn’t as athletic as he once was. That still fails to measure his intangibles. He is irreplaceable as a leader and is more effective than more than half the power forwards in the league. He is what David Robinson was at the end of his career, a Hall Of Fame veteran.
At center, Dejuan Blair is undersized, but an absolute beast. Averaging 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds last season, and a monster on the boards, Blair is valued mostly for his physical play and relentless hustle. A determination similar to that of Spurs alum Malik Rose. Not always better player, but he wants it more, and you can see it. Blair will continue to improve with experience. Hopefully he has added to his offensive game in the off-season. His size was a mismatch against Memphis, but with some offense, he could add major problems for defenses who will focus most of their attention at Duncan. After the announcement yesterday of Antonio Mcdysses’s retirement, a large gap is left at the Center position. Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner will fill the role but it must be more than just soaking up minutes. Pop has stated he wants someone who can come in and help win games. We’ll have to wait and see if they decide to go another direction.
No matter what, depth is a key attribute. Last season a great bench was vital in route to the best record in the Western Conference. And with many back to backs, Spurs fans can rest easy knowing the bench should do another fantastic job carrying the team while starters sit.
So what is in store for the Spurs in the upcoming months as the season begins. A trade perhaps? Only time and basketball will tell.. until then, I sit and wait for the best Christmas ever. As for my prediction of the season. I think the Spurs are forced to give their vets plenty of rest and unleash them in full force come playoff time. San Antonio enters the postseason as a 5th or 6th seed. A title chance is a stretch, but not an impossibility.