As the San Antonio Spurs continue to age, the window for more championships is certainly closing. With the emergence of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, and others, some already believed the opportunity for another title to already be gone.
Don’t tell that to the Spurs, though. Even with a trio of aging stars, San Antonio not only reached the NBA Finals last year, but nearly won it. Sure, the end was devastating. Ray Allen is akin to a curse word in San Antonio, but the Spurs still put together one heck of a season. Everyone is a year older, but the Spurs still plan on contending in the Western Conference in 2013-14.
Points Per Game: 4th
Points Allowed Per Game: 9th
Rebounds Per Game: 20th
Notable Additions: Marco Belinelli, Jeff Ayres (formerly Jeff Pendergraph)
Notable Losses: DeJuan Blair, Tracy McGrady, Gary Neal
Point Guards: Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph – Grade: A
Let’s be honest – this one all comes down to Parker. The 31-year-old veteran had an MVP-like season last year averaging 20.7 points, 7.0 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per contest. Tim Duncan and company all chipped in, but it was arguably Parker who steered the ship.
If he stays healthy, the unit will be fine. With three young players behind him, though, San Antonio will be relying heavily on Parker to have another big season. The good news for the Spurs is that Mills, Nando de Colo, and Joseph all got some experience last year as the three averaged nearly 40 minutes a game combined.
The big loss here is Neal. The Spurs’ top reserve at point guard signed with the Milwaukee Bucks and his 9.5 points per game will be missed. His departure will presumably thrust one of the three other point guards into a bigger role this season if one of them can claim the spot outright. If not, look for some combination of the three to eat up minutes.
Shooting Guards: Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli – Grade: B-
With Manu Ginobili getting a bit older, the Spurs needed some help at shooting guard. Enter Danny Green. Green took a step forward last season, averaging career highs in points (10.5), assists (1.8), and minutes (27.5). For the first time in his career, he also became a full-time starter.
Green’s value wasn’t limited to the regular season, either. The guard had several big games in the playoffs, including two 20-point games against the Heat in the Finals. Green averaged 14 points a game in that series and proved he can knock down big shots in big games.
The 36-year-old Ginobili is clearly on the downside of his career and he averaged only 11.8 points per game – fewest in his career since his rookie season. Realizing he’s in decline, the Spurs went out and signed Marco Belinelli. Belinelli isn’t a great shooter, but his 9.6 points per contest gives the Spurs a bit more scoring in case Ginobili can’t play as many minutes as he did last season.
Small Forwards: Kawhi Leonard – Grade: B-
Leonard is the only true small forward on the roster, so the grade is partially due to the lack of depth at the position. He’ll likely get some help from the Spurs glut of listed power forwards, but in terms of actual small forwards, he’s the guy.
In the midst of the Spurs veteran players, Leonard is part of the youth movement. Like Green, Leonard had a bit of a breakout year last season. After his rookie season in 2011-12, Leonard had career highs in every major category, and averaged 11.9 points and six rebounds per game. His defense was also a pleasant surprise as he led the team in steals with 1.7 per contest.
Power Forwards: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayres, Aron Baynes – Grade: A
The Spurs have one of the all-time greats in Tim Duncan here and even though his career is winding down, the forward still played like a Hall of Famer last year. Duncan was still a near 20/10 guy, averaging 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in 2012-13. He had his best season since 2009-10 and proved that even at 37, he can still play.
There’s a decent supporting cast around him, led by the versatile Boris Diaw and three-point specialist Matt Bonner. Make no mistake, though, Duncan’s the guy.
Centers: Tiago Splitter – Grade: C
Splitter isn’t a great center, but he is improving. Starting 58 games last season, he looks poised to take the next step in his career. The Spurs can live with his pedestrian 10.3 points per game, but would probably like to see him rebound a bit more than the 6.4 boards he reeled in last season as well as cut back on the mental errors. He made his fair share of mistakes last year, but overall, looks more comfortable on the court. He’ll get help manning the position from Duncan and/or other power forwards.
Coach: Gregg Popovich – Grade: A
With four NBA titles, no one is questioning Gregg Popovich’s ability. That’s even more the case after he guided an aging to the NBA Finals last season. Popovich also (wisely) monitors his veterans’ minutes during the regular season, sometimes keeping them out of road games. It’s an unpopular move amongst fans in opposing cities, but when it comes to trying to win a title, Pops knows that he needs his team to be well rested.
Team Grade: B+