Pounding the Rock - San Antonio Spurs 2014-15 Preview - SBNation.com
Repeating as NBA champions is the ultimate goal here. That's the only thing missing from the Spurs' dynastic run. A sixth title would put Tim Duncan ahead of Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson and into the MJ-Kareem realm. The Spurs as a franchise would tie the Bulls. And it would be the perfect send-off for Manu Ginobili and Big Fun if they decide to hang them up.
That being said, no one knows how hard it is to repeat better than the Spurs, who have not been able to accomplish that in four tries. The West will be a gauntlet once again and seeding could be important. A slip in the standings during the regular season could mean facing the Mavericks, Clippers and Thunder, for example. A healthy Spurs team can beat anyone but the road will be tough. And anything short of a conference finals appearance will feel like failure.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
1st in Southwest Division - 1st in Western Conference
Won NBA Finals vs. MIA (4-1)
At this point, I'm not sure San Antonio's reign of terror will ever come to an end.
After San Antonio's calamitous collapse in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, where they somehow fell apart in the final minute to blow their chance at winning the title, the Spurs had as much fire in their belly as anyone. That moment will eat at this group for eternity, but while there's no erasing the past, they entered the 2013-14 season with a supreme focus on revenge.
For the most part, the Spurs managed to stay healthy for the majority of the season and even when they were a little banged up, they had the depth to hold down the fort. Tiago Splitter missed the most time, as the starting center missed 23 games with a strained shoulder. Kawhi Leonard missed a month of basketball while Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green missed 14 games apiece, but for the most part, the Spurs held up well.
At age 37, Tim Duncan stayed fresh all year and appeared in 74 regular season games. The arguable top power forward of all-time seems like he could play forever, as his methodical chess-like approach to the game is still a beautiful thing to watch. Duncan put up 15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists, all while playing under 30 minutes per game. He may be pushing 40, but Tim Duncan is still one of the best big men in the game and he still has a lot of good basketball left in a tank.
Tony Parker had another big year, as well, especially in the first half of the season before he experienced some back pain in February. Parker was named to his sixth Western Conference All-Star squad, posting 16.7 points and 5.7 assists per game along with the most efficient three-point shooting display of his career at 37.3%. After the All-Star break, he played under 26 minutes per game to ease his workload as he worked to let his back fully recover before the postseason began.
Kawhi Leonard missed about four weeks of action following a fourth metacarpal fracture in late-January, where the Spurs went 8-6 through the stretch, but put together his best season so far in his blossoming three-year career. The versatile 23-year-old posted career highs in scoring (12.8 PPG), rebounding (6.2 RPG), assists (2.0 APG), steals (1.7 SPG) and field goal percentage (52.2%), becoming one of the key staples of the entire team. Leonard has already established himself as one of the best defensive players in the NBA, but his complete game is coming along at a fast pace and Leonard seems to be well on his way towards stardom. He is a big time two-way impact player and as his usage rate continues to rise, you're going to see him put up some big numbers down the line.
Manu Ginobili had some tough moments in 2012-13, but came back strong and was much more efficient and consistent last season. The 36-year old played under 23 minutes per game, but contributed 12.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game and raised his field goal percentage from 42% in 2012-13 to 47%.
Everybody likes to talk about Pop and the "big three," rightfully so, but there's a lot more to the Spurs than those core guys. San Antonio was, once again, arguably the deepest team in the league that got quality minutes from their subs at each and every position all season long. Marco Belinelli lead the bench brigade by shooting the lights out, scoring over 11 points per game and knocking down 43% of his three-point shots. Savvy utility man Boris Diaw also played his best ball in five years, putting up approximately nine points, four rebounds and three assists per game in what turned out to be his most efficient year of his career.
Another big plus for San Antonio off the bench was the spark provided by Patty Mills, who got the more opportunities to play than ever before and exceeded expectations. Mills played just under 19 minutes per game, scoring a very efficient 10.2 points per game. In the 14 games without Tony Parker in the lineup, Mills stepped up with his big boy pants on and went for 16 points per contest.
The Spurs were a machine all season but they really clicked after the All-Star break and put together a 19-game winning streak late in the season, including an undefeated month of March (16-0).
San Antonio finished the regular season with the NBA's best record at 62-20, and for them, the real season had finally began. Coach Popovich and his troops were ready to roll, and they had some unfinished business to take care of in the playoffs. First up would be the Dallas Mavericks, who put up even more of a fight than expected in the in-state matchup and pushed the defending conference champions to seven games.
Tony Parker took it slow to close the regular season, but once he experienced some relief with his back injury and it was time for playoff basketball, he was ready to go. Parker was dynamite all postseason, scoring 20 points per game in the hard-fought first round series against Dallas. San Antonio held on, as Parker's 32-point Game 7 performance lead the Spurs to a relieving victory to advance their season.
The up-and-coming Portland Trail Blazers were up next, but they weren't ready to spar with the top dogs. San Antonio won the first three games of the series and closed Portland out in a quick five-game series behind great contributions from Parker and Kawhi Leonard.
League MVP Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder battled the Spurs for the Western Conference crown, as the top two teams out west went at it in six entertaining games. As talented as OKC is, they could not contend with San Antonio's borderline flawless execution, which broke down the defense regularly, especially in pick n' roll situations. Thanks to a 26-point outburst from Boris Diaw and big double-doubles from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs prevailed in Game 6, marking the first road victory of the series for either side as they earned a back-to-back NBA Finals berth.
As everyone and their mother predicted all year long, the Miami Heat represented the Eastern Conference and the Spurs were granted the rematch they had been salivating at the mouth for. This time around, however, they would not be denied. The 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs were not going to be beaten by anybody, and even a perennial powerhouse like Miami had no answers. The Spurs cruised through the series playing gorgeous basketball, defeating the two-time defending champions in an unexpectedly speedy five games.
For the fifth time since Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich joined forces, the Spurs reigned supreme and raised a banner in San Antonio. Even with Duncan and Ginobili closing in on age 40, the longevity of this Spurs core's dominance never ceases to amaze you. This time around, however, the Finals MVP trophy wouldn't be handed to Tim Duncan or Tony Parker. Kwahi Leonard absolutely took his game to another level, accepting constantly increasing responsibility and becoming one of the real up-and-coming stars in the NBA. Leonard scored at least 20 points in each of the last three games in the Finals, accumulating series averages of 17.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a super-efficient 61.2% shooting from the field.
Embrace the last couple years of this era, basketball fans, because we may never see anything like it again in our lifetime.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Kyle Anderson
Key Losses - None
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? The Spurs didn't spend their summer going out of their way to mess with something that doesn't need to be touched. Instead, R.C. Buford and the gang focused on keeping the group intact.
As the team's top offseason priority, San Antonio was able to re-signed Tony Parker to a three-year, $43 million extension before he even got a chance to hit the open market. The loyalty within the organization shines through once again, as Parker has never officially entered unrestricted free agency in his career. Don't be surprised one bit if Parker never ends up playing for another franchise. Hell, it wouldn't be right.
Boris Diaw cashed in on a nice payday, as well. The versatile 32-year-old forward has found a home, signing a four-year, $30 million extension with the Spurs, with the fourth and final year coming as a $7.5 million team option. That's a decent chunk of change, but Diaw is a perfect complementary big in this system and has unquestionably been one of San Antonio's most consistent pieces over the last two years. Diaw positively affects the game in nearly every aspect abd last season, he even improved his outside shot and put in above 40% of his three-point attempts.
After a career-year, San Antonio extended the contract of Patty Mills at three years, $10 million, locking up one of the best backup point guards in the league. Unfortunately, Mills will miss the start of the 2014-15 season due to a shoulder injury he sustained early this summer.
The Spurs also came away with a big draft night steal - shocker - as UCLA's Kyle Anderson fell into their laps at the 30th overall pick in 2014 NBA Draft. Anderson may not be one of the most gifted athletes out there, but he has a complete skill set that is going to fit beautifully in this kind of environment. He is a long 6'7" point-forward with an outstanding floor game for his size, the ability to knock down open jumpers and a remarkable natural feel for the game. It will likely take some time for Anderson to earn a consistent role in the rotation, but his versatility is something to look forward to as part of San Antonio's future.
To cap things off, Tim Duncan decided to pick up his $10.4 million player option rather than restructuring his contract this summer. Nobody really knows exactly how many more years The Big Fundamental is looking to play, but there's one thing for certain - he will never play for another franchise.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Tiago Splitter / Aron Baynes
PF - Tim Duncan / Boris Diaw / Matt Bonner / Jeff Ayers
SF - Kawhi Leonard / Marco Belinelli / Kyle Anderson / Austin Daye
SG - Danny Green / Manu Ginobili
PG - Tony Parker / Patty Mills / Cory Joseph
X-FACTOR - Health
Coach Popovich has always been a scientist with his management of minutes in order to keep his guys fresh for the playoffs, and this year will be no different in that respect. Tim Duncan is 38 years old while Manu Ginobili is 37, Matt Bonner is 34 and both Tony Parker and Boris Diaw are currently 32. The Spurs have plenty of young legs throughout the roster, but San Antonio's success will largely be predicated off of the health of their aging veterans.
If the Spurs are healthy when the playoffs start, they will be the favorites to come out of the west.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
The way I see it, San Antonio is the top dog until someone knocks them off. If they're healthy, they have a great chance of repeating for the first time in franchise history, but it won't be easy. There are a lot of miles on some of those legs and the Western Conference is stacked with young, capable teams that will have a chance to at least give the Spurs a run for their money.
If you haven't learned by now, "the Spurs are too old" no longer applies. This team will be, without a doubt, one of the top championship contenders in 2015 and the team with the target on their backs.
San Antonio is the team to beat in the NBA until they are taken out in a seven-game series.
1st - Southwest Division
1st - Western Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Boston Celtics preview, coming Monday morning.