This is like a season preview, but after 8 games have been played. A bit lame, yes, but it’s better than nothing. I have a whole bunch of thoughts on what we should see this season, what we won’t want to see, and what we should care about when we do see it. See?
Here are my groupings of players and what the Spurs need to get from them in order to be able to match, or even surpass, last year’s success.
Guys That Need To Maintain
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are obviously in this group. They are aging and we need them to maintain where they are. Tim was fantastic last year and has been so far this year. Manu was very good last year and has been no so good so far this year. Both guys need to be really good. Not an easy feat when you are on the + side of 35.
Tony Parker needs to maintain. He was monstrous last year and it was easily the best of his career. I don’t think it is a matter of age with him. I’m just not sure he can be that crazy good again. I mean, seriously, he was one of the best five players in the league last year.
Guys Who Do What They Do
We have a lot of players on this team, returning everybody of significance from last year’s team, that we can’t expect to be better. For better or for worse, they just are who they are and will do what they do. They are:
- Matt Bonner — He’s been buried on the bench so far this season.
- Gary Neal — Man on fire. He doesn’t create for anybody else, but he doesn’t have to.
- DeJuan Blair — He might sneak into the rotation if he can get some hustle points going. Right now, he’s barely earning minutes.
- Tiago Splitter — A flat out animal against the Lakers. He had so many positive plays I couldn’t count that high. It had to be at least 10 then.
- Stephen Jackson* — At 34, Jack isn’t going to change.
Guys Who Might Add A Little Something
- Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw — They aren’t going to add new things to their game, but we will get them for a full season and that will help. Boris because of his larger role than any of the other bigs, and Jack because of his toughness and ability to play the small-ball 4.
- Nando — Well, because he is new and anything he can give us is more than we got from James Anderson and Derrick Byars.
- Danny Green — I think Danny is making the absolute most out of his talent. I mean this as a credit to him, but I just don’t think he can get much better.
- Patrick Mills — A speedy back up to Tony that can keep the pace high and get us some easy buckets. I love Gary Neal, but he doesn’t give the team easy buckets.
Guy In His Own Category
Kawhi Leonard. If we see a big jump from anybody, at least in the sense of bringing something to playoff performance potential, it will be Kawhi. At either end, really, but I’d focus on the defensive end. The path to the title is about dominant wing scorers. Not dominant post scorers. I don’t think Kawhi is in a position with his skill sets to add a true fourth scoring option, but he can really be a difference maker if his defense makes a big jump this season. So far, so good.
This team really came together last season. In fact, it was such a beautiful season that I don’t have the words to describe it. This team was a TEAM. A fantastic and complete team.
I think part of the gel came from consistent playing time. With the condensed schedule, Pop really spread out the minutes and it meant everybody was playing almost all the time. Chip Engelland once told me, “guys like to play regularly”. Three to four days off between games hurts their rhythm. I think we saw this last year. The more the team played, the tighter they got. Hopefully, we will see more of it this season.
Here are my various things to keep an eye on as the season grinds away. All these are things I think will be indicators of progress toward a deep playoff run.
Another Productive Big
Which of DeJuan, Tiago, and Matt is going to be able to make some plays in the playoffs. The team will need somebody to give them production, even if it is 10-15 minutes per game with the rest being small ball. Right now, my money is on Tiago. Somewhere, somehow one of these guys will have to make the little plays for short stretches that gives the team a lift. Rebounds, steals, good passes, made free throws, anything. We absolutely have to be able to play effectively without Tim in the game.
Back Up Point Guard
The team is very, very slow with Gary Neal at the point. The pace just grinds to a halt, and when Manu isn’t in the game the team has to work crazy hard for points. Will Gary learn to run the team a little faster? Can Mills integrate in and keep things fast? Can Nando sneak into the rotation and push the pace?
Defensive Field Goal Percentage and Grinding It Out
This is always a good indicator for a good defense. Not the only indicator, but a good one. What I want to pay attention to is how many times the Spurs keep the opponent under 40% this year and whether it happens against good teams.
Another good benchmark will be how many games the team wins when shooting under 40% themselves. These will be games that are won with defense, hustle, rebounding, and intangibles. Like the Lakers’ game Tuesday. Shot like hell. Bludgeoned on the glass. Stole a win.
The Other Team’s Turnovers
We can’t protect the rim like days of old, but we have some guys who can be disruptive on the perimeter — as evidenced by Kawhi’s 5 steals in each of the first two games. Historically, the Spurs have not generated turnovers and have been near the bottom of the league. Let’s see if they move up toward the top 10. Danny, Jack, and Kawhi all have the length and strength to disrupt movement and passes.
15+ Point Wins
How often will we spank teams and run a lot of bench. Our bench is deep and should destroy most benches, but they should also be able to compete with many top units. Look for Pop to get rest for the main guys in the blow out situations, not in the tighter games.
Pop’s Desire To Win Early
Judging by Tim’s minutes, I think Pop wants to win early. 34 minutes in both games of a back to back. 31 and 32 in the next back to back. 37 minutes against the Lakers. I think Pop is going for the quick start to the season.
Number Of Guys Generating Easy Baskets
No matter how they do it, we need guys who create easy baskets. Whether it is steals or blocks that lead to fast break points, offensive rebounds tipped to 3-pt shooters, or nifty back door passes; the more guys we have contributing to these the better we’ll be. Remember the days of Finley, Bogans, McDyess, Bonner, Jefferson, etc? The real problem with all the old savvy vets was that none of them created easy buckets. We don’t necessarily need a fourth scoring option as much as we need guys who make something easy for the team.
Stephen Jackson’s Intangibles
Not just his crazy, which is great, but his vocal competitiveness. I think his attitude feeds the young guys. Jack is out there talking to the refs, talking on defense, firing himself up, and in general filling the team with energy. He’s like Manu with a mouth.
I think the more Kawhi is around him the better. Kawhi will take the next big step in his game when he adopts some of Jack’s toughman energy. When Jack takes the floor, the man he is guarding knows he is about to get worked over physically. Kawhi needs to develop that same type of reputation. His man should know that Kawhi is going to be up in him the entire time making his life hell. Kawhi doesn’t have to talk to do it, but he needs that little bit of attitude that gets under another player’s skin a little and makes them frustrated.