2016-17 San Antonio Spurs Season Preview: Still Strong

The Dunkyard’s NBA season preview continues with the San Antonio Spurs.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 67-15 (2nd West)
  • Offensive rating: 108.4 (3rd)
  • Defensive rating: 96.6 (1st)
  • Pace: 95.7 (25th)
  • True shooting: 56.4% (3rd)
  • Turnover rate: 12.4% (9th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 23.0% (23rd)
  • Defensive rebounding: 79.1% (3rd)
  • Giveashitameter: 12th
  • Highest PER*: 27.7 (Marjanovic), 26.0 (Leonard)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

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Recap

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

As the Spurs laid waste to the league on their way to a 67-15 record and jumped out to a 2-1 series lead against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semi-finals, it seemed pre-ordained that they would meet the 73-9 Warriors in the Western Conference finals. The problem was that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were having none of it as they handed the Spurs a repeat dose of 2011-12.

In the process, the 39 year-old Duncan smartly realised that he was no longer up to the speed of the game (a depressing PER of 11.6 in the finals) and decided to call it a career – one that should rightly rank in the top-10 of all time.

For all the hype surrounding Kobe Bryant (a brilliant player for the ages), Duncan was easily better and the best player of his era – better than Kobe, better than Garnett, better than Iverson and anyone else that came along in his time. Until LeBron of course. That said, LeBron’s not quite of the same vintage and Duncan and his crew were still taking firm dumps on LeBron as late as 2013-14 (giving Duncan a personal 2-1 finals record over LeBron).

Unsurprisingly, the Spurs were a highly disciplined team last season with almost no discernible weaknesses. It all started with their defense, which ranked first in the league by miles. If an opponent wanted to shoot threes, they could forget it as the Spurs ranked first for three point accuracy allowed (33.1%). Going inside didn’t produce any better results – with the Spurs ranking 2nd in two point percentage allowed and 2nd in FTA/FGA allowed. There was simply nowhere for opponents to hide.

At the heart of it all was Leonard, the league’s best defender. In the event that someone managed to get around him, Duncan was still a formidable protector down low – yet again leading the team in block percentage and coming in second on defensive rebounding rate behind only Marjanovic (who barely played the minimum amount of minutes to qualify). You really do have to stop and appreciate this combination: blocks AND defensive rebounding. Most are either great at one or the other (e.g. going after blocks usually puts you out of position for rebounding) – or average at both. Duncan was great at both again last season.

It may not have seemed like it to the casual observer, but the Spurs’ offense was also elite, ranking third overall in points per possession (but only 10th in total points scored). The reason for this was the slow pace (25th) at which the Spurs played to accommodate Duncan. However, pace does not determine efficiency and no team was better equipped to slowly and methodically dissect opponents than the Spurs and their wily bunch of veterans.

That said, if you had to pick a couple of chinks in the Spurs’ armor, it came with their ball handling, which ranked a relatively pedestrian 9th and inability to get to get to the free throw line (21st in FTA/FGA). The decline in Duncan’s post game was obviously a factor here. However, the inability of Parker, Mills and Green to offer any penetration from outside also played a major role. Contrary to the perception that his game is mid-range only, Aldridge was actually pretty good at getting to the free throw line, getting 4.1 attempts per game (2nd on the team behind Leonard).

Reasons to be optimistic

Kawhi Leonard is a genuine superstar and looks set to carry the torch. With Aldridge on board and still in his prime, there’s no need to even consider rebuilding.

While Duncan was still a decent player in his last season (regular season PER 16.9), the Spurs had been winning for some time without having to rely heavily on him. Indeed, he barely played 25.0 minutes a game last season. Sad as it is to say, the succession plan has been in place for a while and they shouldn’t miss him too much now that he’s gone.

David Lee is a sneaky good signing for the end of the bench. While he’s a poor defender, he provides instant offense and is a fantastic rebounder.

Reasons not to be

Duncan might have been slow, but he was still well above average as a defender. In his place now is Gasol who can barely stay in front of a traffic cone. It’s almost inconceivable that the Spurs could finish with the league’s best defense again this season.

The Spurs are still old and have almost no penetrating ability from their guards.

Boban! got paid by Detroit ($21 million over three years) and is now gone.

Major Ins 

Pau Gasol, David Lee.

Major Outs 

Tim Duncan, Boban!

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Mills
  • Green
  • Leonard
  • Aldridge
  • Gasol

Dave’s Lowdown

As the retirement of Tim Duncan swept the basketball world it was easy to overlook the departure of another legendary Spurs player, the ‘Red Mamba’ Matt Bonner. However, the more things change the more they stay the same as the San Antonio machine keeps on rolling with the signings of Pau Gasol, David Lee and little-known Dewayne Dedmon, who could turn out to be one of the best value pick-ups of the season.

This should finally be the season where Tony Parker passes the starting point guard torch to Patty Mills. Parker’s gradual decline over the last few seasons looks to be approaching rock-bottom, while 1st round pick DeJounte Murray needs development and experience, which leaves Mills as next man up.

If INXS can keep touring after the overzealous strangle-wank death of Michael Hutchence, then San Antonio should be able to keep churning out 60+ win seasons post Duncan….and post Bonner.

Forecast record: 61-21

Duncan will be missed, but the show will go on.

Duncan’s departure, combined with last season’s 67 win over-achievement, makes regression almost certain. However, 60 wins is still 60 wins and the Spurs will still contend – particularly if things don’t go as planned for the Warriors and if the Clippers continue being the Clippers.

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