In the final month or so of last year’s regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the San Antonio not only looked like the NBA championship favorites but one of the hottest teams of all-time, one that might go down in the record books.
But that all came crashing down in the West Finals loss to Oklahoma City, in which the Spurs just looked old.
Ever since Tim Duncan came to San Antonio, the Spurs have been the most consistent franchise in the NBA. They have made 15 consecutive playoff appearances, and with almost the entire roster back from a 50-16 team, they should be just as good in 2013.
Duncan was a free agent this summer, but there was never really any chance of him leaving. The 36-year-old got a new three-year deal, all but assuring that he will be in San Antonio for a 16th, 17th and 18th season.
That means the Spurs will have the three-man core of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan together again, and that they will look much as they did last season.
Though the Spurs no longer build their offense on going through Duncan with a pound-it-inside-out style, he can still use his solid fundamental skills to take advantage of mismatches in the low post, challenge penetrating opponents in the middle and rebound effectively. He averaged 15.4 points and nine rebounds a season ago.
The last time he walked off the court in a game, Duncan had scored 25 points and collected 14 rebounds in Game 6 of the Spurs playoff ouster by the Thunder, a defeat that still gnaws at him and the rest of the veterans.
Small forward Kawhi Leonard, if he can continue hitting open 3’s, gives them some much needed athleticism in the frontcourt. The Spurs must figure out how to make Leonard more important in their attack.
There weren’t many shots for Leonard last year. He took an average of 6.3 per game, which ranked ninth on the roster. Look for that number to bounce upward. He’s key to the Spurs’ future.
Because this team is essentially the same, the Spurs will be counting on further improvement from the roster it pieced together over the past year. Along those lines, shooting guard Danny Green, forward Boris Diaw and point guard Patty Mills were re-signed.
Having Diaw and Stephen Jackson, both of whom joined the team last March, for a full training camp should help the Spurs develop some continuity right out of the gate. With the minutes of the Big Three being reined in, reserves such as Green, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter must kick in more off the bench.
Rumors of this team’s demise continue to be greatly exaggerated. In the regular season, hard to see how the Spurs will fall behind the pack much, if at all, given their three stars (and perhaps a fourth emerging one in Leonard) and how deep they are. But athletically, they just don’t match up with the Lakers and Thunder.
Vegassportsbetting odds to win West: +650