Greetings! We’re back with the second installment of our NBA Preview series, and today, we’ll take on the Southwest division. In case you missed it, be sure to check out part 2, covering the Pacific division, but we’re going with a bit of a different format for the remainder of the divisions, as we dedicate some additional space via the slideshow! Without further ado, let’s get it going with the defending Western Conference champions.
San Antonio Spurs (61-21)
Let’s get this out on the table. I have a man crush on all things Spurs, and that stems from the combination of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time (not hyperbole) and I would have Pop among the best coaches in the history of the game. For reference, a Tim Duncan-led team has never won games at less than a 50-win pace (they went 37-13 in route to winning the 1999 title), and the Spurs are basically the safest bet in sports.
Back in 2013-2014, Duncan is still a tremendous force, and while he’s undeniably taken a step back physically, he made a surge back toward greatness during a 2012-13 campaign that saw him post a 24.4 PER and average 21.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes. He’s still a monster, and he anchors the team in my opinion.
Next to Duncan is Tony Parker, who doubles as one of the game’s best point guards. Parker surpassed 20 points per game for the first time in his career last year, and in the process, had his 2nd-most efficient season. He’s having to take the load more and more on the perimeter to make up for a declining Manu Ginobili, but Parker is up to the challenge.
Speaking of Ginobili, the “supporting” cast features three high-level players, albeit at different trajectories. The Argentinian legend saw his minutes dip to 23.2 per game last year (in only 60 games), but he was very, very good in the regular season (19 PER, 18 points and 7 assists per 36 minutes) before he famously flamed out in the majority of the NBA Finals. It would be aggressive to project too much from Manu, but he’s been spry in the preseason, and he’s an ultra-valuable piece when healthy.
The next group of guys includes Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. Leonard is a darling among the NBA blogosphere (to put it mildly) as a tremendous defender who does everything on the court. He’ll need to make a leap offensively in order to help out the “big 3″, but Leonard is a favorite of mine and at 22 years old, he’s going to be a monster. Splitter got paid in a significant way in the off-season, and while people seem to kill him for being a non-athlete (which is true), he’s a 28-year-old big man who can play defense and average 15 points and 9 rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s a highly valuable asset.
San Antonio’s bench should be interesting this season, as they replaced Gary Neal with Marco Belinelli (which I’m not sure is an upgrade), but other than that, it’s exactly the same. Popovich will rely a lot on Boris Diaw to spell Duncan and Splitter, with the majority of the perimeter minutes going to Belinelli and Danny Green, with Ginobili functioning as the backup point guard in most sets.
I absolutely love the Spurs, and while 61 wins may seem high for a team who famously doesn’t care about the regular season, they managed to win 58 last year despite missing 24 games of Leonard, 16 games of Parker, and 22 games of Ginobili. I’m all-in.