With the NBA season getting close, it’s time to take a look at what to expect from the teams around the league. Here are three thoughts about the 2016-17 San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs have been considered the franchise of excellence throughout the league for the past 20 years. While during the same time, franchises such as the Los Angeles Lakers have achieved similar heights of excellence, few franchises can boast the same level of yearly consistency that the Spurs have enjoyed.
While the Spurs have never consecutively won any championships, they have collected five since 1999, enjoyed a 50+ win season every full year, and traditionally gone deep into the playoffs.
However, that all occurred under Tim Duncan’s watch. With him gone, the Spurs won’t have their cornerstone to stand on. Here are three concerns heading into the 2016-2017 season.
1. Who Can Replace Tim Duncan?
Even into his final year, Tim Duncan’s productivity on the floor was something to be marveled at. While no longer the offensive threat he once was, Duncan was excellent. He was able to play longer, more consistent minutes than his compatriots, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
On the court, Duncan made the team significantly better on defense. Offensively, he could still grind out 20+ point games. That was fortunate, since the team needed him to against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015.
With Duncan gone, the team will lack the defense, the consistent rebounding and the incredible gameplay knowledge that he brought.
The Big Fundamental knew where everyone would be on the court at any given time, a product of his years in the league, but also of being a consistent part of the Spurs’ system over his entire career. San Antonio can’t replace that, but they’ll have to try if they want to achieve their historical consistency.
It’s strange to say that the NBA MVP runner-up needs to be even better than he was in 2016, but the truth is, with Ducnan’s departure, the entire team now falls on Kawhi’s shoulders. Leonard has made his biggest impact as a defender, and he wreaks havoc on the perimeter — even defending bigger players — due to his length and strength.
Leonard improved in the scoring department. Still, there were times in 2016 when it looked like he was grinding it out in the post just to get a turnaway jumper. His scoring was excellent, but his best scoring was when receiving the ball.
If he can figure out ways to be more lethal with the ball in his hands, he could vastly help the team. His dribble remains suspect, and it’s still hard to believe in his jumper in the same way as a Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry. Leonard is an All-Star player. The problem is the Spurs now need him to be a superstar.
3. The Team Needs To Bring It
The vaunted bench of the 2014 Spurs, which helped crush the Miami Heat, was running on empty by 2016. Boris Diaw lost the trust of Pop, likely due to his lack of scoring touch. Danny Green was cold all year, until the playoffs. Ginobili and Parker were well past their scoring prime.
LaMarcus Aldridge proved his worth in 2016, and even though Pau Gasol isn’t Duncan, he’s still a fantastic post player. It’s the sheer amount of questions that make it hard to see the Spurs contending for the championship. Can Patty Mills be a scoring threat? How will David Lee fit in? Is Kyle Anderson ready for prime time?
It’s strange to talk negatively about a team that will still likely win 50+ games yet again, but at the end of the day, the core of Leonard, Gasol, Aldridge, and Green need to provide the heavy scoring and defense. If the Spurs want to have a deep playoff run, they’ll need everyone else to step up as well.