Coach: Greg Popovich
2008-09 Record: 54-28
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 52-30
Offensive Rating: 108.5 (13th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 104.3 (5th)
Possessions per 48: 88.4 (26th)
|Offensive||51.3 (6th)||.117 (1st)||.221 (30th)||.191 (30th)|
|Defensive||48.7 (7th)||.117 (29th)||.780 (1st)||.191 (1st)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge
Do yourself a favor and go look up Tim Duncan’s career stats, and just marvel at them. In the last 8 years, he’s had an offensive rating of at least 110 six times. His usage rate has stayed between 27.7% and 29%. His rebound rate has ranged from 18.7% to 19.6%. That’s just remarkable consistency, and consistent excellence. At 32, he was as good offensively as he’s ever been, and was even better in the playoffs. The concern for San Antonio is that Duncan appears to have lost a step on defense. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still one of the league’s elite defenders, but the decline in his athleticism has hurt his effectiveness as a help defender, as evidenced by his career-low block rate last year. The other problem is that his minutes have to be monitored more closely than ever. He’s still one of the league’s top 10 players, and he can still dominate a playoff series, but he can’t single-handedly carry a team like he used to.
I don’t think enough can be made of the tremendous offseason San Antonio had. They effectively swapped Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas for Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, and DeJuan Blair. That’s an immense upgrade. As hard as Bowen works on defense, he’s no spring chicken, and he’s a truly terrible offensive player. Though Thomas was very effective in limited minutes last season, he’s also among the league’s oldest players, and certainly not as good as the guys who are replacing him.
Jefferson is such a great addition for this team. He’s coming off two of the best seasons of his career, and he adds some much needed athleticism on the wing. Two things in particular should help him fit in with the Spurs. First, he drilled 46% of his corner three-pointers last year, and I shouldn’t have to explain to you the importance of corner threes in the Spurs’ system. Second, he drew fouls at an excellent rate, something the Spurs drastically need. They ranked dead last in getting to the free throw line, so Jefferson should help improve that. He’s a vast improvement on the small forward options the Spurs have had the last few years, and not many teams can boast a 4th option as good as Jefferson.
A feature player before knee options derailed his career, McDyess has done a great job making the transition to role player. For the last few years, he’s thrived in Detroit as a mid-range shooter and rebounder. In fact, amazingly enough he posted his career-high rebound rate last year at the age of 34. While his rebound rate will almost certainly drop playing next to Duncan this year, his shooting ability adds another element to the Spurs’ offense, and he should thrive off the playmakers around him.
I can’t believe DeJuan Blair fell as far as he did in the draft. It’s almost unthinkable that a guy who was so dominant in college would drop so much, especially since rebounding is one of the skills that translates best from the college game to the NBA. Blair is probably going to foul a lot, and he doesn’t have a very diverse offensive game, but man the guy can rebound. Last year he actually posted the highest offensive rebound rate of the decade in college basketball, and it wasn’t even close. He doesn’t play above the rim, but his great strength, huge wingspan, and uncanny knack for the ball make him as good an offensive rebounder as you’re likely to find. Since the Spurs finished dead last in that category last year, I think Blair can definitely contribute in a 15-20 minute role off the bench.
Take a quick guess at the 5 guys in the league who used the highest percentage of their teams’ possessions. Done? Well, you probably had Wade, LeBron, and Kobe on there, and you may have even guessed Carmelo as well, but did anyone have Tony Parker at 4th on that list? With Manu out most of the year and Duncan slowing down, the traditionally balanced Spurs attack became the Tony Parker show, and he was absolutely brilliant running it. When asked to carry a bigger load than he ever has, Parker responded by posting a career-high offensive rating (112), a career-high assist percentage (40.1%), and a career-low turnover rate (11.6). That’s stepping up your game, folks. The biggest difference came in his shooting, as he buried 45.5% of his long two-pointers, making him all but unguardable on the pick-and-roll. His bread and butter though, is getting to the rim. He’s one of the quickest players in the league, and nobody uses his body better to ward off defenders. He’s the best below-the-rim finisher in the game, using every move in the book (floaters, up-and-unders, reverses; you name it he does it) to score over bigger players. It seem like he’s been around forever, but Parker is only 27, and there’s no reason to think he can’t maintain this level of play, though he probably won’t be asked to do quite so much this season.
X-Factor: Manu Ginobili – I was kind of surprised to see that Manu actually played really well when he wasn’t injured last year. Most guys who miss half the season also spend most of the time they are on the court getting back into a rhythm. Manu, though he wasn’t quite as good as in his previous two seasons, was still an outstanding player when he was out there. The problem is that at 32 he can’t absorb hits like he used to. Even though he’s played under 600 NBA games, he’s racked up plenty of games internationally, and, much like Dwyane Wade, his constant forays into the lane make him more susceptible to injury. The Spurs will try to limit his minutes to keep him on the floor, and the addition of Jefferson should help with that, but there’s still going to be that risk. They can live through some bumps and bruises, and a missed game here and there, but Ginobili has to be healthy come playoff time, or they don’t have a chance.
I don’t know if any team in the West has a higher ceiling than San Antonio, and that includes LA. Duncan, Manu, Parker and Jefferson are as good a foursome as there is, and the Spurs have put together their best supporting cast in some time. George Hill, Roger Mason, McDyess, Blair, Matt Bonner, Michael Finley, all capable of being above-average role players. If everyone is healthy, there’s a depth of talent here that I don’t think the Spurs have had in any of their title runs. However, there is that health thing. Save Boston, there may not be another team in the league with the injury worries of San Antonio. They don’t need everyone to be healthy all year, like always this team is built for the playoffs, but they do need every hand on deck once the playoffs start. If Timmy or Manu aren’t in good shape when the postseason roles around, then nothing else really matters. The plus side is that this newfound depth should prevent those stars from logging too many minutes, and help keep them fresh for when they’re really needed. The fantastic offseason propped the window open a bit longer, and with a little luck they may be able to get one more ring for the greatest power forward of all time.