NBA Season Preview: San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich
The NBA’s longest-running player-coach partnership has earned five titles in 15 years. (AP)

Projected Record: 58-24 (2nd in West)


Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich
The NBA’s longest-running player-coach partnership has earned five titles in 15 years. (AP)

Head coach: Gregg Popovich
2013-14 record: 62-20
2013-14 ORtg: 108.2 (6th)
2013-14 DRtg: 100.1 (4th)
Players in: Kyle Anderson, Bryce Cotton, JaMychal Green, rights to Nemanja Dangubic
Players out: Damion James
Projected Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter

There’s not much to say about the Spurs that hasn’t already been overwrought with cliches in the last ten years, but there’s also not much inaccurate positive coverage.

The NBA’s model franchise returns a nearly identical roster, added a late first-round pick in Kyle Anderson that has drawn comparisons to Boris Diaw, and a regimented top-to-bottom system instilled by Gregg Popovich that has won five championships in the last 15 years, earned them a 62-20 record last year, and helped them steamroll the discombobulated Miami Heat in five NBA Finals games. Despite their standing at the second seed, we’ve got them tied with the #1 team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, at a 58-24 record, and even the most minor injury or stroke of luck could send them to the top.

(Ed. note: We went to the decimals to decide all tiebreakers; in our 20-person composite poll, the Thunder ended with an average of 58.4 wins, while the Spurs finished with 57.7.)

They’re deep. They’ve got three guaranteed Hall of Famers in Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili, the last one coming off the bench. Duncan has been a rock for 15 years, and led the Spurs in playoff win shares during last year’s Finals run. The speedy Parker ranks among the league’s top point guards by any measure except sustained recognition, and Ginobili is the little bit of crazy that keeps teams off-balance as they try to figure out the Spurs’ offensive flow.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP isn’t even one of those three guys — it’s Kawhi Leonard, who kept LeBron James in check and averaged 23.7 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 24-35 from the field in the last three Finals games, all Spurs wins. They’ve got an interior presence in Tiago Splitter, outside shooting from Danny Green and Marco Belinelli, and a certain je ne sais quoi from all-around French forward Boris Diaw. They’re a team without a bonafide top-ten player, but they’re also a team without any glaring weakness (save maybe free throw shooting — they ended the season last in the league in attempts per game).

The Spurs aren’t just the league’s most successful franchise on the court, they’re also trailblazers, hiring Becky Hammon to be an assistant coach as she was finishing up her WNBA career.

The only thing standing in the way of the Spurs and their first back-to-back titles is age. Though Spurs believers would point to last year as a sign of their timelessness, the Spurs still rely heavily on aging stars Duncan (38), Ginobili (37), and Parker (31, but with 37,000 NBA minutes on his odometer). The rapidly rising Leonard will offset some of the difference, and they’ll stay near the top of the Western Conference partially thanks to his development, but it’ll hardly be a cakewalk to the top of the NBA again.

But every team in the NBA knows: the road to the title goes through San Antonio. Eventually, the NBA will transition to another era without Duncan and Popovich. But not quite yet.