The definitive 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs season preview

by

With the 2013-14 regular season tipping off for the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, we thought it was a good idea to put some of our feelings on the upcoming campaign down in print.

X-Factor

Matthew Tynan: Weirdly enough, I believe this title belongs to Manu Ginobili. We’ve gotten to the point where we basically know what the Spurs will get from Kawhi Leonard — smart decision-making, great rebounding, elite defense and solid scoring — but most of us are uncomfortably out on this limb with Manu. He appears to be spry and refreshed, and his shot is falling. But it is preseason. We’ll see how he handles the long road. If he’s “back,” the Spurs will be great again.

Trevor Zickgraf: Marco Ginobili – One of these two guys is going to need to make scoring baskets for the second unit easy. I think the starters are going to be fine, but I worry about the second unit if Manu or Marco can’t make the offense hum.

Andrew McNeill: Which Tim Duncan are we getting this season? Are we getting last season’s version that was easily an All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year finalist and borderline MVP candidate? Or, at 37 years old, will we get one that looks like he has played almost 1400 NBA games over the last 16 years? One that, ironically, looks like the Tim Duncan of three or four years ago? If Duncan can’t anchor the defense the way he did last season and protect the team on the boards, San Antonio could be due for some slippage in the standings and a short playoff run. To Duncan’s credit, he looks like he’s slimmed down again this season, which could help his knees and allow him to sustain one more championship run.

Biggest Surprise

MT: Jeff Ayres. At some point around midseason, there will be a general “holy crap, this guy can play” revelation. He’s a big, athletic frontcourt body that can hit a mid-range jumper, and as the team sits Duncan on a lot of back-to-backs, he’ll get opportunities. He’s been well liked wherever he’s been in his young career, he just hasn’t gotten the time. He’ll have a chance in San Antonio, where they want as much help for Duncan as they can possibly get. I’m not saying he’ll be a star, just that he’ll be unexpectedly impactful.

TZ: Jeff Ayres. He’s going to steal minutes from someone. It might be Splitter, it might be Diaw, but I think he’s going to bring DeJuan Blair’s energy and actually be able to defend his position. Runner-up – Me spelling “Ayres” right without looking it up for the first two months of the season.

AM: Manu Ginobili. Manu is not the bad man that he once was, but I think the negativity surrounding him swung too far . He’s still one of the more creative players in the NBA; he doesn’t rely on athleticism near as much as craftiness. If Ginobili can fine tune his perimeter shot and avoid trying to launch 3s from step-backs, he can still be a valuable sixth man for the Spurs this season. Kawhi has supplanted Ginobili as a member of San Antonio’s big three, but putting Ginobili out to pasture already is premature.

Biggest Drop-off

MT: It feels weird to say, but I’m thinking it’ll be Tony Parker. Not from a decline in his skills, but more from a conservation standpoint. The Spurs are a completely different animal when Parker is fresh and effective, and late in the Finals he was a shell of himself because of fatigue and wear and tear (specifically in regard to his hamstring). With the growth of Kawhi and the presence of another playmaker in Belinelli, the Spurs will be comfortable sitting Parker a bit more often whether he likes it or not.

TZ: Boris Diaw – There’s no rhyme or reason to this answer. Maybe it’s because he played with Team France this summer, so I think he’ll tire out. I think the presence of Ayers and Aron Baynes’ development will slice in to Bobo’s minutes more than anyone, despite his unique skill set.

AM: I’m afraid it’ll be Tim Duncan, but I think Tony Parker is far more likely. Parker has been an MVP candidate the last two season and looked drained by the end of the Finals series against Miami. After a short offseason full of a Eurobasket title run, Parker is right back on the floor as the NBA regular season tips off. This may be the year Pop starts to manage his minutes and we start to see some drop-off in his production. That said, going from MVP candidate to merely All-Star won’t kill San Antonio by any means, but I expect that to be the biggest negative difference in production this year. In the long run, it could be a good thing for the Spurs as they expect to make another deep playoff run.

Most Interesting In-Season Roster Development (if anything)

MT: In terms of position battles, the one for the backup point guard spot is most “interesting,” if only in the sense that there’s the most mystery behind it. Cory Joseph had the upper hand after last season, but then Patty Mills went all “do you even lift, bro?” on us and checked in with less than seven percent body fat at the start of camp. Now, after saying all that, I believe the frontcourt is most interesting area of the roster. Between Ayres and Baynes, some unexpected decent value will reveal itself in the form of the team’s two youngest bigs.

TZ: Tie between how much Joseph plays and the big man rotation behind Duncan and Splitter. I think Joseph has made himself the back up point guard, but with Manu and Marco being coming off the bench, will his minutes really increase that much? As for the bigs, I could see Ayers and Baynes making the expiring contracts of Diaw and Matt Bonner expendable by the All-Star break if they can both develop offensively.

AM: The backup small forward position. Gregg Popovich has made noise that the team wants to bring in someone to spell Kawhi more this season. At the same time, San Antonio typically doesn’t like to carry a full 15-man roster. Last year Leonard played the entire season battling jumper’s knee, including during the Finals. He spent the summer resting up and should be good to go for 2013-14, but the Spurs may want some insurance behind Leonard to help him avoid another overuse injury.

Off-the-wall Prediction

MT: Belinelli will lead all bench scorers and will finish as a top-5 scorer for the team as a whole. Belinelli is a perfect fit for this team, and we’re going to see a different player in San Antonio than we’ve seen during any stop in the 27-year-old Italian’s career. He’s a great ball-handler at the shooting guard position, a good shooter and an excellent initiator of the side pick-and-roll. He can play on or off the ball, and fits well in any lineup. May I suggest paying attention to the Belinelli-Ginobili bench combo? It’s going to be fun.

TZ: I’ll go way off the wall here. Former Spur James Anderson will flourish in his role with Brett Brown’s Philadelphia 76ers and win Most Improved Player next spring. He came out of nowhere to average 14 points a game in preseason and seems to play well next to Evan Turner and Michael Carter-Williams.

AM: The Spurs will end the season with only two French players on the roster. Between how disappointing Nando De Colo has been since April and Diaw’s contract tradability, one of them will be moved. BOOK IT.

Final Prediction

MT: I hate these predictions at this point in the year because of all the possibilities that lie ahead, but here we go… I believe San Antonio will return to the Finals. The West has improved significantly, but top teams’ acquisitions just don’t seem to be quite enough at this point, and the Thunder and Grizzlies did little to get any better personnel-wise. Again, who knows what will happen with trade market between now and then, but right now, I’m picking the Spurs in the West. Now, can they win the Finals? Sure, but I’m not going there yet.

TZ: The end of this season will look a lot like the last. I’m not sure there will be heart wrenching moments like Ray Allen’s Game 6 shot or Duncan’s missed lay up in Game 7, but the Spurs will fall to the Heat in seven games again. I could easily see the Spurs beating the Heat, but it’s hard to bet against the defending champs. It won’t be an ideal outcome, but it’s going to be another really fun season.

AM: The Spurs will continue their streak of winning 50 games in a season, which is approaching DiMaggio-like proportions, and secure a top-four seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what the injury situation will look like in six months, so I won’t make any predictions beyond that. Just know that depending on how this team bounces back physically from such a long run last year, they have every chance to make a run deep into June again in 2014.