The San Antonio Spurs had another sensational season, winning a league-high 50 games during a lockout-shortened campaign. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich conceded after their elimination at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals that his team may have overachieved.
Coach Pop was a big reason why; he kept the aging Spurs competitive by tinkering with a system that has led San Antonio to four NBA championships in his tenure.
With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the downside of their careers, Pop turned the reigns over to his All-Star, Tony Parker. He surrounded Parker with shooters and implemented an offense built around the point guard's ability to penetrate and kick.
Pop also developed several of his younger players—such as Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter—by placing them in specific roles where they could succeed.
The Spurs coach was rewarded with Coach of the Year honors for the second time in his career, but the team fell short of its ultimate goal of winning a championship. Pop must continue tinkering with his system and rotations in order for the Spurs to compete for one more season.
Here are five adjustments Coach Popovich needs to make heading into the 2012-13 season.
The Spurs had the most efficient offense in the league during the regular season, scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions. But, as the adage goes, defense wins championships, and San Antonio wasn't quite as successful on that end of the floor.
The Spurs perimeter defense was just mediocre, though their most glaring weakness was the lack of a big man to help an aging Tim Duncan protect the basket. Time and time again the Oklahoma City Thunder guards faced little resistance after driving into the paint in the Western Conference finals.
A zone defense would be one way to cover up this hole. The Spurs could keep teams out of the paint by packing it in and forcing them to shoot jump shots.
The zone would be particularly effective against the two teams San Antonio will likely need to go through in order to win a championship: OKC and Miami. Both teams can hurt you from behind the arc, but they really kill you by getting easy points at the rim and from the foul line.
French guard Nando De Colo could give the Spurs another offensive weapon.
The Spurs offense is dependent on Parker's ability to get into the paint. It stagnated at times when he was out of the game, due in large part to their lack of a back-up point guard.
Once T.J. Ford went down with a career-ending neck injury early in the season, Gary Neal became the backup. Neal, a shoot-first guard, isn't quick enough to regularly break down a defense, which forced Pop to use Ginobili as the primary ball-handler.
French guard Nando De Colo could be the answer. The 6'5'' De Colo, a second-round pick by the Spurs in 2009, played in Spain the past few years and reportedly plans on joining the Spurs next season. He's a pass-first combo guard whom Pop may be able to mold into a solid backup for Parker.
Pop also could turn to the Spurs' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Cory Joseph. Joseph bounced back and forth between the Spurs and the Austin Toros of the NBDL in his rookie season. After summer league and a full training camp, he could be ready to run the show in Parker's absence.
The Spurs have several power forwards on their roster, though none of them are quick and athletic enough to protect the rim or beat their man down the floor. With Ginobili and Duncan slowing down, the speedy Parker needs more running mates in order for the Spurs to push the ball up the court.
One solution is for Pop to use a smaller lineup at times.
Stephen Jackson proved in the playoffs that he's physical enough to guard small forwards, and with Kawhi Leonard's length and athleticism, he can slide over to the 4.
The NBA game has changed over the past 15 years. Most teams no longer rely on two bulky bodies at the 4 and the 5—Miami won the championship with a lanky Shane Battier starting at power forward.
Splitter averaged 17.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes while converting on 61.8 percent of his field goal attempts in his second NBA season—yet he played just 19 minutes per game.
Splitter's game has some obvious holes. His lack of athleticism is a liability on defense, which makes it difficult to play him and Duncan together. Pop also finds his occasional mental lapses infuriating.
The Brazilian big man doesn't have the shooting range to stretch the floor from the 4 spot, though he does excel at the pick-and-roll, which is the bread and butter of the Spurs offense. He's also a willing passer out of the high post.
Splitter's game should continue to progress in his third season in the league. As Pop continues to ease back Duncan's minutes, he needs to find more ways to incorporate Splitter into the offense.
Pop did a masterful job of maximizing his bench, mixing and matching based on matchups. He went as many as 11 deep at times and kept his starters fresh for the playoffs.
Once the Spurs lost a couple of games in the Western Conference finals, he seemed to panic.
Out of desperation, he inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup for Game 5 and benched the struggling Danny Green. In Games 5 and 6 he tried various combinations of players who were not accustomed to playing together in an attempt to slow down OKC's attack.
San Antonio was unsettled by the lineup changes. The players take their cues from Pop, so when he began tinkering with the lineup, they knew something was wrong.
Granted, the Spurs were over-matched by a younger, more athletic Thunder team, but next season, Pop must do a better job of remaining calm under fire.