5 Critical Revelations from San Antonio Spurs Training Camp
The offseason was a rather boring one for the San Antonio Spurs—to absolutely no one's surprise.
Entering the 2012-13 season, the Spurs' roster will look almost identical to that of last year's. This year, the competition has increased, however, and with an aging roster, a return to the Western Conference Finals is anything but guaranteed.
Then again, the Spurs prove critics wrong every year—and if the pattern continues, this year should be no different.
As the Spurs prepare for the regular season, our only taste of San Antonio basketball has been their shaky preseason start.
Despite the notorious incredibility of the preseason, there were definitely a few things to take note of.
Here are five realizations that we came to during the summer's events:
Gary Neal Is Very Expendable
The Spurs' guard position is overflowing with talent.
There are simply too many players and too few minutes to allocate. The problem was triggered last season following the surprising breakout performance of Danny Green, as well as the midseason acquisition of Patty Mills.
Mills and Green both solidified themselves as solid contributors, with their value recognized this offseason when the team renewed both of their contracts.
The surplus of guards has increased after rookie Nando de Colo proved to be a very useful player, showcasing his Manu Ginobili-like qualities during the preseason. The second-year guard, Cory Joseph—who spent the majority of his rookie campaign in the D-League—also turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Both impressed coach Gregg Popovich, prompting him to declare his praise for the two youngsters (via Michael A. De Leon/ Project Spurs):
"Most impressive youngster? I think Cory Joseph and Nando de Colo have been the most impressive. They've had a real spirited competition at their position. They've probably overall played better in games than most."
The emergence of these two to supplement the original plethora of guards spells doom for Gary Neal, who is now painfully expendable.
He doesn't play either guard position naturally, playing as an awkward hybrid between the two instead. The Spurs have little use for him, as there are simply better options at both guard positions.
The Spurs aren't ones to make trades, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them turn Neal around for a draft pick.
DeJuan Blair Needs an Increased Role
Last season, DeJuan Blair's hot start was abated following the addition of Boris Diaw, which forced Blair onto the bench.
He soon saw his starting role quickly devolve into that of a benchwarmer, watching the majority of the remaining games from the sidelines. Then during the summer, his mere existence on the team was threatened following trade rumors, which are yet to fully die down.
If the preseason taught us anything, however, it was that Blair's spot on the team should in no way be in jeopardy.
The frontcourt is empty, especially following the waiving of camp additions Josh Powell and Eddy Curry.
Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw need help—and Matt Bonner proved to be worthless this summer.
He went the entire preseason without scoring, and while he was literally absent for a few games, he figuratively disappeared in the ones in which he did make appearances.
Blair, on the other hand, was rather productive during his time on the court. In 11.6 minutes per game, Blair averaged 7.3 points and four rebounds.
He does provide the team with a liability on defense, but he is a factor on offense and on the boards, so trading him without receiving a big man in return would be a poor decision.
As of now, Blair needs to move ahead of Bonner in the rotation and needs to see consistent time each night.
Tiago Splitter Is Still Inconsistent
The Spurs have run into a bit of a problem with Tiago Splitter.
His height, play style and the fact that there are simply no other options make him the prime candidate to succeed Tim Duncan as the team's frontcourt leader, and at times, the Brazilian big man has shown great potential.
On some nights, Splitter looks like he could grow into a star, effortlessly perfecting the pick and roll, scoring at a high rate, actively contributing on the boards, while also managing to be a presence on the defensive end.
On other nights, he fails to show up—running through the motions without showing a care in the world, with marginal statistics across the board.
Contrary to the team's hopes, Splitter failed to amend his inconsistency this summer, instead performing in a similar fashion during the preseason.
His preseason campaign started with an adequate six rebound performance, only to post no statistics in the subsequent contest outside of a single steal. He wasn't very impressive in the following game either, only dropping nine points against the Heat on perfect shooting from the floor during the next.
He then capped off the preseason with a satisfactory four point, five rebound performance, then dominated the stat sheet in the team's final game, scoring seven alongside seven boards in just 11 minutes.
As previously stated, Splitter certainly has the makings of a star, but until he provides constant performance each night, he cannot be counted on to be the team's next great big man.
Kawhi Leonard Remains a Threat, Even in a Shooting Slump
It is easy to look at Kawhi Leonard's preseason performance and come to the conclusion that the Spurs are in trouble.
The young small forward had a phenomenal rookie season, providing the team with the defense, rebounding and hustle that were expected of him, along with a surprisingly good shooting average from beyond the arc.
His preseason performance has been lacking a bit, however, especially in comparison to his rookie season. His .376 three-point percentage was reduced to a mere .133 percent, and his general shooting percentage dropped from .492 to .265.
Looking at this alone, Leonard appears to be suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump. Delving deeper into the stat sheet, though, Leonard averaged 5.3 rebounds per game, an increase from last year, despite a decrease in his minutes.
He also showed a tendency to make big plays, while also remaining a defensive threat.
He isn't worried about the slump, neither are Coach Pop or Tony Parker (via Mike Monroe/ San Antonio Express News):
“No, not (concerned) at all,” the second-year forward said. “I’m still trying to get my legs under me. I’m making shots at practice. I know they’ll start falling once the season comes.”
Leonard will be given a larger role during the regular season, and he'll likely improve as he continues.
He's known for being a hard worker, so it would be surprising to see him give into his slump.
Manu Ginobili Will Continue to Be an Injury Risk
The Spurs watched veteran shooting guard, Manu Ginobili fall to injury multiple times last year, much to the team's displeasure. He managed to stay healthy throughout the postseason, and even managed to remain at full health during the Olympics.
Unfortunately, the aging star could not make it through the preseason without succumbing to another injury.
His back gave him problems throughout the preseason, forcing Ginobili to sit out of multiple contests, including the final game against the Washington Wizards.
Parker originally shrugged away the injury, giving hope to San Antonio's fans.
Ginobili (back) did not practice today. Tony Parker calls it "a veteran move" for Manu to skip out on the workout.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 28, 2012
As details emerge, however, its hard not to fear Ginobili not surviving the season without missing extended time at some point.
“He’s not going to travel to New Orleans and we’re going to assess him again on Thursday,” Popovich said of the 35-year-old two-time All-Star. “He still feels his back. He tried to get on the court today and he couldn’t do it.”
If his health remains an issue for the duration of the season, the Spurs might have the change their game plan.
However, until further details emerge, we can only hope hope for the best. Still, don't be surprised if Ginobili's injuries prove to be a running theme throughout the season.