San Antonio Spurs' Most and Least-Improved Players of the Season
The veteran squad changed very little over the offseason, excluding the addition of Nando De Colo via the draft.
However, while the names on the back of the jerseys remain the same, many of the players have changed so immensely that they appear to be an entirely different person.
For some, this evolution is a good thing, with an evident improvement that should get Spurs fans excited.
On the other hand, a handful of players have seen their production diminish during the year, giving the team and fans little to look forward to.
So after a quarter of the season, the question arises. Where does each player stand?
All stats are accurate of December 18, 2012.
Most: Gary Neal
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2011-12 stats: 9.9 points, 2.1 assists, 2.1 rebounds
2012-13 stats: 11.8 points, 1.9 assists, 3.0 rebounds
One of the most drastic changes in San Antonio is Gary Neal, the team's third-year combo guard with a knack for shooting the long ball.
An inconsistent player to say the least, Neal has struggled to find a stable role in the Spurs' offense, and his lack of a natural position never helped the matter.
Entering the season, many—Including me—believed Neal's days in the Alamo city were numbered, with the plethora of talented guards who could easily fill in.
However, Neal entered the season with a different approach. His stats themselves have not changed remarkably, but his confidence on the court is noticeable.
He has never been one to hold back a jump shot, but this season in particular, Neal has expressed little fear in letting it fly from various spots on the court.
He has also taken upon a leadership role, finishing with big nights when other Spurs struggle to get hot. He still remains one of the most inconsistent members on the entire team, but the number of off nights is decreasing and his new found confidence is pivotal for his future in San Antonio.
Least: Matt Bonner
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2011-12 stats: 6.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists
2012-13 stats: 4.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists
After years of excruciating, impatient waiting by Spurs fan, Gregg Popovich has given Matt Bonner his rightful place in the offense.
Playing left bench.
The 6'10'' three point specialist has been of little value, aside from his sporadic three point performances. On a team that has severely lacked height, his large frame was wasted, as the unathletic specialist rarely ventured away from the arc.
This season, Popovich has come to this realization, cutting his playing time down from 20.4 per game to 12.1.
The decrease in court time is long overdue, and with his decrease in time, his stats have predictably dropped as well.
He remains a threat from long range, but his one-sided game is in no way deserving of substantial playing time.
He is still valuable when used in moderation, when the team needs some outside scoring to make a run. However, with the emergence of other big players, Bonner no longer receives the time he once did, as the role player of yesteryear has found a new role on the bench.
Most: Tiago Splitter
USA TODAY Sports
2011-12 stats: 9.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists
2012-13 stats: 9.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Tiago Splitter remains the per 36 king, averaging extremely sufficient stats in comparison to the 19 minutes of game that he's been receiving.
However, while his stats may not have fluctuated greatly, few Spurs fans will deny their excitement in Splitter's maturation.
For a while, San Antonio has been counting on Splitter to become Tim Duncan's eventual successor, but his inconsistent play and poor free throw shooting had given the team little to be excited about.
This year, Splitter is evolving into the player everyone hoped he would be—and then some.
Whether it be a near triple-double performance, or the nine straight double-digit scoring performances he currently boasts, the big man has finally found his groove.
As he is slowly integrated into the starting lineup, Splitter's game will continue to evolve—especially playing alongside Duncan.
With multiple impressive outings this year, as well as a strong effort on the boards and the defensive end, Splitter is due for a strong season and a bright future.
Least: Manu Ginobili
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2011-12 stats: 12.9 points, 4.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds
2012-13 stats: 11.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds
To say that Manu Ginobili has been entirely stripped of his magic would be false, but saying that the 35-year-old shooting guard has lost a step or two would not be incorrect.
Perhaps more so than his fellow veterans, Ginobili is facing the cold, harsh realities of "old age" with blatant deterioration manifested throughout his several injuries and limited playing time.
And while the withering has been evident since last year, Ginobili has given San Antonio fans even more to grieve about. With his lowest field goal percentage since 2004, Ginobili's 42 percent marks a ten percent drop from last year.
He still makes the occasional highlight-worthy play, and has had his fair share of takeover games, but the veteran guard has not improved at all, or given fans any signs that his woes last season was a fluke.
In a contract year, a bounce back season was pivotal, but Ginobili's troubles further hint at early retirement.
Most: Tim Duncan
Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
2011-12 stats: 15.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists
2012-13 stats: 17.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists
At 36, it is rare that a player will drastically improve his performance from the previous year, but Tim Duncan has once again defied Father Time.
Showing complete indifference to the idea of aging, Duncan has once again found the fountain of youth, anchoring an impressive Spurs team while also making an impact league-wide.
The power forward has seen an influx in minutes following his impressive play, but the veteran has handled it well—making each minute count.
Currently near the top of the MVP ladder, Duncan's impressive efforts on both the defensive and offensive end have earned him a Player of the Week accolade, as well as recognition in MVP voting (fourth in the Western frontcourt category).
He may not be able to keep up elite production for the entire season, but as for now, Duncan has transformed into a younger version of himself, with flawless production that has kept the Spurs winning throughout the first quarter of basketball this season.