Despite falling just short of the 2013 title, the routine "age" argument is once again allowing critics to senselessly discount the Western powerhouse. However, the Spurs are a team predicated on fundamental consistency and such consistency from the veterans in question will guarantee that another season of success is in store.
Though Manu Ginobili's performance in the NBA Finals will forever live in infamy, a lesser role in the upcoming season should ensure that negative play doesn't ruin the team's title chances. For Tim Duncan, whose 2012-13 campaign drew attention for different reasons, consistent excellence—as he has demonstrated throughout his career—should help drive San Antonio to prosperity.
Manu Ginobili was—to put it bluntly—awful in the NBA Finals. Aside from a single showing of excellence, the veteran shooting guard's inability to contribute in a positive manner highlighted a long list of faults that led to San Antonio's eventual defeat.
Anything deviating from last year's horrific performance would be vastly welcomed, though the depth of the Spurs' backcourt will help ensure Ginobili's production doesn't dictate whether the team succeeds or fails.
Ginobili spent the 2012-13 season playing the role he has trademarked: explosive scoring machine off the bench. Whether the words "explosive" and "machine" accurately describe his play from start to finish is a different debate, but the fact that he isn't a starter is comforting to anybody who may have qualms about the upcoming campaign.
Starting at the second guard position will be Danny Green, whose Finals showing solidified the notion that he is a legitimate starting talent. Green is young and athletic, and he brings defense and three-point shooting to the table. He's streaky, but he has proven to be mature enough to handle significant minutes as well as a large role.
Ginobili will back up Green, but he alone will not be forced to tackle the task of providing relief for an already capable player.
While San Antonio was forced to part ways with Gary Neal this summer, his production will be replaced—and improved upon—by Marco Belinelli, who signed with the Spurs during the offseason.
During his stint with the Chicago Bulls, Belinelli showed a vast repertoire of skills, including ball-handling and shooting.
While he'll receive significant playing time backing up Kawhi Leonard, Leonard will most likely lead the Spurs in minutes played again in the upcoming season. As a result, Belinelli will also have plenty of opportunities to make appearances at his natural shooting guard position.
Bottom line: If he struggles, Manu Ginobili is neither the first nor second option for San Antonio at the 2. Of course, his performance in the Finals could have been a fluke. While a downward trend has been apparent, a bounce-back season could easily be in store from the team's most polarizing figure.
Prior to his 2013 postseason collapse, Ginobili was one of the team's best players. In years past, he was an All-Star. While similar superstar production shouldn't be expected, it remains a possibility.
However, the most important thing for Ginobili to do this year is learn his role. He is no longer a star, and he should contribute when given the opportunity. But until he proves the world wrong, he's nothing more than a role player whose production can be replaced should he struggle.
Ginobili may be the younger of the two players in question, but he certainly isn't the one playing like a 20-year-old.
At 37, Tim Duncan is fresh off one of the greatest seasons in his illustrious career. An All-Star, Duncan turned in a resurgent campaign that was somewhat surprising given his steady decline over the previous few years.
As the team's best big man—as well as the best big man in the entire league—Duncan was a primary factor in the Spurs' deep playoff run and successful regular-season campaign.
Unlike Ginobili, the team will lean heavily on Duncan again in 2013-14.
Tiago Splitter will accompany Duncan in the post again. Fresh off of a multi-year contract, the budding Brazilian forward will find himself with a large role.
With a shallow pool of reserve power forwards and centers, the starting duo of Splitter and Duncan will pick up the second unit's slack from time to time.
However, Splitter is inconsistent, and his collapse against the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals has cast doubt upon his ability to lead a team in the post.
If he struggles, the spotlight will shine solely on Duncan. He'll be looked upon to anchor the team's defensive effort while leading them in the offensive post.
Unfortunately, he'll be forced to do so despite limited action. Duncan will need to remain rested for the playoffs, so he'll have to make the most of his time on court.
Luckily, he's been eerily consistent throughout his career, as his stats per 36 minutes have fluctuated minimally.
|Tim Duncan's Career Statistics Per 36 Minutes|
What will be asked of Duncan will be what has been asked of him for his entire career, and he'll likely deliver in similar fashion. He's a fundamentally sound player who has never been slowed by age.
He has simply been limited, though he has nonetheless found ways to contribute. Duncan will have to flourish, but it is equally important he receives proper rest. He'll be the team's leader down low on both ends when he's in, and whatever happens during his time on the bench is beyond his capabilities.
Unlike Ginobili, who will find himself in a watered-down role, Duncan will continue to be an integral member of the team. He'll need to succeed for the team to succeed, but staying healthy will be just as, if not more, important.
With Tony Parker leading the squad—along with help from Splitter, Green, Kawhi Leonard and the bench—San Antonio has the resources to ensure neither Ginobili nor Duncan is forced to do too much.
For Ginobili, stellar play will be a luxury, as it is neither needed nor expected. The same cannot be said for Duncan, though his track record leaves little room for worry.
The team may be a year older, and its stars may be on their final legs. But just as the Spurs moniker has become associated with age, it has also become synonymous with success. As long as a somewhat consistent effort is shown, San Antonio will once again find itself right where it belongs.
At the top.
All statistics are from Basketball Reference, unless otherwise noted.