Players Who Must Step Up for the San Antonio Spurs This Season
The 2013 NBA offseason featured numerous transactions and roster overhauls that will change the NBA landscape for years to come. However, as they have in previous years, the San Antonio Spurs' roster remains unchanged aside from a handful of under-the-radar moves.
As they have for more than a decade, the Spurs will enter the upcoming campaign eyeing a championship. Doing so will be tough, as they fell short of the title in 2013. Increased competition will also force the team to show a serious improvement should they expect to contend.
While basketball is a team sport, the well-oiled machine known as the San Antonio Spurs has many parts that help it run smoothly. If team success is on the horizon, the players themselves will need to step up.
For some, the improvement will be negligible; we already know what to expect from a handful of competitors. For others, a significant leap is expected, as their roles require more production than fans have witnessed in the past.
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Tiago Splitter entered the summer unsure as to which jersey he would be sporting once the season started. However, after signing a contract for four years, $36 million, he has elected to stay loyal to the silver and black.
His return has been met with a great deal of cynicism, as many fans and pundits are hesitant to deem Splitter worthy of his newly signed deal.
In previous years, the 6'10" forward has struggled to make consistent, positive contributions to the team. It wasn't until last season that he emerged as an unquestioned starter, though his NBA Finals performance left many fans uneasy about his future with the Spurs.
With superstar Tim Duncan on the decline, Splitter's role is growing exponentially by the season, and without a strong list of qualified reserves, he'll need to show solid improvement.
He emerged last year as a formidable role player, but he'll need to make a bigger jump in 2013-14. It isn't every day that you're handed $9 million per year, though he'll have the upcoming season to prove that he was deserving of the deal.
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With Splitter and Duncan starting at the two post positions, Boris Diaw will be the first big man off the bench. Unfortunately, there wasn't much competition for the top reserve spot.
DeJuan Blair has found a new home in Dallas, leaving the team with Aron Baynes, Jeff Pendergraph and Matt Bonner.
Baynes has potential but is extremely raw. Until he refines his offensive skills, he's nothing more than a big body.
As for Pendergraph, his career with the Indiana Pacers leaves plenty of room for improvement. Whether or not he'll make that jump in the upcoming season remains to be seen, but little is expected in his first year with the Spurs.
Bonner isn't young, but his 6'10'' frame isn't the reason for his mild success in the league.
Diaw is known for his ability to do everything, whether it be distribute, rebound, defend or score. However, while he is by no means a player on the rise, the lack of depth at his position will make his contributions even more important. A noticeable improvement from his end would help the Spurs significantly in their quest for a fifth title.
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When he was drafted in 2011, Kawhi Leonard was seen as little more than a defensive specialist with an outstanding work ethic.
Two years later, Leonard is a top-10 small forward and one of the most exciting young talents in the league.
In an interview at the Spurs' basketball camp, Leonard announced his desire to enter the superstar echelon. Given his impressive rookie and sophomore campaigns, his lofty goal is entirely reasonable.
He made an incredible jump last season, as he expanded his offensive game beyond three-point shooting. His defense also improved along with his rebounding.
In 2013-14, he'll be depended on to do even more. Ginobili is no longer a star, and Duncan's playing time will be limited. Even Tony Parker's court time will be cut down as coach Gregg Popovich has done in the past.
Leonard is young, explosive and overflowing with potential. If he continues on the upward trend that he has established, the Spurs will be very happy with their 2011 draft-day acquisition.
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Manu Ginobili will be given the difficult task of having to "step up" while also stepping down.
Following a complete collapse in the NBA Finals, Ginobili's time as a key component of San Antonio's offense was thought to be over. Then, R.C. Buford and company threw us a curveball when they signed the struggling shooting guard to a contract worth $7 million per year.
Despite the significant sum of money he will be given, Ginobili will undoubtedly assume a lesser role as a result of poor play, injuries and overall age.
However, he'll still see quite a bit of time on the court, and while there is plenty of depth at the guard position, an improvement from last year's unnerving campaign would help San Antonio morally and physically.
He's been an integral member in previous title runs, and a bounce-back season would all but guarantee the Spurs a fair shot at a fifth ring.
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With Ginobili accepting a lesser role, the roster's other shooting guards will be more important, thus the team will look for them to step up in the upcoming campaign.
Danny Green's style of play is very set, and he isn't going to perform much better than he did in the 2013 postseason. On the other hand, newly acquired Marco Belinelli brings a level of uncertainty to San Antonio.
His three-point shot is inconsistent, and he has yet to establish a home since coming from overseas. The Spurs will be his fifth squad since joining the league in 2005.
Ginobili spent the postseason hurting the team more than he helped it, and unless he manages to formulate a turnaround, Belinelli will be tasked with helping to keep his fellow shooting guard's inefficiencies hidden.
He won't be the team's starting shooting guard, but by the season's end, he should be their primary backup. The Spurs already have one uncontrollable, inconsistent guard on their roster, and while Belinelli has demonstrated similar characteristics, he must emerge as a consistent threat if he's going to lead the team's bench attack on a nightly basis.