Immediate Hurdles the San Antonio Spurs Will Face This Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2013

This season, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard want to walk off the court celebrating.
This season, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard want to walk off the court celebrating.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs enter the 2013-14 season as defending Western Conference champions, and NBA title aspirations will remain at an all-time high for Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

San Antonio's core is the same—as every year—but the small changes in the middle of the roster will impact the Spurs at the beginning of the season.

Head coach Gregg Popovich is no stranger to new challenges, and there will immediately be a few hurdles facing his San Antonio team.

But since the Spurs have veteran leadership and a roster very familiar with one other, it seems the best question is how long it will take for the team to overcome these difficulties, rather than if they will.

Point Guard Rotation

Tony Parker is typically a reliable player, but the 12th-year pro has been slightly injury-prone over the last nine months, suffering ankle, hamstring and knee injuries.

Parker missed 16 games last season and was hobbled by his hamstring during the NBA finals, however, San Antonio had Gary Neal coming off the bench to eat many of Parker's minutes.

This year, Cory Joseph joins Nando De Colo and Patty Mills as the reserves. He waffled between the NBA and the NBA Development League, but for good reason—Joseph wanted to improve rather than sit on the bench, as noted by's Ken Rodriguez.

When Joseph was playing for the Spurs, he averaged 4.5 points, 1.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds. But the most encouraging stat was his per-36 minute line during the playoffs, as Joseph tallied 11.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the most pivotal part of the season.

Joseph is capable of taking on the second-string responsibilities for San Antonio, but if he struggles, De Colo and Mills will be forced to step up.

Throughout summer league action, De Colo played 31.8 minutes, scored 11.3 points and dished 4.0 assists per game. However, the problems that plagued De Colo were shooting efficiency and ball control. He shot just 34.0 percent from the field, connected on just 22.2 percent of his three-point attempts and committed 3.3 turnovers per contest.

Mills has been a solid end-of-the-bench player, but Popovich seems fully contented to use the Australian in that role.

Popovich is certainly patient with his players, and he will give Joseph a longer leash early in the year. But if the point guard heading into his third season does not produce, the Spurs must turn to other options, such as Manu Ginobili running the point.

And there are, unfortunately, quite a few recent bad Ginobili memories lingering right now.

Incorporating Marco Belinelli

San Antonio's "major" splash during free agency was the signing of Marco Belinelli.

Plus, with the emergence of Danny Green and presence of Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have plenty of talent at the shooting guard position.

Essentially, Belinelli may simply take over the minutes left by Neal, so there's that easy option.

But throughout his career, Belinelli has shown signs of being a fantastic three-point shooter. Though his numbers have dipped recently, to this point in his career, Belinelli achieved his peak performance while Chris Paul was directing the-then New Orleans Hornets.

A 38.7 percent career shooter from distance, Belinelli knocked down 41.4 percent of his triples during 2010-11. Conversely, as the third scoring option with the Chicago Bulls last season, he converted on just 35.7 percent of his three-point attempts.

Tony Parker is a pretty solid distributor for San Antonio, so if history is any indication, it would be in the Spurs' best interest to get Belinelli some minutes alongside Parker.

Otherwise, Belinelli is in a backup role with Ginobili and another point guard, which leads into the last hurdle.

Who is the Backup Small Forward?

Kawhi Leonard is blossoming into the next stud for San Antonio, but he is, quite frankly, the only true small forward on the Spurs' roster.

Duncan has certainly taught Leonard a few lessons.
Duncan has certainly taught Leonard a few lessons.Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Livio Jean-Charles, San Antonio's 2013 first-round draft pick, could eventually fill the backup void, but the 19-year-old will not be playing professionally in the States this season.

Two weeks ago, former Indiana Pacers forward Sam Young met with San Antonio (h/t Project Spurs), but it seems talks have not intensified since then.

Because the Spurs' offensive scheme is based on an up-tempo, transition-heavy style, a combination of three power forwards and centers is certainly out of the question. The only way this scenario would be feasible is a lineup something to the tune of Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw—but that's simply not optimal.

So, Popovich could utilize his depth at guard and put a small lineup on the floor. A grouping of Cory Joseph, Ginobili and Belinelli is conceivable, especially since each player is fully capable of handling the ball in a unit where a respective player does not need to be a facilitating force.

This appears to be the most likely option, but signing a free agent such as Young remains a possibility, too.


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