10 Things We Learned About San Antonio Spurs in First Week of Training Camp
Despite a successful 2012-13 campaign, plenty remains unclear regarding the Spurs' mindset and the state of each individual player for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
With training camp well underway and the preseason contests quickly approaching, answers are beginning to surface concerning one of the league's most mysterious squads.
Marco Belinelli Has Picked a Mentor
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Marco Belinelli has picked a mentor, and if you're familiar with his skill set, his selection should come as no surprise.
As reported by Spurs Nation's Dan McCarney, the team's most talked-about addition has set his sights on fellow shooting guard Manu Ginobili as a model for himself.
It’s a little bit crazy because we are going to play together on a big (NBA) team. I would like to be like him. I’m going to look at him like a dad. I think he’s going to help me a lot this year and that’s good for me.
This had been predicted well before Belinelli made his admiration public; both foreign talents possess an eerily similar skill set, and Belinelli will benefit significantly from the tutelage of one of San Antonio's all-time greats.
Ginobili, like his apprentice, is known for lethal shooting in addition to distributing abilities that extend beyond the repertoires of most non-point guards. The two also share a unique driving and finishing ability in addition to a sense of "flash" than only Manu mimickers have mastered.
In response to Belinelli's praise, Ginobili shared a few laudatory comments of his own, per McCarney.
He’s a complete player who does a little bit of everything well. He’s going to be really important. The last couple of years he’s turned into a seasoned, developed player. Before he was more a talented kid who could get hot. But the last two years I think he accomplished a regularity that made him a great player.
Predictable or not, the relationship between two similar players—one veteran and one on the rise—makes for a nice preseason story as well as one that will continue to develop as the season unfolds.
Tony Parker Is Healthy and Ready
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Tony Parker may have fallen short of an NBA title last season, but he experienced his fair share of glory this summer, leading France to a victory in the European basketball championship.
Despite complaining about fatigue following the tournament, the team's most integral contributor appears rested and ready to go.
His initial comments regarding his health surfaced after he averaged nearly 30 minutes for Team France, against the wishes of General Manager R.C. Buford, per Mark Woods of ESPN.
However, despite a long summer that followed an even more grueling NBA season, Parker told Dan McCarney that he's prepared for the season ahead.
I feel great. I’m so excited to start with the Spurs and try to win a championship. I get another opportunity to get Timmy out with another championship. So I’m ready to go. I love basketball. I’m very passionate about it. The way I play, I’ll be fine.
This is good news for any Spurs fan concerned about the health of the team's leading man. Similar questions surfaced last season, after his infamous cornea injury drew inquiries about his well-being prior to the season's start, but the superstar point guard didn't let it affect his MVP-caliber season.
The team will rely heavily on his contributions, and another standout campaign is required if San Antonio expects to chase another championship.
With its top player at full strength, it appears as though it is already in a good place to contend.
Patty Mills Is in Shape, Competing for the Backup Point Guard Spot
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In what is likely a minor story—but still one of note—it appears as though Patty Mills desires to be more than just a towel-waver in the upcoming campaign. He worked hard over the offseason and now has the abs to prove it.
Observed during the team's public scrimmage on October 6, Mills has trimmed an exceptional amount of fat; he'll likely use his slim, new figure to help him chase a higher position in the Spurs' point guard pecking order.
As of now, Cory Joseph is the favorite to land the lead backup spot. He started opposite Tony Parker during the scrimmage and received the biggest role in the 2013 postseason.
Still, with Mills and Nando de Colo around, nothing is ever certain.
The new-look Mills pitched in 10 points, three assists and three steals for Team Silver—the foundation of his case for more playing time.
And to top it off, he gave the crowd—and all those watching via the live broadcast—a glance at his new figure after taking off his shirt following the scrimmage.
Danny Green Is Expanding His Offensive Game
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Sometimes, being a record-holding three-point threat isn't enough.
Danny Green has developed a reputation for fitting the mold of the new "three and D" players—a title given to lockdown defenders who specialize in three-point shooting.
But Green, who broke out in the 2013 NBA Finals, wants to shed the tag and become a well-rounded offensive player.
He used the offseason as a stage to develop new offensive tools, including a pull-up jump shot and an improved driving game, as reported by John Diaz of Project Spurs.
Anticipating stronger perimeter defense, Green's initiative will be crucial in keeping defenses honest, instead of strictly locking him down beyond the arc.
He gave fans a glimpse of this improvement during the scrimmage, and if it translates directly into the regular season, he'll provide San Antonio with another deadly scoring option.
Now if only he could learn to handle the ball...
San Antonio Is All-in on Kawhi Leonard
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Kawhi Leonard has had the Spurs fanbase buzzing since his rookie season, but it appears as though a significant role increase should be expected for the rising small forward in his third professional season.
After an incredible playoff performance, Leonard and his offseason improvements drew excessive praise from the entire Spurs organization.
Coach Gregg Popovich, who is notoriously tough to please, showed no restraint in commending the team's next star, during a media day interview with Hoopsworld's Yannis Koutroupis.
I think Kawhi is the new [Tony] Parker, [Manu] Ginobili, [Tim] Duncan kind of guy. ... He’s going to take over as the star of the show as time goes on. Timmy and Manu have obviously figured out a way to continue to play very well and be at the top of their games at their age. Tony is still young enough to be the star that he is, but he’ll get older too and that’s where Kawhi comes in. He’s been phenomenal. He’s improved more quickly than any player we’ve ever had because his mindset is such that he wants to be great and he has all the reasons to be so we have to put him in the position where he can be a great player.
Last season, Leonard displayed an offensive improvement, expanding on his defensive prowess. He became a more well-rounded scoring threat and displayed greater confidence when running the floor. By the season's end, he was also a reliable double-digit rebounder.
The 22-year-old is known for his unparalleled work ethic, and in an offseason that was spent developing any facet that wasn't yet perfected, Leonard will be one of the team's most important players on a nightly basis.
If he continues his upward trend, Leonard will be perennial All-Star. If his summer improvement is truly remarkable, his series of All-Star appearances may begin before you know it.
Tim Duncan Is No Old Man
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Guess who's back? Back again?
In a saga that seems almost laughable at this point, the league's youngest 37-year-old is primed for another season of excellence.
After finishing last season as the best big man in the league, Tim Duncan proved that age isn't a factor in evaluating greatness. In 2013-14, he'll have another opportunity to further defy the ruthless aging clock.
Most veterans—especially those with little to prove—often use the extended rest period as a time to relax and revitalize.
Not Timmy. In a fashion that can only be expected from himself and Kobe Bryant, the aging power forward returned to camp slimmer and in better shape.
His energy drew compliments from many, including new Spurs addition Jeff Ayres. "That guy’s got young legs man,” Ayres told Project Spurs' Paul Garcia after the team's open scrimmage. “He’s out there moving looking great.”
Garcia went on to note that Duncan often looked like the leanest player on the floor, which may have been a factor in his 11 points and eight rebounds in just three quarters.
A rejuvenated Timmy bodes well for the entire Spurs roster; as long as he performs at a high level in the regular season, the rest of the squad will follow suit.
Corey Maggette Is the Current Favorite to Win the 15th Roster Spot
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With the exception being the backup point guard position, the vast majority of the Spurs' depth chart has been decided for a long while.
As a result, the 15th roster spot competition between Sam Young and Corey Maggette—and a few others with a fractional chance of making the final cut—has become a point of interest, and it appears as though the latter has the slight upper hand.
Though their role on the team would be minimal, the two small forward candidates each have something to offer the squad.
Young is a defensive ace whose youth gives him the greater upside over the veteran Maggette. But Maggette is a capable offensive player, and offense is an area in which Young is virtually useless.
After scoring eight points and displaying an overall offensive confidence in the scrimmage, Maggette is seemingly the early favorite to capture the final roster spot.
There's still plenty of time, and an in-squad scrimmage is borderline meaningless, but statistically, Maggette has enjoyed the stronger start.
The Spurs Will Have an Easier Time Capturing the No. 1 Seed
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None, perhaps, was more affected than the San Antonio Spurs, who have engaged in a two-man race with the Thunder toward the ends of the past two seasons, each eyeing the top playoff seed.
But this season might prove to be different, as Oklahoma City has suffered a setback that will likely result in a slow start.
Westbrook, whose injury in last year's playoffs resulted in an early exit for the Thunder, will miss the first four to six weeks of the season. If the Oklahoma City Durants struggle as they did in last year's postseason, then it's reasonable to expect San Antonio—and other Western teams, for that matter—to enjoy a nice head start.
There Are Still a Lot of Questions Left to Be Answered
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Despite the things that have become apparent in the opening week of training camp, a lot remains unanswered regarding the team.
Duncan may have looked relatively smooth in the practice, but fans are still left in the dark regarding his usage.
And as for Tiago Splitter, his offseason improvements remain unclear, and Spurs fans are seeking the slightest assurance that he was worth his rather large contract.
Of course, the biggest question lingers around Manu Ginobili, whose postseason was unforgettable—but in a bad sense.
He credited a significant amount of his struggles to injury, and it remains unknown whether he's feeling 100 percent, or if he even has the capabilities to be a top performer ever again.
While we may have been given a glimpse toward the improvements made by guys like Leonard and Mills, there's plenty that is left to be discovered in the coming weeks.
If Anything, the Spurs Got Better
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Though it remains to be seen whether or not this multitude of improvements translates into the regular season, it appears as though the Spurs are an upgraded version of last year's roster.
The vast majority of this stems from Leonard's supposed offseason growth, as he alone could truly be the difference in bringing this contending squad over the top.
We know what Parker will do, and though he's old, Duncan's consistency allows for predictions to be made on his regard as well.
But Leonard is on the verge of becoming more than a role player, and someone with his foundation, age, room to grow and work ethic could make significant strides in the span of a single summer.
Danny Green, too, could be dangerous if he has truly expanded his offensive game. Alongside capable scorers in Leonard, Parker and Duncan, Green—and the entire Spurs team—could really benefit if defenses are forced to stretch their focuses too thin.
Even Belinelli appears to add a certain dynamic that Gary Neal could not, especially as a distributor.
Though its offseason transactions were not abundant, improvements all around ensure that the squad is a better version of its 2012-13 Western Conference-winning self.