The 2012-13 season was—without a doubt—a roller coaster for the San Antonio Spurs and their fans. They entered the season overshadowed by the Los Angeles Lakers' offseason overhaul and the growing adoration for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, the team quickly hushed naysayers, riding its veterans to a prosperous regular season and an NBA Finals appearance.
Now, as they enter the 2013-14 campaign with questions regarding their status as contenders, the Spurs will look to follow the underdog model of yesteryear—potentially with a different ending.
Last year's roster has returned with motivation and a varied set of talents, alongside the best coach in the NBA. The stage is set and the spotlight is on for San Antonio to give the NBA one more unforgettable season.
Spurs 2012-13 Results
- 58-24 record (.707)
- First in Southwest Division
- Second in Western Conference
- Lost in NBA Finals to Miami Heat (4-3)
2012-13 was undoubtedly an overall successful season for the veteran squad. Despite the lack of hype entering the year, the team—carried by veterans Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, as well as sophomore Kawhi Leonard—enjoyed a lengthy postseason performance.
Under a Duncan resurgence and a spectacle from Parker's end, it's hard not to zero in on the Western Conference Finals as the pinnacle of success during last year's fruitful campaign. Clicking on both ends, the veteran squad performed in a near perfect manner en route to a sweep of the West's second best squad, the Memphis Grizzlies.
That said, the first half of the series against the Miami Heat must not be ignored. It provided a platform for a number of stars to shine; ranging from a throwback Manu Ginobili performance to the historic breakout of Danny Green.
However, while it can be viewed as a symbol of the team's success, it was the 2013 NBA Finals that also brought the most disappointment to San Antonio and its fans. They were one free throw, six seconds and/or a rebound away from capturing the title.
But, as the tale tells us, it simply wasn't their time. They fell just short, in a collapse that rendered the season just as heartbreaking as it was successful.
The upcoming year will feature another series of highs and lows. The team is undeniably capable of making one more run, though it will come down to whether or not the individual pieces can continue to perform at a high level.
No doubt, most eyes will be focused on Tim Duncan. Though Parker may be the team's top superstar, Duncan is the biggest question mark. At 37, he's way out of his prime—even if his 2012-13 stats suggest otherwise.
He has battled—rather successful, I might add—Father Time, and delivered what was seemingly a knockout blow last year when he rose above the league's other big men as the top player at his position.
But his undeviating foe will return for another showdown, and it will fall upon Duncan to keep on delivering. Another trip to the fountain of youth could spell another All-Star appearance, though if age gets the best of him, it will be hard for San Antonio to repeat their success of 2012-13.
Noteworthy Additions and Losses
It's a rarity that San Antonio makes a splash during the offseason, and despite increased cap flexibility, the Spurs' summer was, relative to the rest of the league, rather boring.
But, the team isn't perfect, and a few offseason moves were made in order to improve the contending squad.
The man formally known as Jeff Pendergraph is the newest big man to don black and silver.
The addition of Ayres—a.k.a. Pendergraph—serves to fill the void left by DeJuan Blair, who departed for Dallas as a free agent.
Blair's production will be missed, as he brought a rebounding tenacity and an overall toughness whenever his name was called—though by 2013, those instances were rare.
So, the front office decided to shake things up, opting to find a new player to take over for the undersized and disgruntled Blair.
Enter Pendergraph—I mean, Ayres.
The former Indiana Pacer brings a diverse repertoire, that encompasses the rebounding ability and post presence that Blair brought to the table, in addition to a reliable mid-range jumper—something Blair could have only dreamed of mastering.
Ayres' ability to shoot makes him a nice fit for San Antonio, who doesn't like to clump the middle. His effectiveness was seen throughout the season, and while he won't be too pivotal a contributor, he'll leave his mark nonetheless.
Also joining the squad is Marco Belinelli, who will replace Gary Neal.
Neal's aptitude for shooting three-pointers helped the undrafted shooting guard become a leading role player for San Antonio.
But, he found himself in a predicament, as his shooting prowess was comparable to that of shooting guards, though his size was in line with that of point guards.
That prevented Neal from reaching the next level, and like Blair, he was replaced with what the Spurs' front office hopes to be an upgrade.
Belinelli is a talented journeyman who has yet to find a home with an NBA team. San Antonio is his next stop, and depending on how he performs over the next two seasons, his trip may evolve into an extended stay.
Like Neal, Belinelli excels from beyond the arc. He's a threat, and while he's less consistent than Neal, defenses would be foolish to grant him space.
However, he's far less one-dimensional than Neal. He provides the team with size; he's a natural 2 who can play the 3, unlike Neal who was unnatural at both the 1 and the 2.
He is also a talented distributor and a quality ball handler, meaning he can be trusted to run the floor.
In Belinelli, the Spurs have a multi-faceted contributor with a strong foundation. If they continue in his development then they might very well find themselves with a sixth man to replace the aging Manu Ginobili.
I highlighted the ongoing storylines of Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard before the preseason, so to refrain from sounding repetitive, I'll zero in on a handful of the Spurs' other ongoing narratives.
The first of which comes regarding Tiago Splitter, the often ignored—but important—facet of the Spurs' starting lineup.
2012-13 was a watershed season for the Brazilian big man, who became a legitimate post option alongside Duncan. His defensive contributions during the Western Conference Finals helped to limit Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
However, after a Finals showing that can be summed up in one play...
...the question: is Splitter ready for what's ahead? has been widely discussed.
After all, he did sign a multi-year contract worth nine million per season. Aren't the Spurs investing a lot in a player whose most recent series left a bad taste in the fanbase's collective mouth?
The answer will be revealed soon, and Splitter will be scrutinized from the start. He's a valuable member on both ends—specifically as a high-post distributor and a pick-and-roll aficionado on offense.
But he did show us the other end of the spectrum during the Finals, and it will be interesting to see which Splitter shows up following his payday.
Also related to Finals disappointment, questions regarding San Antonio's ability to bounce back have become points of interest during the preseason.
The Spurs came so close, and recovering from such heartbreak will take time. Even a veteran squad like the Spurs won't forget what happened anytime soon.
But the loss can translate into the regular season in two different ways.
First, it could leave the team emotionally unprepared for what's ahead. They very well may have missed out on their final opportunity.
The second possibility is that the defeat serves as fuel to fight back. The motivation could be strong, and may very well push the team farther than they may have initially gone.
While Spurs fans certainly hope for the latter, nothing is predictable given the uniqueness of the collapse.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
|2013-14 San Antonio Spurs Depth Chart|
|Tony Parker||Danny Green||Kawhi Leonard||Tim Duncan||Tiago Splitter|
|Cory Joseph||Manu Ginobili||Jeff Ayres||Boris Diaw|
|Patty Mills||Marco Belinelli||Matt Bonner||Aron Baynes|
|Nando de Colo|
|Compiled based on numerous depth charts, including ESPN, Yahoo! and RealGM.|
It's the point guard position that features the team's best player, and perhaps its greatest depth.
Tony Parker has emerged as an perennial MVP-candidate; he has demonstrated little weakness. Offensively, he's both a scorer and an orchestrator, while maintaining a defensive presence. As the team's main catalyst, he'll set the tone for any success that is on its way.
Behind him sits a trio of talented reserves, each with a different specialty.
Cory Joseph, who ended as the team's primary backup, is a strong defender with a natural ability to run the floor and lead a team.
Patty Mills has shown signs of promise in the preseason, entering camp in shape and ready to fight for the backup role. He's an above-average three-point shooter and an overall scoring spark.
Nando de Colo undoubtedly sits at the end of the list. He's a passing specialist, but with a penchant to turn the ball over and an inconsistent shot, he'll likely find himself in street clothes more often than not.
Danny Green will assume the lead role of a strong pool of talented possibilities.
Green is the team's most dangerous three-point threat, and has jumped on every radar following a record-breaking performance in the Finals. He is also a lock-down perimeter defender, making him an asset on both ends.
But, he is limited elsewhere on offense. Until he provides more depth to his individual game, he'll be easy to contain. Still, if defenders are forced to remain focused on Green, he'll be an asset as it will open up opportunities for the team's superstars.
Manu Ginobili will serve as the primary sixth man, and as good as he once was, there's strong reason to believe that he's nothing more than a shadow of his former self.
His shot is inconsistent and his passes don't always find their mark. His NBA Finals performance was notoriously bad, aside from a throwback game.
That said, we all know his potential, and given the depth at the position, his contributions are a luxury.
Rounding out the position is Belinelli, who is Manu-esque in his play style. Mentioned before, his shooting and passing make him a valuable talent.
Overall, there's a lot of inconsistency to be expected from the shooting guard position, though its upside is through the roof.
The small forward position features one name, and one name only. The tantalizing Kawhi Leonard—who will be mentioned in depth later—is in store for an unforgettable year.
With a plethora of talented shooting guards, the lack of depth—especially considering Leonard's age—is by no means anything to worry about.
The stage is set for Leonard, and given what you've heard—and what you will soon hear—there's plenty to be excited about at the small forward position.
Is Tim Duncan a power forward or a center? Due to the lack of a concrete answer, we'll refer to him as the former.
Duncan's All-NBA First Team-worthy 2012-13 season caught plenty of glances. Previously thought to be on the decline, Duncan emerged as a top-tier big man capable of leading a team on both ends.
Offensively, he was a fixture down low, from mid-range and in the passing game. On defense, he was the team's dependable anchor.
But another year older, Duncan could easily be in store for a regression. That said, he's the most consistent player in the game today, and if his stats take a dip, it will be due to limited playing time, if anything.
Behind him is Ayres, who is by no means a stud. Still, as highlighted previously, his mid-range jump shot and overall post presence will be of use to the team. However, he's young and fairly raw, and while he could develop into a serviceable backup, his relative size deficiency will prevent him from becoming anything more than a role player.
Matt Bonner is the final power forward on the roster, though his play hardly reflects his 6'10'' frame. As a three-point threat, he can be a scoring threat when his number is called. But given his lack of a multi-dimensional attack, there's little reason to believe that he'll see much burn in what may be his final year as a Spur.
Oh Tiago Splitter. What shall be expected of you this season?
Will the team's final starter return to his days as a capable post contributor, or was the Finals a sign of things to come?
My gut leans with the former. It's time to get over one poor series, and focus on the numerous things that he did well on both ends. He's effective in the pick-and-roll and a quality passer given his size. On the defensive end and the boards, he has begun to shed his "soft" title as he becomes a legitimate big.
Boris Diaw is the team's top big man reserve. He's one of the most balance players in the league, being able to legitimately play any position on the offensive end. His passing skills are on par with that of a point guard; he can also score in just about every way. Though he is out of shape, he makes up for it with his unparalleled hustle and high basketball IQ.
Representing the polar opposite of Diaw is Aron Baynes, the second year center, who secretly leads a double life as a caesarean gladiator. He possesses top-notch physical tools, but lacks the refinement to be that effective.
He'll contribute on the boards and his physicality will be an asset on defense, but on offense, any scoring will be the result of sheer athleticism.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player: Kawhi Leonard
You are about to enter the S.S. Kawhi. Proceed with caution.
Spurs fans are excited about Kawhi Leonard. In fact, the entire NBA world is excited about Leonard.
No San Antonio player has drawn quite so much interest and praise in his early years since Duncan himself.
Even Popovich, who rarely complements players, has lauded his youngest star on multiple occasions.
Leonard had a fantastic rookie season, and after proving to be a legitimate threat on both ends in year two, an offseason of relentless practice from the man with the world's best work ethic could catapult him into All-Star contention.
Leonard is already a lock-down defender. On offense, he's a three-point threat and a great finisher. If his mid-range jumper—which wasn't half-bad last season—becomes reliable, then there's no end to the damage that Leonard could inflict on opposing defenses.
He may very well be the Paul George of 2013-14; like George in his breakout campaign, Leonard is entering his third season.
So yeah, get excited.
Team MVP: Tony Parker
Tim Duncan may be in store for another All-NBA campaign, but this is Tony Parker's team, and 2013-14 will be Tony Parker's season.
The offense runs through Parker, and he'll continue to be the source of every basket.
As a scorer, he's relentless and efficient. At the rim, he's unstoppable, but you can't give him space from mid-range.
Though he's not the greatest three-point shooter, his offensive game is so polished elsewhere that it is little worry.
Parker will be both a league-MVP-candidate, as well the team's top player.
Most Disappointing Player: Manu Ginobili
If Ginobili's Finals showing was an isolated incident, then there would be little to worry about.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. Ginobili was terrible throughout the postseason and ineffective—compared to his All-Star days—during the regular season.
Not to mention, he can barely survive a two month period without missing extended time.
For every Manu fan who is seeking redemption, the 2013-14 season will be filled with disappointment. He'll still have the frequent vintage performance, but this season will hardly resemble his glory days.
Player Most Likely To Be Traded: Matt Bonner
This is likely Matt Bonner's final season in the black and silver. The question is whether or not he lasts the entirety of the season.
The Spurs have numerous three-point threats, and despite the unforgettable run that he has had in the Alamo City, his services would be far more useful elsewhere.
Any team looking for a stretch 4 should inquire about Bonner; not only could he be of service, his $3.95 million contract comes off the books after the season.
The Spurs aren't ones to make too many deals, but if one occurs, the Red Rocket will likely be the one shipped out of town.
Biggest Rivalry: Spurs vs. Grizzlies
San Antonio is a top team in a deep Western Conference, so naturally there are a lot of rivalries awaiting them in the upcoming season.
The Thunder would have made a nice choice, but the injury to Russell Westbrook will limit the competitiveness that would have otherwise been extremely high. The Heat, too, shouldn't be completely neglected, but they don't share a conference.
Instead, the marquee matchup will be San Antonio against Memphis—a rematch of the Western Conference Finals.
Both teams remained quiet over the offseason, so much of the same can be expected for two teams that have split postseason series during the past few years.
The Grizzlies' post tandem always makes for a grit-and-grind matchup, and the Parker-Conley showdown never disappoints. After blowing them out last year, the Spurs seemingly have the edge, but you never know what to expect when these teams take the floor.
Best Case Scenario
If everything works out, San Antonio will enjoy their fifth title. They fell just short last year, and after improving the roster, there's little reason to believe that anything other than an improvement is in store.
To reach the Finals, the following will have to happen:
- Tony Parker will post MVP-caliber statistics
- Tim Duncan will remain an ageless enigma
- Kawhi Leonard will make the "Paul George" jump to a borderline All-Star
- Tiago Splitter will play as he did against Memphis for the majority of the season
- and either Manu Ginobili or Marco Belinelli will emerge as a lethal threat off the bench
Given that everything listed above is within the realm of possibility, there's a strong chance that the AT&T Center houses another championship banner sometime soon.
Age continues to be the greatest enemy against this veteran squad. Tim Duncan is on his final wheels, and though he hasn't shown it to a great extent, the slightest glimpse of his true age could severely limit the Spurs this season.
Similarly, if the Marco Belinelli experiment fails, an unhealthy and unproductive Ginobili would rob the team of the depth and second-unit success that they rely on so frequently.
Splitter remains a question mark, and the vast majority of other role players could make little or no improvement.
With the roster they have now, they are still a top team in the West. But even the slightest regression from any roster player could lower the Spurs' ceiling to a first- or second-round exit.
The Spurs entered training camp as a title contender, and after seeing them in action, there is little reason to expect anything aside from fundamental excellence.
In fact the Spurs may be better than their 2012-13 selves. Leonard has seemingly improved, as have Green and Splitter. Duncan is in fantastic shape, and Parker is at full healthy. Heck, even Ginobili has looked good.
The team is predicated on consistency, and when the postseason rolls around, San Antonio will find itself in the middle of all the drama.
Win-loss prediction: 57-25