From a health standpoint, the San Antonio Spurs began the season on the right note.
Despite having a veteran core, the team was able to avoid any significant injury throughout 2013. Then, with the turn of the year came a twist in luck for the team, who then watched player after player succumb to injury and miss extended time.
Even so, Gregg Popovich has managed to extract the most from his short-handed squad, as the Spurs currently sit second in the Western Conference despite such awful luck.
However, Patty Mills is bound to return to earth sometime in the near future—though he should remain an integral bench spark—and unfortunately even the great Austin Daye will provide little defensive relief if both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are forced to miss shared time.
Fortunately, the team is well-rounded to the point where a single injury is survivable—that is, to an extent.
Some players are more important than others, and despite the team's fortified bastion, there are a few players whose absence could potentially spell doom.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
Both Leonard and Green provide the team with something that no other rotation player can: impenetrable defense along the perimeter.
Together, they constitute one of the deadliest defensive tandems in the league, as their length, athleticism and overall ability to lock down stars make them invaluable to the squad.
Note: I pinpointed Green and Leonard's defense in greater depth here.
Their offense, on the other hand, needs to be refined before they can be considered lethal contributors on that end. Leonard is slowly recovering from his slow start, while Green has been on a hot streak recently, although both are replaceable on that end.
On defense, however, the Spurs would be in a predicament if forced to go on without both of their young perimeter stoppers.
Fortunately, the chance that both Green and Leonard reinjure themselves at the same time is slim, and the team could certainly survive with just one—though it wouldn't be a walk in the park either.
Leonard has proven himself as a capable counter to superstars, as witnessed in his output against LeBron James in last year's NBA Finals.
Green too has demonstrated the ability to prevent players like Stephen Curry from dominating the team.
With just one of them leading the perimeter, the Spurs can certainly carry on, though they will have to make adjustments. If they miss collective time, however, later in the season, things could get messy on the defensive end for San Antonio.
Worry Meter: 4
There once was a day in which an injury to Manu Ginobili might signify trouble.
Fortunately, that day has passed.
As Ginobili's injury-riddled career tumbles on, the team has made the necessary precautions to ensure that his absence does not hurt their success too much.
The addition of Marco Belinelli has been pivotal, as has the breakout of Patty Mills. Both guards possess the ability to score in masses off the bench while also adding an extra ball-handler and distributor.
Of course, Ginobili has been enjoying a bounce-back campaign, and the Spurs are undoubtedly better when graced with his presence. That said, compared to some of the team's other players, Ginobili is anything but a major injury concern at this point.
Worry Meter: 2
Tiago Splitter is not a superstar by any stretch of the imagination. However, he is one of the most valuable members on the team.
Unlike the overstocked backcourt, the frontcourt lacks significant depth. Aside from Splitter and Tim Duncan—who has not missed extended time yet this season—there is a shortage of true big men. Only Boris Diaw fits the bill as a completely capable reserve, making Splitter's role vastly important.
Luckily, the Brazilian big has proven himself worthy, having turned in a season-long defensive performance that might make Popovich glow. He has been efficient in defending other shooters at the rim and has showed that he is more than simply a big body.
Throw in an improving offensive game and a solid ability to rebound, and Splitter is one of the few true big men on the roster. With Duncan's rest always important, it is imperative that Splitter stays healthy too.
Worry Meter: 6
Patty Mills has filled in quite nicely for Tony Parker, having shot and distributed at a high rate since Parker went down with injury.
Still, the Spurs' chances of losing triple every second that Parker is not on the court.
While the team itself may have numerous assets to fill in for the team's lone All-Star, Parker's presence will still be required for the team to make a deep playoff run.
He provides the Spurs with everything—scoring, passing, leadership—and even with Mills' recent success, there are few guards in the league who are more valuable than Parker.
He'll need to make a clean recovery, and considering that Popovich seems inclined to rest his players tactfully, Parker simply needs to take it slow until the playoffs come.
San Antonio will only travel as far as their French floor leader takes them, and while the Spurs' backcourt may be deep, a choppy return from Parker could have drastic consequences.
Worry Meter: 8
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