For all of those who have already made reservations for Los Angeles and Miami in June, allow me to be the bearer of bad news: get your deposits back. Or get ready to do some nice sightseeing. The Spurs will play big-time spoilers. This article will tell you why.
Don't get lazy. Let's look past the obvious choices: Pop. Duncan. Ginobili. Parker. They are NOT the reason. Well, at least not the only reason.
The reason why I think that the Spurs will not only contend, but win the NBA championship this year (in the face of the Lakers & Heat projections), is that the depth on this team will produce not only critical plays, but also step up to the challenge of playing championship basketball.
Let's face facts, Gregg Popovich primary focus is on the postseason. As such, lineups we see in November and December may not be seen again until May and June. These players will not win any individual awards, but may very well be wearing championship rings come this time next year.
These players are almost interchangeable to a degree, and they will be ready to contribute at different points of the marathon-like NBA season. Just be patient, Spurs fans, these guys will help get banner number five raised up in the AT & T Center next October. It's just that I want to temper enthusiasm for the first 50 or so games, because Pop will continually yo-yo minutes between the entire roster until he gets it just to his liking come the spring.
With that being said, let's look at the key players:
1. Richard Jefferson (F) — This former All-Star WILL perform much better this year than last. His understanding of the Spurs system (which is admitted by all familiar with it, is very complex) this season will allow him to react and play, as opposed to think and try to play. His track record has been too consistent for him to just fall off of the face of the NBA planet after one year in the Alamo City.
2. James Anderson (SG/SF) — The Big 12 scoring champion from last season is a typical Spurs rookie. He was overlooked and lasted longer in the draft than he should have, he can play defense and he has more maturity than most rookies. He will be able to spell Jefferson and Ginobili at the wing positions and not have too precipitous a drop off in production. He can score, this we know, but his ability to get after his man defensively will enable Pop to both trust him early and play him often.
3. DaJuan Blair (C/PF) — The second-year player is in position to start next to big Tim Duncan upfront. Who plays center and who plays power forward? Who cares? They both can rebound, post up, and according to reports, can both hit the mid-range jumper now. Blair has expanded his range to about 15 feet out, which means no sagging off him with a big to double Duncan down low, and vice versa.
4. Tiago Splitter (C/PF) — The big Brazilian has been seasoning himself overseas and is ready to jump right in the fire of the Association. He has readied himself by racking up Euroleague championships and MVP awards in the second-best league in the world. Unlike Timofey Mozgov for the Knicks, his learning curve should be much lower, allowing him to get after it soon.
5. George Hill (PG/SG) — Hill has been groomed for the last two years to step in for Tony Parker whenever he comes off the court, out of the game or leaving San Antonio as a player overall. (BTW, I don't think Parker will be traded at all, unless it happens over the off-season as part of a sign and trade, Pop just doesn't operate like that, with big in-season deals.) Anyway, I digress. Hill is ready to both run the team when Parker is out, and run it with him when he stays in. His defense and offense will necessitate that he gets major minutes in 2010-11. Think back to a smaller version of Gary Payton and Nate McMillan during the Sonic heydays to think of two PGs playing together. Hill is ready for his closeup as both big-time sixth-man, and as key contributor.
This does not mention bench stalwarts like Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner and expected contributors like James Gist, Alonzo Gee and Gary Neal, but you get the idea.
I say, see you in June, with this crew.