It is no secret that the San Antonio Spurs have reminded everyone once again that they are not going away, despite the media’s consistent downplaying of them as a true “contender.” The Spurs have started a red-hot 40-8, something no one could have predicted considering a lackluster last year which most notably saw Richard Jefferson fail to incorporate his style of play successfully into the Spurs' game plan.
Now, with the Spurs beginning their rodeo road trip (which started off with a loss to Portland), the team will now begin to come together even more than they already have so far this year. When one looks at the Spurs start and how they have been able to get so far ahead of their Western rivals so early, a few things jump out right away.
First off, Manu Ginobili has become an automatic MVP candidate this year based on his stellar play. No longer is he dealing with the injuries that hurt the Spurs' title chances over the last few years (dating back to when he was playing on one leg in the '08 playoffs), as the left-handed Argentinean is averaging 18.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.8 apg and 1.8 spg so far this year.
Secondly, Richard Jefferson has regained his confidence and is having a huge bounce-back season, becoming a corner three-ball threat much like Bruce Bowen was during his time with the team. Add in a few acrobatic dunks and alley-oops, and R.J. looks just like his old self.
Perhaps most surprisingly, despite all these good things, Tim Duncan is averaging career lows in both points per game and rebounds per game. You would think with that being the case that the Spurs would be considering potentially looking into dealing their big man, or perhaps starting to talk to him about the possibility of retirement.
Not even close.
The Spurs are in fact doing a superb job saving the best of Duncan for the postseason, where the Spurs will most likely meet those dreaded Los Angeles Lakers for yet another epic playoff series.
When one considers all these facts, as well as the fact that Duncan is 34 and turning 35 on April 25, one has to ask if this might be Tim’s best chance to win “the one for the thumb.”
After all, just like Duncan is not getting any younger; neither is Ginobili. In fact, when one looks at how recklessly Manu has played in his career (and has continued to play) and the hits his body has taken over the years, it might not be surprising to see the two of them retire together the same year.
One would have to assume that this might be the Spurs' best chance to give their franchise player his fifth ring. It is no secret that the Spurs are an elder squad when one looks at their starting lineup and a couple bench reserves (Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner).
Although the team is raising the next generation already (Gary Neal, George Hill, James Anderson, Tiago Splitter, and DeJuan Blair)—there is only one Tim Duncan.
Recently, head coach Gregg Popovich was asked if he thought that his team was the best team in the league, to which he appropriately responded, “Just because you have the best record does not mean that you are the best team in the league.”
The Spurs, as always, will remain focused throughout the regular season and will be ready to pounce on their opponents once the playoffs start.
With Manu playing MVP basketball, Tony Parker adding in a three-pointer to his offensive arsenal, DeJuan Blair releasing the beast inside him more frequently and a budding bench ready to chip in when called upon, the Spurs have to be considered a top-three favorite to take home the crown at this juncture.
You certainly could not say that last year, and God only knows if the team’s luck with health this year will continue on to next year, so one has to assume that this is the team’s best chance to add another ring to their collection.
It will not be the end of the world if they don’t do it, but it will definitely be hard with an even older Duncan and Ginobili next year, who will undeniably start to question themselves as to if they will win another ring before they call it quits.
I said it before the season began, and I still stand by my prediction: I believe that the Spurs will win their fifth ring this year, with Duncan further cementing his legacy as one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball.