I have a friend who, at the start of each new basketball seasons, looks at me, flashes a wide grin, and in his closest imitation of Avery Johnson exclaims “We’re back!”
Two words said in an echo of one of the Spurs’ greatest players ring in the only season that gets celebrated by every member of my family: basketball season. More unifying than Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter combined, the basketball season and support of the Spurs is the one thing every aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, tio, tia, abuelita, and abuelito can rally behind.
Which was why it was so infuriating to watch millionaires and billionaires argue over millions. Average people, both the ones who worked the arenas and the ones who supported the games by buying tickets, were waiting for the return of basketball. Now it’s here, and it’s safe to say that many people in the Rivercity are wondering what the heck the Spurs have become during the offseason.
That’s not surprising. The incredibly brief preseason has showcased either brand new players or players who saw little time on the court last year.
Tiago Splitter is the most recognizable of the young guns on this Spurs team, a player who saw limited minutes due to lack of familiarity in the system and, frankly, better production from players ahead of him. The hope is that this year he shines.
James Anderson is another returning player who saw few minutes, though Anderson’s problem lay in his injuries. He is yet another player of whom much is expected. Familiarity with the system, even apart from game time, should allow him to contribute quickly.
Danny Green was picked up by the Spurs in the earlier part of the 2010-2011 campaign after he was waived by the Cavaliers, but was waived by the Spurs as well. He was brought back later in the year, and another big question mark hangs over this young man. However, like Anderson and Splitter, he at least has familiarity in the system.
The biggest issues lie with newcomers Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard and T.J. Ford. Joseph, a draft pick out of UT Austin, will be backing up the guard position. In his two preseason games he scored 7 and 4 points while averaging 17 minutes.
While Cory is a somewhat unknown factor, high hopes are placed on the last two newcomers. The Spurs traded fan favorite George Hill to the Pacers in order to get Leonard, and with his size he is expected to help shore up the Spurs frontcourt at the small forward position.
Most notable of these new players is T.J. Ford. A veteran of the NBA at this point, having played 8 years on several teams, his early time in the league was unfortunately marked by injury. San Antonio fans will also likely remember him from his time at UT Austin. Having hovered around 12 points per game throughout his career, Ford is coming off an unproductive offensive season in Indiana. However, his defense has been noted as a highlight and without the burden to score, he’ll be able to penetrate and set up other players without much worry.
Enough with new names, though. What sort of dream scenario emerges from all this?
Well, Tim Duncan is still the team’s best big man. That may or may not be a good thing. As he ages, Spurs fans keep hoping for either a great draft that lands a capable replacement, or perhaps a miracle return from retirement by a rejuvenated David Robinson. Barring those outcomes, the Spurs will have to hope that Tiago Splitter plays strong defense in the post and works on his rebounding. While he doesn’t have to be an incredible offensive presence, he does need to be able to play strong in the paint The Spurs’ frontline has gotten younger, but also weaker, with the loss of Antonio McDyess.
Leonard and Anderson are separated by an inch of height and ten pounds of weight, so while Leonard is listed at forward and Anderson is listed at guard, there may be times when their roles interchange. Anderson showed flashes of great play last year as well as during the preseason, and while we haven’t seen much of Leonard, he demonstrated calm under pressure when he nailed a last second jumper from near the three point arc to seal the last preseason game against Houston. You may also look for Green to fill in around the guard-forward position.
Cory and Ford will both be expected to backup the guard position, but look for TJ Ford to become Parker’s primary backup. His experience and quickness will allow him to drive the ball deep into the paint, freeing up players on the perimeter. If he focuses on his defensive skills as he did last year, and continues to work on setting up other players, he may turn out to be a far more adequate backup point guard than any player the Spurs fronted last year (outside of Manu Ginobili, of course).
Perhaps the most glaring issue is the glut of forwards and guards and the lack of true centers. A great center doesn’t have to be a Shaq sized player (though that can help), but he does need to be able to consistently rebound and play tough defense in the post against other seven footers. While Spurs fans tend to love DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner, none have shown themselves to be incredibly effective against the true centers on other teams. Most likely, it will fall to an older, though leaner, Tim Duncan to shoulder the weight of post defense. How this plan pans out can only be speculated, but the Spurs will need to learn lessons from last years postseason fall to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Still, the fact of the matter is that basketball is back. The San Antonio Spurs are back. Fans are going to get to see the Big Three of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan leading a mixed groups of vets and rookies in an attempt to win one more ring. The SBC Center is going to start rocking soon, and it all starts today as the Memphis Grizzlies come into town in a rematch of last year’s opening playoff round. Get ready to get loud, San Antonio.