Submitted by Guy Neville of NBA Draft Daily for Hoops Talk Nation
So begins another NBA season for the San Antonio Spurs. Many have already forgotten that they were tied for the best record in last season. Folks have tossed them down the rankings due to recent off season additions out West, most notably those of the Lakers and Thunder. Fear not though Spurs fans, there are quite a few reasons to be optimistic in what is slowly becoming a retirement village at the AT&T Center.
The core of what has arguably been a Spur’s dynasty returns with Tony Parker, Many Ginobli and the re-signed Tim Duncan. Outside of this we see the return of other seasoned veterans like the ever chubby Boris Diaw and the “Carrot Topped Assassin” Matt Bonner. These are all guys that we know and love but it is the youth coming through the San Antonio ranks that should have us all excited.
The key to this season for the Spurs is to improve themselves from within. What they have works and this was shown last season. It is more or less a matter of improving this already successful lineup and hoping for improvement from their younger players coming off the bench.
The success of the Spurs in the 2012/13 season hinges on the play of Kawhi Leonard. After cracking Gregg Popovich’s starting lineup in his rookie season we saw consistent and solid play from Leonard. His numbers didn’t jump off the page but his contribution was undeniable and this should only increase with another NBA offseason under his belt. Leonard’s basketball instincts are incredible, he simply knows where to be on the floor at all times in order to capitalize on opportunities to score, rebound and defend. His shooting stroke last year was solid at 49.3% from the field and 37.6% from the perimeter and this in conjunction with increased playing time should result in a big jump from last years 7.9ppg average. The fact is, this is Leonard’s year to break out and take another step towards becoming a star in the league.
Another bright light for this season will be Danny Green, another guy that Popovich pulled out of nowhere and turned into a starter. The North Carolina product averaged 9.1 points in 38 starts last season and with guys like Ginobli and Stephen Jackson ageing it makes sense for the role of Green to grow this season. He will start the year with a guaranteed contract for the first time in his career, hopefully this security will allow him to simply focus on playing to his potential. Re-signing Green was a no brainer and apart from the signing of Nando De Colo from France the Spurs (read more about him here) were very quiet this offseason.
The X-Factor for this season could well be the play of Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter. Highly touted on his arrival from playing in Spain expectations were high and Splitter was expected to develop into the eventual successor of Duncan. While this isn’t quite the case, he still has much to offer and after a strong Olympic campaign with his nation he could be poised to take a big step forward in terms of his role on this team. Lets face it, Diaw is a solid player but matched up against a team like the Lakers with Gasol and now Howard more length is required. Splitter can offer this on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor.
Going into the season another question that lingers in the air relates to the position of DeJuan Blair on the Spurs roster. Yes, he is still a member of the team but his fall from grace must be noted. A starter for Popovich in previous years he is now relegated to the bench where he saw limited action in the preseason. All signs point towards the Spurs dealing him before the trade deadline and it will be interesting to see the offers that they field. San Antonio requires more young legs to cover the aging stars and there is potential for a Blair trade to offer this.
Overall, while many people are pessimistic about the Spurs chances in 2012/13 there is still hope. Lets not forget who these guys are. They were one of the best teams in the league last year. They are lead into battle by a tried and tested core of veterans with an exciting group of youngsters right behind them. They are coached by one of the greatest basketball minds of the past decade. None of this should be forgotten, and if it should be we will see San Antonio emerge from the West as a dark horse for the championship once again. This could be one of the last runs they make on the old legs of Timmy and Manu but heck, I think we all know better than to count them out.