Lowe: Spurs are title contenders this season


June 2, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) tries to keep control of the ball under pressure from San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and forward Stephen Jackson (3) during a playoff game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Thunder defeated the Spurs 109-103 Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

Though it may not seem like it — as the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers are a notch above the rest of the league — the San Antonio Spurs are a strong enough team to win a championship.

For reference: The online betting site Bovada.com gave the Spurs 18/1 odds this season. The Chicago Bulls, even with their bench unit in shambles and Derrick Rose out with an ACL injury, were given 14/1 odds. That isn’t disrespect per se, it may be merely a ploy to make money off the casual fans who are more inclined to bet on the Bulls, but it doesn’t inspire confidence either.

In Zach Lowe’s first post for Grantland, he placed all 30 teams into 10 tiers – ranging from real title contenders to the lottery bound teams.

The Spurs, along with Miami, Oklahoma City and the Lakers, fit into the real title contenders tier. The Boston Celtics — who were also given 18/1 odds — slotted into the puncher’s chance tier.

Lowe reasoned, like John Hollinger did in his season forecast, that San Antonio performed too well last season to be overlooked. Maintaining their mid-season pace, where outscoring the opposition by 15 points per 100 possessions was a common theme, will be difficult and unsustainable. The thing is that the Spurs don’t necessarily need to play that well to be considered bonafide contenders.

Here is Lowe on the Spurs:

It’s fine if you want to slide them into the next tier. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are old, and neither is quite capable of serving as a full-time go-to scoring centerpiece against dialed-in defenses. The Western Conference Finals had the feel of one team figuring out how to beat the other, in part because the brilliant Ginobili, the Spurs’ best all-around player, couldn’t score big on a night-to-night basis.

But Duncan and Ginobili stay productive every year, and the Spurs could find enough incremental internal improvements to offset any Ginobili/Duncan drop-off. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter should get even better, with Leonard perhaps developing into a top-shelf defender and a wing more capable of working off the dribble when the ball swings his way. Boris Diaw has a full season to help Gregg Popovich find the right balance in his big-man rotation, and Stephen Jackson is around to shoot and present small-ball options should that ideal big-man rotation never emerge. Nando de Colo and Patty Mills provide healthy competition for Gary Neal and could help Popovich limit Ginobili’s minutes.

And again: This team outscored opponents by an unthinkable 15 points per 100 possessions over 30-plus games last season, per NBA.com’s stats database. That kind of dominance earns some preseason respect, even if the Thunder left the Spurs’ defense and rotation in tatters.

So, yeah, all is not lost Spurs fans. Being among the elite teams, at this stage of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili’s careers, is a remarkable accomplishment. That won’t mean much if they don’t win a championship but most teams would love to be in the Spurs’ position regardless.