The San Antonio Spurs youth movement and next chapter is under way as Thursday the team officially signed six players. The baton has been passed.
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Yes, Tim Duncan is officially gone, and retired. Yes Manu Ginobili is in the final year of his NBA career. Yes Tony Parker is getting older, and not exactly what he used to be. It is difficult to come to the conclusion that things are about to change really quickly, but they are happening right before us, and it’s time. The baton is no longer in the same hands.
It’s not really a surprise to know it, but the Spurs have been preparing for this for some time now, albeit slowly.
The first option on offense has been adjusted to go through Kawhi Leonard. The current perimeter oriented NBA calls for having a great scoring point guard, an elite swingman, or both, and after working hard on his shot last summer, Leonard stepped up this past season to assume more responsibility.
Not only did he play stellar defense and terrorize opponents, but his scoring output jumped from 16.5 points per game in the previous season, to 21.2 points per game this season. To add to that, the Spurs recruited LaMarcus Aldridge who stepped in the role as a second option. Not only does he have a soft touch on his jump shot, but he can mix it up in the post a bit as well. He found a comfort zone within the Spurs’ offense, and ended the season averaging 18.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, just a point below his career high average.
Looking at the Spurs’ regular season record, it was the most successful season since their existence in the NBA, with a record 67 wins. They tied the Boston Celtics for the best home record in NBA history (40-1), and tied the 1970-72 Milwaukee Bucks for the most wins by 25 points (15). This was all done while Duncan had his worst season, a career low in minutes played, and one where he netted games with no rebounds or points.
Apr 3, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol (16) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks guard Tyler Ennis (11) during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Spurs still managed to outscore opponents by an average of 10.5 points per game without his dominance on display, and integrating Aldridge into the teams offense. Now that Duncan is gone, the Spurs have recruited another fantastic big man in Pau Gasol. Gasol is on the wrong side of 30, but still very useful and productive as you could expect from an all star big man. Last season he averaged 16.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game for the Chicago Bulls.
It will take some time to integrate Gasol into the offense and culture, but he’s intelligent enough to fit into any team based scheme, and has never had an issue being a good teammate. In short, he’s a great professional fit for the current Spurs roster. Gasol brings more length for rebounding and both high and low post scoring as well as smart passing to the team. R.C Buford called Gasol a “great fit” and “a guy we have admired and followed and competed against a long time.”
Gasols’ offensive production exceeds what Duncan gave to the Spurs last season, and every bit of what he can give will be needed. On the defensive end, while he isn’t as great at rotating and switching on picks as Duncan was, he averaged 2.0 blocks per game last season, and that will be a tremendous boost for the team.
The depth of last seasons roster was somewhat lost, but it’ important to know that building it back the right way will be more than just a one summer goal. Last season, the Spurs had three of the five oldest active players in the league on the roster.
Starting now, the Spurs as we knew them are changing, evolving into the next stage, and that’s going to require more youth, and a faster more athletic mix of players. Time, growth and chemistry all play a part, but Ginobili is back to provide cultural leadership to make sure what was always constant in San Antonio is passed on to the next generation of players.
Buford said Ginobili and other vets will provide "leadership and cultural strength." #Spurs
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) July 15, 2016
What we can conclude is that, through adjustments, a little culture shock, developing young players, giving bigger minutes to guys like Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, no Duncan in the locker room, and having options to play in different ways, the Spurs will be fine, but also know that the baton has officially been passed.