Are the San Antonio Spurs an elite team right now?

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Spurs are beginning their next chapter this season, and there are going to be some growing pains. However, some of these early season season stumbles may turn into true concerns down the road.

The Spurs are not the normal machine that the San Antonio faithful are used to seeing the last two decades, and that has a lot to do with the absence of one Tim Duncan. This is the first year that Kawhi Leonard has had to lead the team, and he has to get used to that role over this 82 game season.

In a very un-Spursian way, the team will only go as far as him and LaMarcus Aldridge takes them.

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, these Spurs are really good. Kawhi is a top 5 player in the NBA and LaMarcus Aldridge is top 15.

Talent wise the Spurs have a great group, a healthy mix of young guys and seasoned veterans. This Spurs roster actually has a lot of newcomers on it for once, and their play (with a limited amount of reps in the Spurs system) has been promising.

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First of all, backup bigs Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee have been very productive off the bench to start the season.

Big men usually need around two seasons in Popovich’s system to really shine, but both have already contributed well.

Dedmon has provided much needed defense at the center position and Lee has looked very comfortable scoring, and has not been that much of a liability on defense.   

Losing the best Spur of all time this year in Duncan is a misleading way of thinking about how effective Pau Gasol has been. Duncan was a shell of himself last year and after he came back from his mid-season knee injury he was adding almost nothing to the Spurs. His shot was flat, his legs were dead, his body was withered, his strength was diminished.

Pau is a clear upgrade so far this year, as his jump shot has been money all the way out to the three point line. Although, when Gasol shows high to defend the pick roll, he often get burned by quick guards but the Spurs will just have to compensate for that. 

With Duncan gone, the remaining members of the most successful trio in basketball history have also taken a step back. Manu Ginobili looks spry but at 39 years of age, all he can really be counted on for is about 15-20 minutes, more so in the second unit. He is just not able to match up with quicker/stronger guards like he used to, but he at least seems to have more of his game left than his younger counterpart. 

What happened to Tony Parker? In 2013 Parker was an MVP candidate, in 2014 he led the Spurs in scoring in the NBA Finals to win his fourth NBA Championship. As of now it looks like he lost three whole steps.

Once in a while Spurs’ fans get a flash of the old Parker, but usually he looks just that, old. Entering his 16th season, Parker is hardly a starting caliber point guard at this point, typically out played by Patty Mills coming off the bench. Without a full time starting point guard, Leonard is going to have to assume more ball handling responsibilities. 

The Spurs young core and the aforementioned Mills have been a mixed bag in this young season. Mills is always streaky, when he is on he is a commodity, when he is not he does not really help the team win. The bright spot has been the growth of Jonathon Simmons, who’s supreme athleticism has turned him into a valuable role player, who is always willing to play tough defense, which sounds a lot like the Spurs’ one missing player.

It is easy to forget that Spurs are still waiting for starter Danny Green to return to the lineup. After his eye surgery this summer, the Spurs are hoping he can get back to the 40 percent three point shooter we all know he is. His return will help as Kyle Anderson has shown very little in the early going, especially on the offensive side. 

As for the Spurs’ rookies, Dejounte MurrayBryn ForbesDavis Bertans, and Nicolas Laprovittola, have all have shown some serious talent in their limited playing time. Bertan’s can shoot from anywhere and is above average athlete, Forbes is a lights out shooter that needs more minutes than he is getting. Nico has been taking those minutes so far, as he plays eerily similar to Manu Ginobili. Murray is super fast but very, very raw. His destiny is probably more tied into the Austin Spurs rather than the San Antonio Spurs this year. 

The Western Conference seems to have five playoff locks this year, The Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Jazz. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they have already lost at home to the Jazz and the Clippers in rather embarrassing fashion. If it was not for the drumming of the Warriors on opening night, the Spurs would be without a quality win this season.

Next: Takeaways from the Spurs loss to the Clippers

For the first half the season, the Spurs record will not matter all that much. They need to find out how this new roster works with each other, and what role players can be trusted. Everything needs to run through Leonard and Aldridge, the less involved they are, the less chances the Spurs will have at dethroning the Warriors in May.