After losing franchise star Tim Duncan to retirement last offseason, the San Antonio Spurs ushered in a new era. With coach Gregg Popovich at the helm, the Spurs secured a 61-21 record and reached the Western Conference Finals.
The transition of the San Antonio Spurs from Tim Duncan‘s team to one led by Kawhi Leonard was completed in 2016-17, after Duncan retired and Leonard emerged as an unquestioned leader and MVP candidate.
Former champion Pau Gasol, who signed with San Antonio in free agency last summer, integrated flawlessly into the team’s playbook and Manu Ginobili continued his sustained excellence despite reaching the age of 39.
While San Antonio’s loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals disappointed the hopeful fans, it also proved that the Spurs, without Duncan, remain a legitimate threat to win a title.
Kawhi Leonard’s Stellar Season
Before the season began many critics questioned Kawhi Leonard’s ability to lead the Spurs and become the franchise’s star. Despite his constant improvement and continued success, Leonard’s skeptics doubted his competitiveness.
Without question, Leonard proved those skeptics wrong with his performance this year.
Kawhi finished the 2017 playoffs averaging 27.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.1 3's, 1.7 steals, 52.5 FG%, 45.5 3FG%, 93.1 FT%.
— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) May 23, 2017
Leonard averaged 25.5 points along with 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Even with a 4.3 point-per-game improvement from last year, Leonard remained efficient by shooting 48.5 percent from the field.
The six-year veteran also finished fourth in win shares with 13.6 and third in player efficiency rating at 27.5.
Leonard’s efforts have made him a finalist for both the Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
All numbers aside, Leonard’s decision making, leadership and sheer relentlessness shocked the basketball world this season. His improvement from a shy rookie traded from Indiana to a proven leader and potential MVP has been astounding for all.
As for next season, The Klaw can only be expected to return with a vengeance following the ankle injury which sidelined him for most of the conference finals.
Familiar Faces Rise to the Occasion
One of San Antonio’s core values which has allowed it to remain elite over two decades has been the team’s loyalty. The chemistry and respect in their locker room has allowed Coach Popovich to orchestrate success.
Old faces found a call to action in the retirement of Tim Duncan and responded with the best effort a sports fan could ask for.
Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker remain two of the team’s most valuable assets. Their combined ability to teach and create plays for teammates has been a staple of San Antonio’s game plan for more than a decade.
While their numbers have declined, their positive impact on the team is immeasurable.
If Manu Ginobili retires, he'll do so as the all-time, on-court NetRtg king. pic.twitter.com/gZUmt4ryxz
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 23, 2017
Patty Mills, in his sixth season in San Antonio, took on a larger responsibility than ever before. With the aging of Parker, Mills was asked to perform more ball-handling duties in more minutes.
The Aussie sensation posted a career-high in assists with 3.5 per game and shot 41 percent from behind the arc.
Despite the long road he took to success, Jonathon Simmons proved himself as an incredible player. His hustle, heart and athleticism proved to be indispensable for the Spurs’ rotation.
Whether it be in the first game of the season, during All-Star festivities, or in the Western Conference Finals, Simmons sent a distinct message to the league:
Jonathon Simmons is a big-time player and a big-time winner.
i really like this group of young spurs — simmons and patty and danny and dejounte and kyle — they make me happy
— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) May 17, 2017
Without the core’s unselfishness and adaptability, the Spurs simply wouldn’t have competed at the level that they did this season.
New Talent Highlights a Great Season
It’s not often that San Antonio has a roster shakeup like it did last offseason. Throughout the year, seven new players joined the team to fill varying roles and they did not disappoint.
Veteran Pau Gasol’s unselfishness and competitive drive made him a perfect fit in San Antonio. Gasol did everything in his power to help his team win.
When Popovich decided to bring him off the bench, he did so without complaints; and when Popovich asked him to space the floor, he did so with ease and shot 53.8 percent from three-point range.
The rookies, led by guard Dejounte Murray, jumped immediately into important roles. Each of these young men took to the challenge of competing in the NBA and shined.
Only 4 Spurs rookies with a point/rebound double-double in a playoff game:David RobinsonTim DuncanKawhi LeonardDEJOUNTE MURRAY (tonight)
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) May 12, 2017
Each of these players decided to adapt to the winning culture of San Antonio and contributed to one of the team’s most successful seasons ever.
The future is bright in San Antonio. Between rising stars, intelligent veterans and talented rookies, the Spurs are on the path to another championship.
This offseason holds many questions regarding the team’s future. With Manu Ginobili’s forthcoming decision on retirement and a frenzy of free agents, this will be an interesting summer for Spurs fans.
Spurs' Manu Ginobili says he feels like he can still play, will take 3-4 weeks before making decision on whether to retire pic.twitter.com/2bByF3wGRJ
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 23, 2017
For now, fans must step back and appreciate what was an incredible season for a fantastic organization.
The “Race for Seis” will resume at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.