The San Antonio Spurs can use these five challenges from Kobe Bryant for the 2017-18 NBA season.
The San Antonio Spurs will go through a 2017-18 NBA season of challenges and tasks to have another successful year. They’ve finished above .500 in every season since 1997-98, along with five championships, so there’s much for this next team to live up to.
As for the challenges, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has been making these for the current NBA players over the past few days. He notably called for Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to win the NBA MVP.
None of these were given to Spurs players, but what if five were? This not only goes for the players, but the team in general. What would the Mamba tell this team to do?
5. Kawhi Leonard wins MVP and Defensive Player of the Year
Kawhi Leonard finished in the NBA MVP voting for the first time in the 2016-17 season. He missed out to Russell Westbrook, who won, and James Harden, who placed second. Westbrook and Harden were already established stars and while Leonard was already building his case before last season, this was just the latest step of his ascension.
Leonard will have the opportunity to be in the MVP voting, again, as long as he keeps his production on a similar path or improves. Given his climbing stats through six seasons, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take that next step and earn the MVP, a Kobe Bryant challenge in itself.
However, let’s go one notch up for it since Leonard came close to an award win. What about as the 2017-18 Defensive Player of the Year? He’s already regarded as one of the league’s best on the defensive end (maybe the best) and took home this award in 2015 and 2016. The 2017 prize went to Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, so it’s another thing the San Antonio Spurs can aim to get past.
Either way, Leonard should have another terrific season. Will it be as a multi-award winner by next spring, though?
Next: Patty Mills breaks through
4. Patty Mills averages at least six assists per game
With Tony Parker out for part of the 2017-18 season due to a torn quad, it leaves Patty Mills as the likely in-house candidate to play point guard for the San Antonio Spurs. He has the most experience of the bunch (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White) and received a hefty four-year, $50 million deal to retain as NBA free agency began.
Mills never received a chance as a full-time starter in the NBA, mostly coming off the bench as a supersub for the Spurs. He’s only 6-feet, but played like a shooting guard in his career.
If Mills can show an ability to be a distributor as the starter, it could mean big things for his stat line. He averaged a career-high 3.5 assists per game in the 2016-17 season, so what if he upped that number to at least 6.0? How about doubling it to 7.0 per game? If the ball can move around that often without Parker in the offense, then it could be an intriguing offense for the Spurs as they work without their long-time point guard.
No awards will be won from this improved effort, but it can lessen the blow of losing Parker, despite his declining play. Will Mills rise to the occasion?
Next: Finish second in the West
3. Fend the Houston Rockets off for No. 2 in the Western Conference
Almost every projection has the Houston Rockets as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, by the time the 2017-18 season ends. The San Antonio Spurs placed third in all of them, too. The Rockets acquired All-Star point guard Chris Paul, while the Spurs brought in Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne and Brandon Paul. The latter three can be solid contributors, but don’t have the star power or talent of CP3.
If you’ve followed the NBA for the past 20 years, San Antonio is one team to never count out. They’re never flashy (especially the 2000’s teams), but are always in the mix for the NBA championship in the semifinals or conference finals (they’ve failed to make it to either round twice in the past 10 seasons). This includes high seeding for the playoffs, with the Spurs having the No. 1 or 2 seed six times in the past seven years. Could that become seven in eight after next season?
It’s possible the Rockets don’t start the season on a high note, as Paul and James Harden learn to work together. They might gel by midseason, but the damage will already be done from the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, the Spurs take advantage of this and start hot. Let’s say the finish with 58 wins, while the Rockets pile up 55. It’s only a difference of three games, but more than enough to keep ground of the second seed. No one will catch the Golden State Warriors at No. 1, barring multiple injuries.
Next: Aldridge makes the All-Star Game
2. LaMarcus Aldridge makes the All-Star team
This offseason has not been kind to San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge, ever since Gregg Popovich called him out during the Western Conference Finals. Trade speculation flew around him during the NBA Draft and a response came to the offseason hysteria just days prior.
Granted, Aldridge’s stats aren’t on par to what he did with the Portland Trail Blazers. However, the talent is still there, with his 17 points and 7.3 rebounds per game from last season.
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Aldridge perhaps needs this Kobe Bryant challenge more than anyone on the roster, to rise above scrutiny and return to form. So, what if he made the 2018 All-Star Game? It’s difficult to achieve, especially with all the talent in the Western Conference, but if his Portland days are looked back at, there’s still hope.
Before Aldridge left the Blazers, he averaged approximately 23 points and 10 rebounds in his final season. Those numbers may not be matched again (not with Kawhi Leonard in town), but something closer to 21 points and 8.5 to 10 rebounds would be an impressive bounce-back for the 11-year pro. It could sneak him in as the second-to-last or final player on the West’s team.
The rise in play would come in a contract year for Aldridge, if he wants to get out of his player option after the season ends. If not, he would begin to justify the $22 million owed for the 2018-19 season.
Next: Defeat the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs
1. Win a playoff series vs the Golden State Warriors
NBA fans will say “What if Kawhi Leonard never got hurt?” when looking back on the 2017 Western Conference Finals, when the Golden State Warriors swept the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard went down in Game 1, as the Spurs had a significant lead. Of course, they lost that and never won a game in the series.
If the Warriors and Spurs finish at No. 1 and 2 in the Western Conference, respectively, they would be set up for another Western Conference Finals matchup. If so — or in any other round of the playoffs — the best Kobe Bryant challenge to give to San Antonio, is to defeat Golden State when it matters most.
The team that topples the Warriors in the playoffs will be celebrated by fans as the squad that pulls off the major upset, and will be known for it in NBA history. Who knows, maybe it rivals the “We Believe” Warriors. No one will fool the Spurs for this if they defeat the Warriors, but it will still be celebrated.
Sure, the NBA won’t get the massive ratings spike in the playoffs if the Warriors are eliminated, but it would clear the way for other Western Conference teams to make the NBA Finals. The Spurs can be the team to do this and make history as the one’s to topple the Kevin Durant-Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green-led team.