Previewing the 2017-18 season for the San Antonio Spurs.
Basketball season is back for the fall of 2017 and into the spring of 2018. That means the next version of the San Antonio Spurs will take the court to target the NBA championship, which this organization hasn’t won since 2014.
The Spurs had another 60-win season in 2016-17, their second consecutive. This resulted in a trip to the Western Conference Finals. However, the Golden State Warriors swept them in four games and won the NBA Finals. It was a disparaging way to close the year, but almost five months later, a new journey will begin toward the title.
This won’t be the same Spurs team from May. Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee and Jonathon Simmons left in the offseason. Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne and Brandon Paul were the biggest additions in free agency. Derrick White was also selected in Round 1 of the 2017 NBA Draft, and should be a presence on the Opening Night roster.
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These four Spurs will join returning players Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Davis Bertans, and a handful of other familiar faces. They’ll look to make noise in the Western Conference and approach another NBA championship.
Western Conference competition will be full for the Spurs, however. Teams added players to aid the effort to top the Warriors, with some of the biggest names in basketball making the jump from the Eest to the Wast. Did San Antonio lose ground in the offseason?
The 2017-18 season is almost here for the Silver and Black. Let’s preview what will be in store.
Next: Projected starting lineup
Projected starting lineup
The San Antonio Spurs’ starting lineup projects to be similar to last season, with the exception of one change, due to injury. It’s a group that will look to lead the team to another 60-win campaign, which would be their third consecutive.
Point Guard: Patty Mills
Without Tony Parker, Patty Mills might get the opportunity to start at point guard, at least for the beginning of the season. After that is unknown, but given Mills’ NBA experience, he should get the nod.
Shooting Guard: Danny Green
Danny Green is the easy choice to get the opportunity at shooting guard. His 3-and-D style will earn him the starting job, with premier skills at both 3-point shooting and on perimeter defense. A repeat of the sub-40 percent shooting percentage would be a concern, but he’ll do enough otherwise to keep the job.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
Well, this isn’t a debate, although Kawhi Leonard has a quad injury, with an unknown timetable. When he’s back, he’ll obviously claim the starting small forward spot and be the leader of the Spurs on offense and defense. Nothing to see here.
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge, despite trade rumors, is back for his third season in San Antonio. He’ll man the power forward position on the last year of his contract, if he opts out. 30-33 minutes per game should be in store for the 11-year pro.
Center: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol only started about half the games he played in 2016-17. He’s still the logical choice to start the season at center, but look for Gregg Popovich to tinker with lineups, meaning someone like Rudy Gay gets an occasional start as a stretch four or a three-guard lineup goes out there.
Next: Offseason impact
If everyone got better and the Spurs stood pat, what did that mean?
The 2017 NBA offseason has been well documented. The San Antonio Spurs’ signings aren’t big names, while the rest of the Western Conference signed or traded for players like Chris Paul, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Jimmy Butler.
On paper, it looks like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder lapped the Spurs, with their high-profile acquisitions. Sure, they brought in some of the NBA’s best players to play with other elite athletes, but the Spurs can’t be forgotten.
A similar core is back for the Spurs, the one that won 60 games in consecutive years. That’s Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, and a cast of young players. There’s no additional superstar like other organizations, but as seen in recent years, the Spurs didn’t need a superteam to find success.
Consistency might be key for San Antonio, while other teams work to adjust to new lineups and superstar players that need the basketball. Once San Antonio plays the Rockets, Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and other top teams in the West, let’s see how keeping things status quo works. Time will be needed to figure that out, especially once Leonard is healthy and Parker is back on the floor.
Next: Young players ready to step up
Young players ready to take a step forward
The San Antonio Spurs were always the veteran-laden team that played technically sound, and to perfection. The latter remains, but with a strong youth influx — stronger than recent years.
The guard spots feature the youngest of the roster. Dejounte Murray leads them at point guard, as he enters his second NBA season.
Murray’s NBA experience is limited, with just 38 games. However, 2017-18 could see that number increase by at least half, with Tony Parker’s injury and potential loyalty from Gregg Popovich. A year under his belt, plus more on-court time could lead to big things for the Washington product.
Behind him is Derrick White, a rookie that went No. 29 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, identical to Murray in 2016. White is an unknown, but represents the latest part of the youth movement at the one spot. Someone needs to replace Parker in a few years, so will it be him?
Shooting guard features Brandon Paul and Bryn Forbes, two players that aren’t “rookies” but don’t have much (Forbes), if any NBA experience (Paul).
Like White, Paul is an unknown, but for his skills translating to the NBA. He played several seasons in the Euroleague and had a stint in the D-League. The Spurs signed him after a strong Summer League performance in July. They will bank on his length (6-foot-10) and 3-point shooting.
Forbes had a strong Summer League, with multiple 30-point games. He flashed plenty of upside with his outside shot, but it’s about the opportunity. Can he crack a crowded rotation?
Davis Bertans rounds off the notable youngsters, except at forward. He can shoot, but questions are around everything else, especially if he’s the next backup power forward. Can he block a shot? Will he be aggressive for rebounds, more than the one and change from 2016-17?
These five players all have the chance to take off in 2017-18. All of them may not, but their progress will be intriguing to watch through the 82-game season.
Next: Rudy Gay's arrival
Rudy Gay’s impact off the bench
The San Antonio Spurs’ big fish of the offseason, Rudy Gay, will play on a two-year, $17 million deal, with a player option for the second season. So this could be a one-year audition, before trying for a longer, more lucrative deal in July.
In the meantime, Gay has a role to play on the Spurs. He’s not a guard, and with Leonard, Aldridge and Gasol taking up other spots, that puts the 11-year pro on the bench.
Gay is a super sixth man for the Spurs, if he returns to form, from a ruptured Achilles. He’s been a solid scorer for three teams, but potentially limited mobility will hurt his ability to create offense. That would mean a change in play, maybe to a spot-up shooter, but that’s a wait-and-see case.
Between 12-15 points per game from Gay in 20-25 minutes would be a success. Much of that may come from 3-point shooting, with the Spurs’ desire to stretch the floor and even make Aldridge into a shooter. So look for Gay to lurk around the arc, while he takes a backseat for other players and provides a burst of offense as the fourth or fifth option.
A productive season from Gay will make him a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. If so, he would be the first Spur to win this since Manu Ginobili in 2008. An efficient season and somewhat gaudy season will be needed, especially from the 3-point line. Can he do it?
Next: Backing up the big men
Backing up Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge
David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon provided a rock-solid 12.4 points and 12.1 rebounds in approximately 36 minutes per game. They were fine backups in 2016-17 for the San Antonio Spurs.
Lee and Dedmon were placed in the offseason, however, by Joffrey Lauvergne. Just one big man, not known for his rim protecting or defense.
Lauvergne might provide more offense than Dedmon. He has a touch around the rim and some range behind the 3-point line, which extends the floor even further for the Spurs.
Outside of the 6-foot-11 center, there are no prototypical players off the bench that are associated with the five spot. Someone will need to take up space, with the next biggest body: Davis Bertans.
Bertans’ game revolves around his 3-point shooting. If he’s about to be the third-string center and backup power forward, he’ll need to be assertive under the basket and have an increased presence in rim-protecting defense. 0.4 blocks per game might not do the trick, but a push to one per game? Potentially. It would take over Dedmon’s total from last season and bring the Spurs an alternative rim-protecting presence that’s needed.
Rudy Gay is the other potential backup at power forward, just don’t expect him to block shots or battle under the boards. He’ll stretch the floor, while Gasol, Aldridge and Lauvergne cycle at center.
The backup center and power forward positions should get clarity in the preseason, before it shapes up in the last half of October. It will be one of the most intriguing things to follow as the season progresses.
Next: Point guard situation
The point guard situation
Even before Tony Parker went down in the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs’ point guard position was in transition, or at an early stage. Parker was in decline for the past few years, with the 2016-17 campaign as one of his worst, statistically. The starting role won’t be his forever. If anything, it may no longer be his.
Patty Mills took over in the playoffs He had some productive games against the Houston Rockets (12.2 points on 45 percent shooting), but struggled mightily with the Golden State Warriors (7.8 points on 24 percent shooting). Every opponent won’t be one of the league’s worst defensive teams (Rockets) or the best (Warriors), so a larger sample size against a variety of teams is necessary to determine what he can do in a major role.
Starting experience isn’t on Mills’ side, either, as he has just 18 starts in eight seasons (eight came in 2016-17). Despite this, he should be the leader to begin the year at point guard.
If the coaching staff desires Mills to start, it places Dejounte Murray as the backup to open the year. It’s an upgrade over his rookie-season role and a chance to play a full year on the NBA roster. There’s an outside chance he starts if Mills returns to the bench, but in a starting lineup that’s loaded with veterans of six-plus years, look for the experienced one to be the point guard.
Next: The Season of Kawhi?
Is 2017-18 the Season of Kawhi?
The 2016-17 season was almost the Year of Kawhi Leonard. He became the unequivocal star of the San Antonio Spurs, getting the spotlight that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili usually had. It led to 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game on 48.5 percent shooting.
The rise in play and the No. 2 finish for the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference supported Leonard’s case for the MVP Award. He finished third in the voting, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden landing first and second, respectively.
With a year in the MVP voting under the Claw’s belt and both Westbrook and Harden’s teams adding one or more superstars, the door might be open for 2017-18 to be Leonard’s year.
The gap in first to second-best player on a team helped Leonard last season (LaMarcus Aldridge is the No. 2) and should again. While Westbrook and Harden had historic statistical seasons, they were their respective team’s best players who made the playoffs. The former put them over the top as MVP candidates, since the San Diego State product’s season was terrific, but not groundbreaking.
Harden and Westbrook are in the rearview mirror, now that they have the likes of Chris Paul, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony with them. The Golden State Warriors cancel each other out, ever since Kevin Durant arrived in 2016. That might leave LeBron James as the toughest competitor to Leonard for the MVP, obviously not an easy task. Kyrie Irving is a close second, even though he’s not a well-defined top player for the Boston Celtics (yet), but will have a spotlight loom over him for the season.
Statistical production is the backbone of a potential MVP candidate. In every season Leonard has played in, he saw a rise in points per game. If he tops the 25.5 total from last year and approaches 30, the case will only be stronger for his candidacy.
2017-18 could be Leonard’s year, if everything aligns and he stays healthy. A winning season for the Spurs is a foregone conclusion, so it will be about what he does on the court and other NBA standouts.