There’s a decent chance that the San Antonio Spurs miss the playoffs instead of breaking the record for consecutive postseason appearances.
In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. There are several players on the current Spurs roster who were not born the last time the Spurs watched the first round of the playoffs from home. For 22 consecutive seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have reached the postseason – tied for an NBA record.
As basketball fans, we have become so accustomed to watching the Spurs compete in the playoffs that the mere thought of a postseason without the NBA’s model franchise seems preposterous. However, all good things must come to an end, and that end may be nearing for the Spurs.
This season, San Antonio might be taking an early vacation when they are sent home in April before the playoffs tip off. If that’s the case, we will probably point back to three critical causes – the conference, the young role players and the team’s adaptability to new trends.
First off, the Western Conference is stronger than ever. Aside from the “bright future” Phoenix Suns and the young, rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies, the entire conference will truly be competing for one of the eight playoff spots.
We all know the West is souped up after a wild offseason that marshaled in a whole new level of player movement.
Both Los Angeles teams saw massive overhauls of their rosters that will inevitably launch them into the title chase. The Houston Rockets went all-in on their championship run by dealing for former league MVP, Russell Westbrook.
The Jazz, Mavericks and Pelicans certainly improved their rosters during the offseason. The Trail Blazers and Nuggets will be back to chase their title hopes. The Kings are aggressively knocking on the door to enter the playoffs.
The Spurs, however, were not a part of the wave of superstar free agent signings and blockbuster trades. The Western Conference got better this offseason, but the same can’t be said about the San Antonio Spurs. If the Spurs miss out on a 23rd consecutive trip to the playoffs, the main reason will surely be the heightened level of competition in the West.
Nevertheless, the increased talent in the conference cannot be the sole reason the Spurs might end the season outside the playoff picture. An interesting on-court dynamic will be in action in the Alamo City. The Spurs’ core offensive production last season came from DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay – all of whom are over 30 years old heading into this season.
Let’s be clear, no one is calling DeRozan too old. The point is that the Spurs will require younger talent to fill in the gaps and roles that are needed alongside the more experienced few in order to reach the team’s full potential.
Beyond doubt, Dejounte Murray will provide a needed boost on the defensive end of the court, but concerns loom over his offensive skillset and health. Derrick White took great steps as a player last season and the Spurs will need his continued development to take even further strides to fill the shooting guard role.
There are several more young assets on the San Antonio roster that will need to take giant steps forward if the Spurs wish to hold onto their postseason aspirations. Again, if the Spurs miss out on the playoffs this season, we will likely point back to certain holes in the roster that were not filled by the younger bunch.
Lastly, we can’t discuss the Spurs without mentioning their conventional playing style that has slowly become unconventional over time in the modern day “Sprawlball” era of the NBA. The trends around the NBA all point toward the contemporary “pace and space” style of play, yet in a copycat league, the Spurs have not adapted.
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Despite knocking down a league best 39% of their 3-point attempts, the Spurs shot the least amount of three-pointers in the entire NBA. Without an abundance of scoring from beyond the three-point arc, the Spurs are forced to be near-perfect in other areas. The Spurs’ offensive rating still remains near the top of the league, due mostly to their extraordinary efficiency and league leading turnover rate.
Further, the Spurs ranked 22nd in the league in pace last season, meaning the Spurs averaged less possessions per game than two-thirds of the league. In other words, the Spurs had less opportunities to score than most other teams.
The respectable efficiency numbers undoubtedly help offset the lack of pace, but any decline in efficiency, turnover rate, or offensive production this season will derail the Spurs. If the silver and black are not one of the eight best teams in the conference when the season ends, their contempt for a change in style will be a significant cause.
At the end of the day, the Spurs still enjoy a compelling case to wind up back in contention in the Western Conference Playoffs. The Spurs continue to defy the odds, even when the deck is stacked against them.
Nevertheless, if the Spurs do miss the playoffs, the blame will lie with the strong conference, the young role players, and the aversion to contemporary playing style.