After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
As aesthetically pleasing as it might be to watch the San Antonio Spurs dart from town to town, taking down opponents with expert spacing and well-researched and expertly-articulated defensive ideals, how many of you just want to hire a plushy charter to scoot these guys from mid-autumn to early spring? The Spurs didn’t exactly run out of gas in Games 6 and 7 of last year’s NBA Finals, they were in it with the younger Heat core until the end of that failed championship bid, but years of NBA wear and tear has a way of creeping up on veterans when they attempt to make the same move they done 12,000 times before. We can’t help but be fearful that a tweak in a pointless game against the Pistons could turn San Antonio’s championship hopes on their respective ears.
Of course, save for the specifics regarding the glorious bit of basketball we got to see last June, this is an intro we’ve written just about every October since the then-New Orleans Hornets nearly surprised the Spurs in the second round in 2008 (the Spurs eventually fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference finals). As is their ridiculous custom, though, San Antonio led their conference with 61 wins in 2011, they tied for the league’s best record the year after, and came second in their conference again in 2013.
And yet here I am, dismissing them once again while fawning with praise throughout. This is how we do.
You know the hallmarks, at this point. Gregg Popovich lost yet another assistant coach over the summer to a head coaching gig (former top assistant Mike Budenholzer is now in Atlanta), but his staff will still somehow manage to stay on the cusp of NBA trends in spite of fielding Tim Duncan in the frontcourt for the 17th season in a row. Well into their second decades in the NBA, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will flirt in and out of the paint in the half court while still pushing in transition, while a younger talent like Kawhi Leonard attempts to take the next step quickly enough to help buttress Duncan, Parker and Ginobili’s eventual decline.
(Because they have to decline at some point, right?)
Meanwhile, a litany of players like Tiago Splitter (despite his relatively slim NBA resume), Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Danny Green and Matt Bonner will be working well within their primes. Same as they ever were, as good as they’ll ever be, ready to circle the wagons for six months between now and the first round.
Those six months will serve as an exercise in adaptation and sustainability. Popovich will rest players, but he will also attempt to win enough games to keep the currently Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder away from the top spot, while trying to hold back comers like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. On top of that, the ever mindful Spurs coaching staff will once again dig deep into what helps and what doesn’t when it comes to attempting the best possible shot, while forcing the opposition into a shot they should be keen on taking. That’s the general ideal that all staffs attempt to follow, but only the Spurs seem to always be a half-step ahead of the league when it comes to following through on that hope.
All while counting down the hours. Shoot for wins in the high 50s, sure, but just make it until April when one can prepare for two or hopefully three and four potential opponents to toss those brains and that talent at over a seven-game term. Yes, the team is just a few seasons removed from a first round ouster, but they were also a defensive rebound away from the team’s fifth title of the Tim Duncan era.
The regular season? Watch as the Spurs stifle a yawn.
Projected record: 57-25
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Spurs for … fantastic basketball.
That might sound simple, but I’m not sure how else to say it; more often than not, and more often than most other NBA teams, the Spurs reward viewers with something masterful. It’s rarely loud or visceral like a Miami fast break or a Clippers pick-and-roll, or individually breathtaking in the way Kyrie and Durant can be, but the product San Antonio provides is routinely excellent, even if we tend to focus more on the routine than the excellence.
You have to do a lot of stuff right to post 14 straight 50-win seasons and make 16 straight playoff appearances. The broad array of things San Antonio does well becomes clear when you watch them on a nightly basis -- from scouting and development to strategy and execution, from the body work that keeps older players in good enough shape to play at the league’s sixth-fastest pace to the skill training that’s helped produce 10 top-10 offenses and 11 top-10 defenses over the past 13 years, from doing the smart thing to being smart enough to let great players do their thing, and so on.
Their offense is a Swiss watch and their defense is a rule-based meat-grinder. Their old guys are all-time great, their small forward is an ascendant star, and their shooting guard is a snake-loving record-setter. They’re do fun stuff a lot, and this season, there’ll be a new addition to standard storylines like whether the same ol’ Spurs can fend off the likes of the reloaded Clippers, Rockets and Warriors, plus the still-dangerous Thunder and Grizzlies, to remain atop the Western Conference. For the first time, we’ll get to see how San Antonio reacts to losing in the finals; we’ll learn how Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Gregg Popovich, the rest of the Spurs and their fans bounce back from being so close and watching it all fall by the wayside. That ought to be interesting, I think.
At this point, though, there’s only so much we can and should argue about this. If you find the Spurs boring -- and as you surely know, plenty of people do -- by all means, please enjoy the unique elements and pulse-quickening possibilities of the NBA’s other 29 teams. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, it takes diff’rent strokes to move the world, etc.
If you’re looking for elite two-way basketball, though, you might want to pencil San Antonio into your calendar a couple of times this season. It probably doesn’t matter which night you tune in, or who the opponent is, or even who’s suiting up in silver and black. That’s kind of what makes the Spurs the Spurs, you know?
Honorable mentions: Pop, andallthatcomeswithhim; Patty Mills holding down the bench; fans who really know how to party; the deployment of a new cloaking mechanism; the next crop of H-E-B spots; learning whether Matt Bonner’s social-media sneaker plea results in a full-fledged endorsement contract, because New Balance’s representatives haven’t responded to BDL’s requests for clarification (seriously).
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
To say that Kawhi Leonard performed well in last spring’s postseason would be an understatement. He often appeared as a budding star, a player with the ability to score, defend, rebound, and just generally be in the thick of the action when necessary. The Spurs’ post-Tim Duncan future has always appeared a little cloudy, but the emergence of Leonard would seem to clarify it significantly. With help, he could usher San Antonio into yet another era of competitiveness.
The conditional statements are necessary, though, because we still don’t know exactly how much responsibility Kawhi can take on over the course of a full season. Although his stats have been very good, particularly for the 15th pick in what was at the time considered to be a weak 2011 draft, Leonard has yet to average 10 field goal attempts per game. The current era’s focus on efficiency has changed our standards of what constitutes elite offensive output, but it’s still the case that we don’t know if Leonard is yet able to handle being one of the team’s primary offensive players over the course of a full 82-game season.
With Tony Parker and Tim Duncan still in excellent form, he still has the luxury of being brought along slowly. But if Leonard’s postseason play announced that he could be the next great Spurs star, then he must now begin to solidify exactly what kind of star he’ll be.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards