Michael De Leon, Project Spurs
The Spurs brought in the exact pieces they needed this offseason. They addressed the need for a center by bringing over Brazilian big man Tiago Spliter and the Spurs realized that three-point shooting was a weakness in last year's playoffs and worked on a cure by drafting James Anderson, re-signing Matt Bonner and signing Gary Neal to a multi-year contract after a surprising summer league showing. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all look to be in great shape after an offseason free of any international play. George Hill also looks to have a breakout year and DeJuan Blair has done enough this preseason to get me excited. The Spurs will finish 54-28 and it'll be a tossup in the Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and the Lakers.
Jeff Garcia, Project Spurs
Prediction: 55-27, second in Southwest Division
A quiet youth movement has been going on in San Antonio (Tiago Splitter, James Anderson, George Hill, DeJuan Blair) to compliment the veteran core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in the hopes of bringing another title to the Alamo City.
But will it be enough? No.
With the other Western Conference teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers adding Steve Blake and Matt Barnes to strengthen their already loaded squad, the Dallas Mavericks adding Tyson Chandler to play along side Brendan Haywood to form a formidable duo in the paint, Houston Rockets welcoming the return of Yao Ming, and the Oklahoma City Thunder returning in tact, it will be a tough road back to the promise land of the NBA Finals. Frankly, it seems like a fifth title will not be in the Spurs future this season.
Robby Lim, Project Spurs
The Spurs just got younger, deeper and more athletic. The arrival of Tiago Splitter and the development of DeJuan Blair will make a huge impact. How Jefferson performs in his second season will be key, and it will be interesting to see if George Hill can elevate his game even further.
However, the Spurs will still need Duncan, Ginobili and Parker healthy to get things done. They definitely improved from last season and if rookies James Anderson and Gary Neal fit into their roles then expect another 50+ win season from the Spurs.
SEASON PREDICTION: 52-30 second in West.
Jeff Cerda, Project Spurs
At the beginning of every season every NBA team has the highest expectations for the way their season will play out and the San Antonio Spurs are no different. The Spurs have been a title contender year in and year out since 1998 and fans should not expect anything less in the 2010-2011 season. With Tim Duncan’s hall of fame career winding down this will probably be the last chance the team has at another title. Duncan will still be the player we know with probably a slight drop off in statistics and I believe Tony Parker will have a great season considering this is a “contract year” for him. Manu will be Manu and I think DeJuan Blair’s stats will improve because he will be given more playing time, which he rightfully deserves. Two things to watch for is the play of Richard Jefferson and Tiago Splitter. With a year under Greg Popovich’s system, Jefferson has no “excuses” for the lack of production this year and I think he will definitely be a better player than he was last year. It has been a long wait for Splitter and the fans are hoping that the wait was well worth it. Given Splitter’s international basketball track record, he’s shown signs of brilliant play and the expectations in San Antonio are no less. He may struggle early considering he did not get much playing time in the preseason but I would expect him to be a consistent contributor come January/February. I predict that the Spurs will win more games than last year(50-32 in 2009-2010) and get a 4 or 5 seed in the still competitive western conference. Given the age of Tim Duncan and injuries that seem to always plague the team late in the season, I think they will get out of the first round but fall short in the second round.
Tim Griffin, San Antonio Express-News
The Spurs will play better early, even as Tiago Splitter struggles early to regain game shape. That early start and a rejuvenated Richard Jefferson will boost them to a 55-27 record and a Southwest regular-season title. They will beat Portland in the first round of the playoffs, but lose to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals.
Joe Alexander, San Antonio Express-News
I think the Lakers are likely be in for the kind of nagging injuries all season that the Spurs had last year. If the Lakers are healthy at the end, they'll still win the West. If things were going normally in Denver, the Nuggets would be my No. 2 pick. Their issues go beyond just Carmelo's situation. A healthy Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and the addition of Tiago Splitter make the Spurs a top four team in the West.
Here is part two of our live season preview show last night, recorded just in case any of you missed the live show/chat. This is from the 8 p.m. hour. We had interviews from Humberto Cervera of News4WOAI and Tim Griffin, who has been blogging on the Spurs for the San Antonio Express-News.
If you missed our live season preview show last night, we've got you covered. We released part three, a Pacers preview with Jared Wade in our gameday Q&A earlier, and now we will be posting part two in an hour.
Thomas Vegas joined me to start the show to answer some questions about the Spurs newer players and if we will see any difference in Richard Jefferson this season.
Jeff Garcia joined in about five minutes in to talk about his outlook for the season and we finished things off with a great interview with Richard Oliver of the San Antonio Express-News and Fox Sports Southwest.
With the Spurs tipping off the 2010-11 season tonight against the Indiana Pacers, I talked to Josh Dhani of Always Miller Time for the first Gameday Q&A of the season. I also had a chance to talk to Jared Wade of Eight Points, Nine Seconds as part of our live season preview show last night and I've included that audio at the bottom of this post.
1. How does the addition of Darren Collison help the Pacers?
The addition definitely helps out. T.J. Ford is decent, but it isn't good enough for Indy to contend. The point guard spot is by far the weakest. Even though Indy had to give up Troy Murphy for him, I still believe Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert can become a good bunch.
2. Danny Granger is probably the most underrated NBA player. Do you think this is the year he gets the credit he deserves?
Yes, defintiely. With a much a much more improved team, Danny Granger can step up as the full-time leader. And with a good point guard and a center prepared for a breakout season, Granger can make himself one of the Top 10 players in the league by the time the season ends.
3. Manu Ginobili comes into this season in great shape after an offseason free of international play. While he went through a slump early on in the preseason, he got through that over the final two preseason games. How will Indiana defend him and keep him from torching Dunleavy?
Mike Dunleavy needs to get Ginobili good on defense. But if Dunleavy can't handle him and Ginobili gets on a roll, I expect Indy putting in Dahntay Jones, a defensive-stopper, and tame Manu.
4. What is the injury status for tonight's game?
Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, and T.J. Ford are a bit banged up, but it has healed down. They are all at least 99.9% to go.
5. What is your key matchup of the game and what is your prediction?
I think it is going to be Tim Duncan versus Roy Hibbert. Last season when the Spurs beat Indiana 100-99, Hibbert guarded Duncan fairly well throughout the game. However, Duncan got him last, getting the game-winning shot over Hibbert. Roy is much more improved, having MMA training and working out with legenary center Bill Walton over the summer. I expect Hibbert to try to bring some revenge.
Thanks to Josh for giving us his insight on the Pacers, and make sure to listen to the audio below. It is the third hour of our live season preview show from last night, which includes a game preview from Pacers blogger Jared Wade.
It was a Saturday afternoon, I was lying in bed sick with the flu, staring up at a ceiling fan blade still spinning four and a half minutes after it had been turned off, and I was considering the nature of the article you're reading now.
Western Conference Preview.
I pondered the premise and feelings rose up.
I was flipping through the mental Rolodex of conference preview articles I'd previously written, trying to find the thread that connected the ones which ended up being most relevant. I think I even wrote an article once about how much I dislike "power ranking style" previews. The thought playing on the front end of my brain that Saturday, like it is as I write this, is that while I've been called on to write a conference preview many times, and done so successfully, I don't really like the nature of them.
They always tend to be stale, inclusive to the point of being irrelevant, and trending just a tad overly optimistic. There has to be a way to make it not suck, I thought to myself before continuing to abuse my bottle of DayQuil. There has to be a way to bridge the gap between the voice inside our head that muses on reality free of pretense, and its inhibited and filtered counterpart that bends to what people thought and said yesterday.
What matters in a conference preview?
No. What matters in in a conference?
What matters? The team that ultimately wins the conference. That's not always clear, however. What could be considered clear? Well, definitely who's not winning the conference (yes, I'm looking at you Sacramento).
OK, OK, OK - I think I've got it.
Teams that matter.
Teams that might matter.
Teams that don't matter.
OK, here goes nothing:
Teams That Matter
Los Angeles Lakers
They're the best team in the world and they got better in the offseason. Matt Barnes was a huge addition: defense, perimeter shooting, and energy. They also added stability to their backcourt with the addition of Steve Blake. These two would have been a solid additions to any squad, but that they chose to bring their talents to L.A. speaks to the current state of the league, that now more than ever title defenders and contenders are monopolizing talent.
Their front court personnel (Gasol, Bynum, Artest, and Odom) are still the best in the league, and in a seven game series I don't see anyone being able to outscore/rebound this group, which will almost always score a playoff victory. As has been true of most title defenders, the regular season won't be as important for them as it was in previous seasons, and keeping the nucleus healthy for playoff time is more paramount than anything.
That being said, I think they will have a stellar regular season. I think Kobe Bryant's subtle improvements each offseason are made more apparent the better his crew gets, and I think he wins MVP this year, with L.A. finishing first in the conference.
Kevin Durant isn't just the most unappreciated basketball superstar in the league, he's like the most underrated human specimen on the planet. If you don't class him as a league impacting player who can single handedly shift the landscape of the Association, you aren't giving him enough credit. It's precisely because of his immense talents that the Thunder have the best chance of de-throning the Lakers.
Why, specifically? Because as of right now Kevin Durant is on the top three list of "people who can check Kobe Bryant" one-on-one and most of you still think he can't play D. In addition to the massive bucket of points KD hauls around with him, his length makes him a great match up on Kobe in key situations down the stretch and that could be the difference in a close playoff series.
Everything else about the Thunder is a given; they're a damn good team that will make a playoff run. The reason why they're the only other team on the "matters" list is because of how well they match up with the Lakers. They still have front court issues to overcome, but even with that hindrance they're still the best chance to take down L.A.
Team That Might Matter
(in no particular order)
I'm not particularly keen on the Mavs this season as a title contender, but if anyone fits the description of a "team that might matter" it's them. I'm not putting them down as a major threat to the Lakers in the west, but if they prove me wrong I don't expect my jaw to hit the ground or anything. Not a Tyson Chandler fan, personally, but he's a shot blocker and a finisher inside, and offensively at least, his production will increase playing with Kidd.
Dirk is still a superstar and Caron Butler will have his first full season with the team, so if they can get the chemistry, and offensive pecking order, and consistent defense worked out they have pieces in place to cobble together a run.
Here's my take on the Western Conference, and why the Jazz might matter: this whole dance is schemed on beating the Lakers. How do you beat the Lakers? 1) Find a way to contend with the best front court in basketball, 2) survive Kobe Bryant, and 3) don't get out coached every game.
Why the Jazz? Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Milsap are not a better front court than Gasol, Bynum, Artest, and Odom - but they're closer than anyone else in the conference. The addition of Raja Bell brings the clear number one defender role (the "shut down corner" to borrow a football term) to at least survive Kobe. Jerry Sloan, the sage embodiment of wisdom that he is, is maybe the only Jedi Master left (not named coach Pop) who can still cross lightsabers with the Zen Master.
I know some people have the Jazz slated for a first round exit, but they're my sleeper in the conference. They're not necessarily a contender, but another ideal example of a team that could be if they can just put their marbles together.
If Greg Oden could find a way to stay healthy enough to maybe gain some momentum for his career and stop being a bust, the Trailblazers could have a shot at really being the young dangerous team everyone wants them to be. The good news: even if he doesn't Brandon Roy is a star, and that front court, even minus Oden, still isn't that bad. Camby and Aldridge are an imposing front court tandem, and even Pryzbilla (if healthy) is serviceable on the defensive end.
It will require a tremendous amount of focus throughout the season to snag a higher end seed for the playoffs, but if they get on a roll at the right time, they're staffed to potentially upset someone to get into the Conference Finals and then who knows what might go down.
San Antonio Spurs
I think the identity of the team is fluctuating, and I think it has to stabilize itself considerably before the playoffs if the Spurs want to make another run. There's a lot of room for a potential talent explosion (James Anderson, Tiago Splitter, Blair, Hill), but all of that "potential" could also swing the other way under pressure. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili can take you so far, but given the inevitable trend of their collective health, we now know that this trio is not going to haul the team to a title by themselves - significant and consistent contributions from a core group of three or four other players will have to be in the mix.
What changes the outlook is the idea of this team in the playoffs, healthy. If it happens, they're instantly a title contender in my mind. Tim Duncan, healthy and in the playoffs is still the most dominant interior presence in the conference and that means a great deal, especially considering the Lakers and their front court. If the young talent on this team can aggressively grow and push this team forward, the veteran core will have a chance to stay healthy and come through in the post season.
Team That Don't Matter
(in no particular order)
I don't care how many points they score. Yeah, I like 'Melo, too, but they're a jump shooting team and don't play D. That makes them incapable of a title run.
They lost Amare and when given the opportunity to shift the makeup of their squad, they added more shooters. They are not built for championship basketball in the current NBA, and management just doesn't get it. Yes they're a good team, but they don't matter because they're not built to beat the teams that do. Period.
They don't have nearly enough firepower offensively to do much of anything, and bringing in Kevin Martin to jack up thirty shots a game in a futile effort to try and drag your otherwise offensively busted ass team isn't going to accomplish much other than give K-Mart an All-Star appearance, a tired shooting shoulder, and an otherwise sour disposition as he looks around for some help.
New Orleans Hornets
Something bad happened to the Hornets, and I'm not even sure what it was. Most of their core seems more intent on jumping ship than buckling down and rekindling what they had going a couple of seasons ago. Somebody get Dr. House in here to diagnose what the hell happened to these guys.
Golden State Warriors
Lots of young talent here, lots of athleticism, lots of good shooting... too bad it's all two or three seasons away from being cohesive and developed enough to matter. I have hopes for this team down the road; keeping Curry, Ellis, Biedrins, and Lee together long enough may be a challenge, but if possible this crew could be something three years from now.
I like Rudy Gay. Do I like him enough to give him $82 million? Nope. There's good young talent here, for certain, but some core additions are necessary and Lord almighty I hope the money doesn't ruin the closest thing to a go-to guy the Grizzlies have.
Los Angeles Clippers
Baron, you're my boy, and I wish you had left in you what you once did. I think the age and injuries have caught up to you, and this squad isn't ready yet anyway. Best of luck, B-Dizzle.
|SPURS||Tim Duncan 17.9||Tim Duncan 10.1||Tony Parker 5.7|
|PACERS||Danny Granger 24.1||Roy Hibbert 5.7||Darren Collison 5.7|
The San Antonio Spurs will open their regular season against the Indiana Pacers at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Both teams made significant moves over the summer to improve their roster.
The Indiana Pacers drafted rookie Paul George and traded big man Troy Murphy in the offseason to acquire the services of Darren Collison and defensive specialist James Posey.
The Spurs on the other hand, added Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, resigned Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson, picked up the option year of George Hill, drafted rookie James Anderson and signed shooter Gary Neal to a 3-year contract from Italy.
The Pacers missed the playoffs last season while Spurs were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns during the 2010 Western Conference playoffs semi-final round.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Offense -- The Spurs tried to run more during their preseason games and have scored a lot in transition. It will be interesting to see if this trend will continue against an athletic team like the Pacers. Also, it will be key for the Spurs to established their inside game early and take advantage against the Pacers' young frontcourt.
Defense -- Limit Danny Granger on offense scoring and focus on the Pacers' dribble penetrations. Contain Collison. He out of the shadow of Chris Paul and will want to prove he is capable of being the starter. Tony Parker will have to take it to him and test him out of defense.
Offense -- The Pacers' offensive strength is on their backcourt with Danny Granger and Darren Collison. Both can explode on the offensive end on any given night. Also, keep an eye out for the Roy Hibbert versus Tim Duncan matchup. Hibbert has had some solid performances against Duncan. Another aspect is shooting. This team needs to make shots in order to have a chance against the Spurs.
Defense -- Focusing on the Spurs' inside game is a must. However, the Spurs also have a deep backcourt that includes Parker, Manu Ginobili and George Hill. So it will be a pick your poison game for the Pacers.
Spurs -- Tiago Splitter - strained right plantaris muscle (out).
Pacers -- Mike Dunleavy - bruised left knee (day-to-day), T.J. Ford - hamstring (day-to-day).
PREDICTION: Splitter will likely watch the Spurs' opening night on the bench, but that doesn't mean the Spurs are undermanned. Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess should have the advantage against the Pacers' frontcourt of Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts.
However, this will be a good test for the Spurs' perimeter defense, Jefferson will have his handsful as he goes up against Granger. The team that plays better defense and dictate the tempo will eventually win the game.
The Spurs will beat the Pacers to start the new season on the right foot.
We'll be going live tonight from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. CST for our season preview show. We'll have Richard Oliver and Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News and Jared Wade of Eight Points, Nine Seconds joining us throughout the show. Feel free to call in when we don't have a guest on and participate in the live chat, which we'll open up at 6:30 p.m.
CALL-IN NUMBER: 210-787-3627
The Spurs' big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been together since 2003. If you ask anyone, save for ESPN, that trio is considered among the best "big threes" in the NBA.
While there is no doubting that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been the most important pieces for most of the last decade, there has always been one player I consider the "plus one."
Bruce Bowen filled that role for quite a while, Manu Ginobili was the plus one in 2003 when Robinson, Duncan and Parker were the Spurs' key players in that championship run. Before that, you could consider either Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott or Mario Elie to fill that role.
Last season, while most expected Roger Mason to step into that role after a successful first season, George Hill became the player that kept the Spurs afloat when Tony Parker was sidelined with injuries.
While Hill proved the Spurs knew what they were doing when they drafted the little-known point guard out of IUPUI after his rookie year, he took steps in his second year with the team to solidify him as a reliable contributor. He ended his sophomore campaign averaging 12.4 points and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. Hill also finished second behind Aaron Brooks for Most Improved Player voting.
Hill came into training camp this year in the best shape of his career and seemed to be on a completely different comfort level. His work in the offseason, which included five-hour workouts four times per week since July, put him into game shape on the first day of training camp.
Aside from working on his body this offseason, Hill worked on extending his range, developing a floater and studied the intricacies of the point guard position.
And while he struggled through a shooting slump throughout the preseason, there's no doubt in my mind that he will take even more steps this year to have a breakout year.
But don't call Hill the "plus one" this season. While many prematurely called Parker, Ginobili, Duncan and Hill "the big four" during last season's playoffs, he'll earn his spot alongside that trio this season.
Coach Gregg Popovich will tip off the 2010-11 season with Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup. That's not because he thinks James Anderson will suffice in the second unit, it's because Hill has earned the respect and trust of his teammates and coach, and Popovich can count on Hill to provide some energy, scoring and defense off the bench.
Don't believe me? Ask ESPN's David Thorpe.
Hill has shown us numerous times that he is a serious player in the NBA, but we've never seen it consistently. It's tough to be consistent when the minutes are not, but that's life in the NBA on a solid team. Hill projects to get consistent minutes this year for a few reasons, not the least of which is how much the Spurs need his energy and athleticism. He shot 39.9 percent from 3-point range last season, which should help guarantee him even more time. His defense will be a big help, too, as the Spurs have to improve on that end if they want a return to glory.
The rest of the NBA will see the same starting tomorrow and throughout this season. I won't go as far as to predict Hill's numbers, because as Bowen proved in his time with the Spurs, stats only tell one part of the story. But Hill being a top contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award is a prediction I'm willing to put money on.