Something has to give and in the case of San Antonio Spurs, riding on the greatness of Tim Duncan definitely had to come to an end. As a matter of fact, San Antonio got incredibly lucky on the durability of the future Hall of Fame inductee who since getting drafted in 1997, pivoted Spurs impressive haul of five NBA titles.
Hitting 40 in the midst of crazy expenditure the NBA was hit with in the early hours of free agency and admitting basketball was “no more fun”, Duncan ended his tenure in Texas. On the back of overwhelming show of emotions upon learning of Duncan’s retirement, much thought has gone into how Spurs will fare without the Big Fundamental in the middle of the paint.
Of course, a well organized administration like the one in San Antonio knew of the imminent retirement of two of their “Big Three”-Manu Ginobli and Duncan- that they started making the right moves to counter their losses. Hitting a jackpot in the draft by picking Kawhi Leonard at 15 in 2011 has served as the best replica of an under valued wing player who turned out to be a legend of the game in Ginobli.
In just over two years, Leonard has developed into an elite wing player who thrives on both ends of the court having earned two consecutive Defensive Player of the Year titles and one of the most efficient three point shooters- converted 129 of 291 attempts per baasketballreference.com.
Things always tend to be different with San Antonio basketball as such lightning struck twice when it usually doesn’t, with the capture of LaMarcus Aldridge last season. Aldridge’s game differs from Duncan’s with the former specializing as a three point threat and mid range assassin whereas the latter made a legacy by holding onto a page ripped from the “old school” textbook of yester year in the NBA. However, both bigs share similar traits on the personal level as neither man is a headline grabber; both operate under the radar of the theme-park fantasy world in the league. So in late October, the Spurs probable starting lineup will feature new acquisition Pau Gasol, Aldridge, Leonard, Danny Green and Tony Parker; definitely something has to give.
As great as the Spurs offense under Gregg Popovich is garnished by splendid off the ball movement and deft passes, it’s the defense that has been the biggest benefactor to the multiple championship titles. Aside Leonard and Green, the starting lineups remnants don’t hold much weight in defensive conversation in the league. Parker, a 34 year old Point Guard isn’t the fleet footed playmaker who excelled on guarding his opposite number down to a tee some years back. Aldridge and Gasol don’t figure to improve their defense at this point in their career though both men rank as above average defenders.
In Los Angeles, Gasol went a tad easy on defense alongside elite rim protector Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard; however brief that was. Aldridge had Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman do most of the banging in the paint for him. In light of the absence of the aforementioned names and subsequent departure of Boris Diaw (to Utah Jazz), Boban Marjonovic (Detroit Pistons) and David West (Golden State Warriors), interior defense will be of major concern to the Spurs top hierarchy. Since the overhaul of the bench bigs, Orlando Magic seven foot Center Dewayne Dedmon has since appended his signature to the Spurs offer sheet. Dedmon doesn’t figure to start any games minus injuries and looks more of a garbage time option as Marjonovic was last season primarily because he doesn’t fit the Spurs bill.
Spurs bigs (using last season as an example)can be labeled as Point Forwards/Centers-bigs with passing range- and Dedmon isn’t one. Gasol on the other hand, thrives in such situations as his ability to hit teammates with outlet passes on cuts and drives is a massive weapon in the veteran Spaniard’s arsenal. Duncan has been an underrated defensive player in his ten plus seasons in the NBA. In his last season, Duncan checked in third behind Hassan Whiteside and Kawhi Leonard with a defensive rating of 95.1 according to Fox Sports.com. For comparison sake, Aldridge came in eight and Gasol was 13th in the top 50 man list.
San Antonio can breathe easy on the perimeter as Leonard and Green find themselves in the top ten but same cannot be said for the interior where relative inferior options are stationed.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah