By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
October 31, 2012

It’s one of the NBA’s greatest teams in the 2000s vs. a team hoping to someday accomplish big things in the 2010s.

It’s the Southwest Division’s defending champions against a club trying to improve significantly after a fifth-place finish last season.

It’s the franchise that has provided the launch point for so many NBA coaching and executive careers, going head-to-head with a head coach and general manager who began their post-playing basketball lives in San Antonio.

San Antonio and New Orleans open the 2012-13 regular season on Halloween in the Crescent City, in a matchup pitting the four-time NBA titlists (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007) against a revamped Hornets squad featuring numerous new players. The official debut of No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis will garner significant attention around the league, with NBA TV televising the divisional battle to a national audience.

While the Hornets’ roster overhaul included lottery picks Davis and Austin Rivers, as well as veteran additions Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez, the Spurs essentially made no major offseason changes. After going 50-16 last season – and winning a second straight division title – the club saw no reason to alter the makeup of what’s been a model team. Back for another season are Tim Duncan (16th season with the Spurs), Tony Parker (12th) and Manu Ginobili (11th). Each player has spent his entire career in San Antonio, a rarity in the NBA. The only other active NBA players who’ve been with one team longer than Parker and Ginobili are Kobe Bryant (17th season), Dirk Nowitzki (15th) and Paul Pierce (15th). Ginobili won’t play Wednesday; he did not travel with the Spurs to NOLA due to a sore back.

After a series of moves to try to improve upon last season’s 21-45 record, the Hornets’ longest-tenured player is Jason Smith, entering only his third year in NOLA. The 7-footer joined the Hornets during the same 2010 offseason that included the arrivals of head coach Monty Williams and GM Dell Demps. Demps and Williams both worked on San Antonio’s basketball operations staff and list 17th-year Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich as a mentor.

Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Anthony Davis vs. Tim Duncan
The No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft faces the top selection from ’97. Based on his similar body type, Davis drew some comparisons to Duncan on draft night. The 36-year-old’s refined, fundamentally-sound offensive game is something Davis could try to emulate as he develops into a mature NBA player.

Overview
For years, skeptics have expressed the opinion that the Spurs are too old to compete at a high level in the NBA. Year after year, the Spurs respond by compiling one of the league’s best records. San Antonio pulled off the trick again in 2011-12, going 50-16 in the regular season, tying Chicago for the top mark in the 30-team circuit. The Spurs also reeled off an incredible 20 consecutive victories – a streak that stretched into the playoffs – but after building a 2-0 lead in the West finals against Oklahoma City, dropped four straight games. It was a bitter ending to a postseason in which the Spurs appeared poised to return to the NBA Finals for the fifth time since 1999. In each of their previous four trips to the championship round (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007), the Spurs have prevailed. Hall of Fame-bound big man Tim Duncan has been an integral part of all four ring-winning squads. The 36-year-old Duncan is one of numerous 30-somethings who give the Spurs a significant experience advantage over most opponents.

What’s new
Virtually every member of the Spurs who contributed to last season’s success is back, giving them one of the most familiar rosters in the NBA. One of few summer tweaks occurred when San Antonio added to the French flavor of its squad by signing guard Nando De Colo, a 6-foot-5 rookie. De Colo, who drained a game-winning shot to beat Atlanta in a preseason game, joins Tony Parker and Boris Diaw as natives of France in the San Antonio lineup.

Spurs star
Quietly and without any controversy or battle of wills, Duncan has handed to Parker the role of most important Spurs player and No. 1 scoring option. At 30, Parker is coming off the finest season of his NBA career, finishing fifth in the league’s Most Valuable Player vote, behind only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant (Duncan finished 14th in the MVP balloting). The fleet-footed Parker is a below-average perimeter shooter, but constantly penetrates into the lane and scores off an array of floaters, scoops and crafty reverse layups.
On the rise
The Spurs have done a masterful job of evaluating talent over the years, often finding gems in the draft who produce above expectations. On draft night of 2011, San Antonio made a savvy move by trading guard George Hill to Indiana for first-round pick Kawhi Leonard. Despite being a rookie on an ultra-successful and veteran club, Leonard eventually earned a starting role and was invaluable on both ends of the floor. The San Diego State product is a tough defender and clutch perimeter shooter. Many NBA analysts believe Leonard has star potential and will be critical to the Spurs’ long-term success.

X-factor
Reserve swingman Stephen Jackson is the epitome of a wild card for the Spurs. The streaky 13-year veteran had one of the worst shooting regular seasons of his career in 2011-12, at just 28.8 percent from three-point range. In the playoffs, however, he suddenly got red-hot, torching the Jazz, Clippers and Thunder from long distance. Jackson finished a scorching 26-for-43 (60.5 percent) on three-pointers in the ’12 postseason.

On the sideline
Gregg Popovich is often recognized as one of professional basketball’s best head coaches, which made it no surprise when he captured the NBA Coach of the Year trophy in 2011-12 for his masterful handling of the Spurs. Popovich’s influence on the Hornets is substantial. Both Monty Williams and Dell Demps – along with various other members of NOLA’s basketball operations staff – were trained in the Alamo City by the man referred to simply as “Pop.”

Did you know?
San Antonio has won the fourth-most NBA championships in league history, with four. Topping this exclusive list are Boston (17 titles), the Los Angeles Lakers (16) and Chicago (6).


Players the Spurs want shooting free throws in a close game… If the Spurs need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…
Name
Career FT percentage (entering 2012-13)
Manu
Ginobili
83.5
Two-time All-Star did not make trip to New Orleans due to injury.
Gary
Neal
79.8
Undrafted player out of Towson but has fit in perfectly with Spurs.
Patty
Mills
79.7
Native of Australia was perfect in 15 attempts in 2011-12.
Name
Career three-point percentage (entering 2012-13)
Gary
Neal
41.9
Third-year pro has shot exactly 41.9 percent in both prior seasons.
Danny
Green
41.8
Has improved accuracy all three years of his pro career.
Matt
Bonner
41.5
A specialist who scored 315 of his 429 points last season on treys.