The Starters

Key questions await San Antonio Spurs as new season nears

Tas Melas

It’s that time of the year where we all overlook the Spurs. Twenty straight playoff appearances? Meh. A player who was third in MVP voting and just turned 26? Pfft. Up 21 on the champs in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals when that player went down for the rest of the series? Bah.

It’s been a part of us as basketball fans for the last decade: We look past, around, and through the Spurs.

There’s Kawhi, but what else does this team have?

Their second-best player, LaMarcus Aldridge, was not good enough last season to dream of toppling the Warriors. Over the summer, Aldridge took the first step in refinding his All-NBA Portland-self when he “spilled his heart” to coach Gregg Popovich. Aldridge has been searching for Aldridge since he signed with San Antonio two seasons ago. This offseason, he revealed what he was truly feeling to Pop — essentially, the message was: “I spent nine years in Portland as the focus of the offense and I’ve had trouble acclimating.”

During the preseason, Pop sounded empathetic to LA’s offensive obstacles. I suppose the idea is to get Aldridge going earlier in games like the championship Heat did for Chris Bosh. If Pop has prioritized LA’s involvement, it must mean he knows Aldridge has another level.

With their focus squarely on the Warriors, San Antonio’s biggest offseason move was signing Rudy Gay (2016-17: 18.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 spg). To put it mildly, Rudy has always been a highly scrutinized player. He’s never had a lot of team success as a lead guy but the numbers have always been there, and last season in Sacramento was no exception. He was efficient while shooting above average from three (37.2 percent). On a bad team. He’s now coming off the bench with a fantastic team.

It reminds me of Andre Iguodala — never a ton of playoff success as the man in Philly, but the Swiss Army role with the Warriors has been his calling. Like Iggy, Gay can also unlock the Spurs’ version of smallball: Parker/Patty-Green-Kawhi-Gay-Aldridge. Rudy’s solid on both ends, he’s another body to throw at Durant, and he exemplifies the perfect four in today’s NBA.

What can go sideways (other than facing the Warriors)? Ball-handling. A healthy Tony Parker would help, and even if Danny Green tells us Parker is ahead of schedule, we can’t really know he’ll be the same as he was in the 2017 playoffs until we watch him in the 2018 playoffs. He’s 35 and coming off a major injury. Along with TP, Kawhi isn’t healthy, and Gay isn’t 100 percent. Manu Ginobili mentioned the team won’t “start full throttle” on opening night and the bench will have to play a big role early in the schedule. Luckily, San Antonio has had the NBA’s best bench in three of the last four seasons (Golden State was the other. They’ll likely be 1-2 come April).

If San Antonio gets off to a slow start in the cutthroat West, that means they’ll likely finish behind the Rockets and/or Thunder in the standings. That is not a recipe for success … There I go, underestimating the Spurs again.

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