Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 58-24, No. 1 in Southwest Division, No. 2 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Marco Belinelli, Jeff Ayres
Roster subtractions: DeJuan Blair, Tracy McGrady, Gary Neal
Apparently the motto for the San Antonio Spurs this summer was, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The defending Western Conference champs brought in only a couple new guys with guaranteed contracts this preseason and re-signed a few key players.
Other than that, it's been a pretty quiet offseason in San Antonio.
Last year, the Spurs rode a rejuvenated 36-year-old Tim Duncan all the way to the NBA Finals, taking the Miami Heat to seven games and once again quieting critics who've wondered aloud for the last half-decade if the championship window for the Spurs was finally closed.
Duncan played some of the best basketball of his career, putting up 17.8 points per game, shooting 50.2 percent and pulling down about 10 rebounds. His mini-resurgence - he hadn't fallen off that badly the prior three seasons - was helped out in large part to the excellent play of point guard Tony Parker and the emergence of swingman Kawhi Leonard.
Parker should again be the hub of the Spurs' offense, following up a season in which he dished out 7.6 assists and shot 52.2 percent from the field. His weakness? Parker has historically been a terrible three-point shooter - although he did manage 35.8 percent from outside last year. Instead of spreading the floor and hitting threes, Parker uses his driving ability to get into the lane and finish at the rim. He forces defenses to collapse, allowing him to set up open shooters on the perimeter.
The main beneficiaries of the open looks from Parker should again be wings Leonard and Danny Green, who both shot well from outside last year. Guard Marco Belinelli, who was signed in free agency, will be expected to live up to his reputation as a shooter and hit a few threes a game, even though he slumped a bit from beyond the arc last year. The Spurs front office thinks Parker's drive-and-kick ability will breathe life into Belinelli's jumper, though, as players in the past have benefitted from playing with him.
Leonard will take on a larger role this year after breaking out last season on both sides of the ball, culminating in an impressive playoff run when he pulled down 8.7 boards, shot efficiently and fearlessly guarded LeBron James in the Finals. The understated Leonard, a perfect fit on and off the court in coach Gregg Popovich's system, should flourish in an expanded role if he continues to improve in his third year.
Tiago Splitter is a big man who can score, rebound and hit shots at a solid percentage. Against certain lineups, he is less effective but allows Popovich to play him to his strengths. He faltered a bit in the playoffs last year, but he signed a fresh, four-year deal this offseason that will pay him $36 million, so the Spurs' front office clearly expects him to be a consistent contributor. He'll have that opportunity as he starts in the front court alongside Duncan.
Manu Ginobili will still come off the bench for Popovich, but with the roles of Leonard and Green increasing, he will be expected to do less as he ages. He's seen a drop off in most of his stats, but Ginobili can still be effective in limited minutes, becoming less of a scoring threat and more of a distributor.
The Spurs bench runs deep, featuring the aforementioned Belinelli and Ginobili to go along with forwards Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayres (formerly Jeff Pendergraph) and Boris Diaw. Parker is backed up by a trio of point guards: Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo and everyone's favorite towel-waver and bench mascot, Patty Mills. Each point has his strengths and weaknesses, but Joseph's commitment to defense should garner him the bulk of the minutes at the back up one-spot.
The defense of the Spurs should again be solidly anchored by Duncan, who blocked 2.7 shots a game last season. They don't foul much, don't allow a high-percentage of shots, prevent points in the paint and limit the opponent's ability to move the ball around. Because this team is mostly the same as last year - albeit a year older - and they're run by one of the most successful head coaches of all-time in Popovich, don't expect a drop off in defense. If Leonard's defensive production intersects with his hype following the Spurs' Finals appearance, he will be one of the league's elite perimeter defenders.
Almost every year lately, it seems, pundits have looked to write off the Spurs as a contender. It looks like they've finally shaken that preseason meme following 16 straight playoff appearances, though. If they can keep the aging trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili healthy and get incremental improvement from Leonard, Green and at least one of the young back up point guards, the Spurs could make another one of their patented annual deep forays into the postseason. Barring major injuries, expect them to be in the mix for a top-seed in the West next spring as they look to further fortify their reputation as one of the NBA's most consistently great teams.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter