After the loss of the great Tim Duncan, how will Popovich and company manage their first season of this Post-Duncan Era?
Tim Duncan has set the standard for the Spurs organization over the past 20 years with his demeanor, work ethic, and overall presence on and off the floor. As he rides off into the sunset with a first ballot hall of fame ticket ready to be punched, this Spurs team will need to move on without their most notable leader. On the positive end, they still have the best coach in all of basketball, and a team who is ready to compete now and for years to come.
Duncan will be missed. He is touted as the best power forward of all time, and is arguably a top 10 player to ever lace them up. His tenure in San Antonio was the key contributor to seventeen straight 50-win seasons, a dynasty that would even give Red Auerbach’s Celtics a run for their money. Interestingly enough, the sole year the Spurs didn’t win 50 games was due to a shortened NBA season, a year where Duncan still lead them to the first of their five NBA championships. If this were a different team, a different star, and a different coach, the loss of an all-time great would severely cripple their chances at success. But the Spurs are not your average team.
“Next man up” has been a staple in Gregg Popovich’s system throughout the years. As they lose players due to injury or sit them to give some additional rest, the Spurs never seem to skip a beat. This year, that model will truly be put to the test. Not only will this team need to fill the void left by Duncan, but they will also need to compensate for the withering Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Both players averaged the least points since their rookie years and career lows in minutes last year.
With all the optimism from Spurs fans in this Post-Duncan Era, the backcourt could be the major concern for this team. With Manu and Parker seeming like they are on their way out, the Spurs will need others to step up more than ever this season. Danny Green is coming off his worst season, shooting an abysmal 37% from the field and 32% from three. Patty Mills is arguably the most inconsistent player the Spurs have seen, and many feel he should have progressed further at this point in his career. Rookie Dejounte Murray and Jonathan Simmons, who is a typical “Popovich guy,” will have their opportunities to contribute and may provide some upside, but this is by far the biggest area of weakness for this roster.
Outside of the backcourt, this Spurs team has the talent to contend in the Western Conference. Pau Gasol is quite frankly the perfect addition for this team. Even at 36 years old, he has the passing and shooting ability to replace Boris Diaw, the size of Tim Duncan, and the perfect style of play and crisp passing to fit with this team. He does not protect the paint or claim rebounds as well as Duncan, but after coming off back-to-back all-star seasons in Chicago, Gasol will be able to quickly adjust to his new setting.
All-stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge have effectively taken the keys that drive the San Antonio Spurs. Aldridge has now had a full year to adjust to his role and should mesh well with Gasol on the offensive end. That duo down low, matched with the two-way ability of Kawhi Leonard will be tough to handle for any team. If Kawhi can continue to improve at the rate he has, he is a serious MVP candidate and will continue to bring the Spurs to the playoffs for the next 10 years. He is that good.
Even without Duncan, this Spurs team has the typical build of what Gregg Popovich and R.C. Bufford have established the past 20 years. They have the reliable superstars in Kawai Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol. They have young, athletic players in Jonathan Simmons, Kyle Anderson and Dejounte Murray. Shooters like Danny Green and Patty Mills and veterans who can still carry their weight like David Lee.
Not to mention the ones who set the bar along Duncan. Even though Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are not the same on the court, their presence will still be felt throughout the team. The Popovich effect will remain, and this Spurs team will continue their decades of dominance as long as he is on the sideline. I can point to their backcourt, questionable defense, and older age in some areas, but I still would never bet against Pop. It will be different, but it should feel oh so similar for basketball fans everywhere. It will be a tall task though for another 50-win season to continue their record-breaking streak. Probably the biggest test Popovich and company have had to overcome, since the night they drafted the 6’11 kid out of Wake Forrest, who became one of the greatest of all time.