Manu Ginobili

This is the fourth edition in my series previewing the seasons of NBA teams with former Texas Longhorns players.  

So far I have previewed the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Denver Nuggets, the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. Today I am breaking down the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 58-24, lost 4-3 in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat    

Longhorn Player: Cory Joseph, PG

There were a few moving parts for the Spurs this offseason. Head coach Gregg Popovich lost two star assistant coaches in Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown, who left to take the head coaching jobs with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. I don’t expect these losses to phase Popovich, who is no stranger to major transitions on the bench. He had no trouble sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, despite Mike Brown, another of his former assistants, coaching the Cavaliers in that series.

Despite being the Western Conference’s best team last season, San Antonio had a nice chunk of change to spend this offseason. I am not convinced the Spurs spent it as wisely as they could have. The Spurs resigned center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal, as well as longtime core member Manu Ginobili to a two-year, $14 million contract. That price is right for Ginobili, who has shown he is still one of the most versatile guards in the league. Not so much for Splitter — the Spurs likely had to overpay for him out of fear of losing their developing project. He is not worth more per year than Ginobili, even at 36.  

But the name of the game in San Antonio has always been consistency. In that sense, the Spurs excelled this summer.

The Spurs did lose pesky three-point specialist Gary Neal to the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency, but they quickly signed another perimeter weapon in former Chicago Bull Marco Belinelli. He gives San Antonio much more size and length, as well as more efficient shooting. He lacks athleticism and Neal’s speed, but it is important to remember that he will be on the second unit. His job is to knock down open threes, and he will do that very well, as he always has.  

Aside from all of that, the championship core remains intact. This is the number one reason the Spurs might have extended their title window by a couple years. Kawhi Leonard has all-star potential, and is becoming a more complete offensive player each year. Tony Parker is still one of the league’s top five, possibly top three point guards. Tim Duncan had a 10-year flashback last season, and Ginobili’s play merited his new contract. Danny Green had an unbelievable NBA Finals debut last season, and will return this season.

Once again the bench is deep and productive, benefited by Popovich’s plug-and-play system that allows anyone to step in and maximize his ability. That unit is headlined by former Texas Longhorn Cory Joseph, who will be Parker’s primary backup, Belinelli, swingman Boris Diaw, sharpshooter Matt Bonner and the slight but explosive Australian guard Patty Mills. You can count on this bench to hold its place among the league’s top five in production. Bottom Line: There isn’t really a weakness with this Spurs team. It will allow its fair share of points to one of the most impressive western conferences in league history, but it can still outgun quite a few teams. If Duncan can continue to drink from the fountain of youth and Parker and Ginobili stay healthy — 70 games or more — this team has a chance to win the West again. Additionally, it can expect Leonard and Splitter to continue their development and increase their nightly contributions.

In an always-brutal Western Conference that will be a notch tougher this season, I’ll give the Spurs 57 wins — one fewer than last year. Depending on the matchups in the conference finals, I can see them going to the NBA Finals again. If they run into the Golden State Warriors or the Los Angeles Clippers, they’ll have a tough time. Anyone else — see you in June.  

In keeping with the tradition of this series, Game 5 of the NBA Finals was all about a team trying to make a comeback. After trading wins with the Miami Heat in the first four games, the San Antonio Spurs survived a late-game push by the Heat to pull out an impressive 114-104 victory Sunday night in their last contest at home for the season.

About an hour before tipoff, a surprising announcement was made by the Spurs that would ultimately affect the outcome of this match: Manu Ginobili, who customarily fills the role of sixth man for the team, would be part of the starting lineup for the first time all season.

Gregg Popovich’s boldness paid off: Ginobili hadn’t had a game where he’d scored over 20 points with nine assists since November of 2010. But he capitalized on a hot start, and finished with 24 points and 10 assists this evening. Ginobili is considering retirement following this season.

Whereas Game 4 ultimately became a contest between two teams’ Big Threes, tonight’s story was all about role players. One glance at the box score tells you everything you need to know: all five of the Spurs’ starters finished with scoring in double figures (and combined for 107 points) while only three of Miami’s finished in double digits.

In addition to Ginobili’s podium game, Tony Parker provided a very productive 26 minutes while battling a strained hamstring, finishing with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting and five assists. Tim Duncan had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard also shot the ball well; he had 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting (with 2-of-4 coming from three point range) and eight rebounds.

In a game where, as a team, the Spurs shot 60% from the floor for the game (at halftime, they were shooting a cool 61.8% from the floor, their highest first half in the postseason since 2007), Danny Green was entirely other tonight. His 24 points came on 8-of-15 shooting with 6-of-10 coming from beyond the arc, including a dagger three in the fourth quarter to all but close this one out.

Green got into the record books with this game, with the most made three-pointers in a Finals series ever (he’s made 25). The record-breaking three came with Ray Allen, the previous record holder with 22 made threes, guarding him. Green also chipped in six assists and played lockdown transition defense. If the Spurs win the series, Green is making quite a case for Finals MVP.

The Miami Heat’s starters (and role players) were simply outscored in Game 5. Though LeBron finished with 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and four steals, it came on 8-of-22 shooting and he visibly was having a difficult time shaking Boris Diaw’s defense. Dwyane Wade also struggled, ending up with 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting, four rebounds and 10 assists. Chris Bosh went for 16 points and six rebounds. Ray Allen contributed 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, boasting a perfect 4-of-4 from three and Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers combined for 14 points and five rebounds.
The Spurs ripped off three significant runs at different points in this game: 19-1, 15-2 and 10-0, forced 13 turnovers and pulled down 36 rebounds to Miami’s 34.
The Spurs lead the series 3-2 as they head to Miami for Game 6 at 8 PM Tuesday.

Spurs are poised to contend for fifth title

The short-handed San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of a league-best 11-game winning streak. Led by veteran All-Star point-guard Tony Parker, the Spurs are positioning themselves to make another championship run.

The Spurs are commonly perceived as an “older” squad because their core veteran players were all a part of the team’s title runs in the past decade. The Spurs are actually in the middle of a youth movement and possess one of the NBA’s youngest set of bench players.

Playing most of the season without guard Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have needed major contribution from their young players to help them remain contenders. The hottest team in the league holds the Western Conference’s second best record at 23-9.

Players like Gary Neal and Danny Green filled in nicely for the Spurs after their superstar went down with a broken hand.

"When you have guys that go down, I think sometimes it helps guys refocus knowing you have less room for error, everybody has to contribute," said veteran Richard Jefferson.

If the Spurs are to make a serious run at their fifth championship they will need Ginobili to be healthy during the playoffs. The Spurs started last year’s playoffs without Manu and had an unexpected early-exit as the Western Conference’s number one seed.

With a wide-open Western Conference the Spurs have the pieces to make another run. They do, however, need their superstar and established closer to compliment all of those pieces. The other Western Conference contenders all have a superstar closer to rely on during the playoffs. The Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder all have reputable leaders in Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant, respectively.

For now, the Spurs will continue to depend on their youth to remain as one of the league’s best teams. Having just returned from a 22-game absence Ginobili injured his chest, and will be out of action at least a couple of weeks.

"He just came back, played in a couple of games and was beginning to get in shape, get a rhythm, and then he goes down again,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “He's pretty depressed about it. Hopefully the team can be over it and realize he and Tiago are going to be gone for a while.”

Nicknamed “El Contusione” by former teammate Brent Barry, Ginobili has garnered a reputation as a walking contusion. Just like last season, the Spurs can’t afford to have Manu sidelined when the playoffs get underway.