Writer: Jameson White
The San Antonio Spurs through four games look as strong as just about any team possibly can without the services of MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, who is easily one of the best players in the franchise’s history. But even when they return, can the Spurs knock off the Golden State Warriors, who to most are already seen as the 2018 NBA Champions? It will be tough regardless, but here are the reasons the team hailing from the Alamo City can pull it off.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing with a passion, emotion, and comfortability that hasn’t been seen from him since the days of him being a Trailblazer. Just before the 2017 NBA Draft, rumors were being spread that the Spurs were shopping the services of the former All-Star big man. He had been the biggest free agent signing in franchise history back in 2015 but had not fulfilled the expectations placed upon him. He talked to coach Gregg Popovich over the summer about not feeling comfortable, and with Popovich being the coach he is, he took the blame, said “I tried to change him. I tried to change him as a player,” and began working to make LaMarcus more comfortable. With this newfound compromise, LaMarcus has looked dominant and a legit number one option on offense, having point totals of 25, 28, 20, and 31 through four games. Not only on the offensive end but on the defensive end of the court as well, he has been playing with an energy that looks nothing like his sluggish 2016 version. To see a prime example of this, look no farther than his shoving match with Serge Ibaka last week in Toronto. If he can continue this high level of energy and play when Kawhi comes back, San Antonio will be on an entirely different level as a team.
The development of the younger players on the roster. The Spurs, known as an aging team, have some young, talented players that are starting to grow into their roles. Kyle “Slow Mo” Anderson has been starting at the Small Forward position while Kawhi is out, and has looked to be the second coming of one of San Antonio’s greatest role players ever, Boris Diaw, as a point forward. He has the length and basketball IQ that has helped him begin to flourish as a player, and will be a very interesting player later on in the season. Dejounte Murray, the 21 year old point guard from Washington has filled in quite nicely running the offense as Tony Parker works his way back. Murray is taller, longer, and more athletic than Parker, and with his 7’0” wingspan he has the tools to be a lockdown defender, which will be very helpful in defending a player like Stephen Curry. A crazy stat is that Murray is also leading the team in total rebounds, so if he can develop his outside jumper to go along with his defense and rebounding, he will be a very intriguing asset.
San Antonio now has versatility. With the “small ball” lineups taking the league by storm, San Antonio finally realized they cannot compete with having two bigs on the floor at once. Even though they can be overpowering on offense, they cannot keep up defensively with these smaller players. RC Buford and Gregg Popovich let players like David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon walk in free agency this past summer, opening up roster spots to sign guards and a forward like Rudy Gay, while still retaining quality sever-footers like LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
The bench depth has the opportunity to be the best in the league. It seems like every year San Antonio has one of the best depth charts in the Association. This season, they could have their deepest team ever. Parker and Leonard will be back by the end of the calendar year, and once they do, the bench will be incredibly deep. The starting lineup will most likely be Murray, Green, Leonard, Aldridge, and Gasol. Off the bench will come high energy guard Patty Mills, Parker, the ageless Manu Ginobili, Rudy Gay, Kyle Anderson, recently signed center Joffrey Lauvergne, and Davis Bertans, a 6’10” lights out 3-point shooter. This depth gives them the ability to play big or small, which is very valuable in today’s NBA.
Golden State looks gassed. Following a preseason trip to China, along with a run into the summer with their NBA Finals championship, the Warriors through four games do not look as mighty as they did in 2016. They have already dropped two of their first five games, losing to a strong Rockets team and the Memphis Grizzlies, who are off to a strong start to this season as well. Maybe it’s exhaustion, but another thing comes to mind when looking at a powerful team like this; arrogance and complacency. The Warriors know they have the talent to be the best in NBA history. They have four All-NBA level players in their starting lineup. Kevin Durant (snake) finally got his ring in which he had to sell out for, and in the loss to the Grizzlies, he was ejected. When he was being walked off the court, he held up his ring finger to the crowd, signifying he is now better than any of them because of his championship ring. Stephen Curry, who was also ejected in the Memphis game due to throwing his mouthpiece at an official, has always seemed arrogant with the way he will shoot the ball and, before it even reaches the hoop, will turn away and begin running down the court. Draymond Green is, well, Draymond Green. He has a tendency to be over emotional and be thrown out of games for kicking or other violent acts. Golden State has talent, but a great team becoming too cocky and losing when it matters happens all the time.
The individual player matchups with Golden State are intriguing. Against the vaunted Warriors “Death lineup,” San Antonio now has versatility to match them. They can have lockdown defender Danny Green on Stephen Curry, Dejounte Murray on Klay Thompson, Kawhi on Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay on Andre Iguodala, and LaMarcus Aldridge on Draymond Green. This lineup allows for the Spurs to be highly effective on both ends of the court, as they can not only score with high volume and efficiency, but also play lockdown defense, regardless of position. In the Western Conference Finals last season, San Antonio didn’t have this versatility, however still had more than a 20 point lead in game one, pre-Kawhi Leonard injury. With even just Kawhi, anything is possible.
All in all, it is barely a week into the new NBA season. Injuries are always a possibility for any team, and that fact can drastically change the outcome of any season. However, a meeting between these teams in the postseason almost seems inevitable. If any team can take down the mighty Warriors, the Spurs have the tools to get the job done.