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2015-16 San Antonio Spurs Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the San Antonio Spurs’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The San Antonio Spurs won 55 games last year, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Clippers. But any concerns about the Spurs no longer contending were removed when the team added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West this summer in addition to re-signing Kawhi Leonard to a five-year deal. Now, the Spurs seem set up perfectly for the present and future. Can they hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this year?

Basketball Insiders previews the San Antonio Spurs’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

What the Spurs’ front office does from year to year is just unfair. Getting Kawhi Leonard locked in for the five-year max before the new salary cap hits makes him one of the biggest bargains in the league, and David West’s contract might be the most team-friendly deal of the last few years. Most importantly, though, the Spurs were able to lure LaMarcus Aldridge away from Portland and persuade Tim Duncan to return for another year. Manu Ginobili is back as well, so he’ll help out Danny Green and Tony Parker in the backcourt again this year. Even Kyle Anderson looked like the best player in Summer League, so there’s no shortage of excellence anywhere on this roster. San Antonio is two players deep absolutely everywhere, which is perfect for keeping the older guys healthy for one more championship run before Duncan retires. It is an even-numbered year, after all.

1st Place — Southwest Division

-Joel Brigham

Face it: the San Antonio Spurs aren’t leaving the realm of the league’s elite any time soon. After years of fielding questions about who would be the franchise’s cornerstone once Tim Duncan hanged up his laces, the team secured All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. Aldridge is a nightly 20-10 threat and will keep the Spurs relevant for years to come. After a disappointing first round playoff elimination last season, the Spurs are one of the favorites to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals come June. Yes, the team should be that good.

1st Place — Southwest Division

-Lang Greene

In life, there are few guarantees — except death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs contending. The re-signing of Kawhi Leonard and the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge should ensure that the Spurs are contenders for the next five years, but whether they win it all will depend on how gracefully Tony Parker ages and whether Gregg Popovich continues to man their bench. After being bounced by the Clippers in the first round of last season’s playoffs, who really knows what to expect from the Spurs this year? A big part of their strength was their depth, and although they have added Aldridge, some of their key pieces are gone. Tiago Splitter is in Atlanta, Marco Belinelli is in Sacramento, Cory Joseph is in Toronto and Aron Baynes is in Detroit. The core is intact, though, and so long as they stay intact and approach the regular season with some sense of urgency, I think they have a good shot of winning the mighty Southwest — the toughest division in the league.

1st Place — Southwest Division

-Moke Hamilton

The Spurs are ridiculously talented and I think they pose the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. There have been some questions about how new additions like LaMarcus Aldridge and David West fit with the team’s returning core, but Gregg Popovich is a wizard so I’m not worried about this team jelling. San Antonio has championship potential and it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone to see them win it all.

1st Place — Southwest Division

-Alex Kennedy

The Spurs are perennial Western Conference contenders. As their veteran core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are in the latter stage of their respective careers, the organization shored up its future by re-signing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and landing one of the most highly sought after free agents: LaMarcus Aldridge. The pieces are in place for the Spurs to transition into their next chapter. This season, the roster is built with star power across the court. David West’s decision to join the team for less money shows players around the league recognize and value the potential to win now. I expect them to be one of the top teams in the West and right there fighting to come out of the conference.

1st Place — Southwest Division

-Jessica Camerato

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge gives the Spurs another low post presence who can dominate the basket and the boards. Last season he averaged 23.4 points on a team that featured Damian Lillard, who was scoring 21.0 points himself. Aldridge’s numbers could drop as his number of shots could decrease on a stacked team. But he was brought in to be a top contributor and should be one of the Spurs leading scorers.

Top Defensive Player: Kawhi Leonard

It’s hard to look past his title as reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. He led all players in steals per game (2.3) and is just the sixth forward to do so since the NBA began tracking the stat. Only 24, the ceiling is still high for him to improve. As more and more teams are going small and playing away from the basket, Leonard’s shutdown defense becomes even more valuable to lock down the competition.

Top Playmaker: Tony Parker

The veteran playmaker led the Spurs in assists last season with 4.9 dimes per game. While the team gets plenty of ball handling off the bench from Manu Ginobili (4.2 APG), Parker is still the driving force on the floor as the starting point guard. His numbers may not be as flashy as Chris Paul or John Wall, both who averaged 10-plus assists last season, but that’s not his role on the Spurs. Parker plays within the system to get his teammates the ball as needed, a chemistry that has led to multiple championships.

Top Clutch Player: Danny Green

With the game on the line, having a sharpshooter on the floor is a huge asset. After a slow start to his career, Green has established himself as a knockdown offensive player. He broke the NBA Finals three-point record in 2013 and he shot 41.8 percent from long range last season. Even though the Spurs have dominating bigs, this shooting guard is one of their most dangerous offensive weapons.

The Unheralded Player: Tim Duncan

There is no question Tim Duncan is a future Hall of Famer. Duncan flies under the radar, however, for his high production value at nearly 40 years old. Duncan’s ability to average a near double-double each season is underrated. Last postseason, he posted 17.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game — in his 18th campaign. He epitomizes discipline and hard work, characteristics that are not loud and flashy but proven and noteworthy.

Best New Addition: LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge was one of the most sought after free agents this summer. The Spurs lured him away from other title hopefuls to further build the foundation for when they transition into the next chapter of the organization. With the addition of Aldridge (along with re-signing Leonard and Green), the team is built to remain a championship contender when the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era comes to an end.

-Jessica Camerato

Who We Like

Gregg Popovich: What’s not to like about a hard-nosed coach who wins multiple championships by playing fundamental basketball? There is no glitz or glamour, just Xs and Os that get the job done. Popovich has become a must-watch interview for his demeanor that can spark thousands of words in reaction without saying much at all.

David West: West took a huge pay cut this offseason to sign with the Spurs. At this point in his career, the chance of winning a title outweighed the salary. West’s intentions are clear as he will boost the Spurs depth with a championship focus.

Becky Hammon: Even though she wasn’t on the court, Hammon was the breakout star at the Las Vegas Summer League. The Spurs assistant coach was appointed Summer League head coach and led the team to the championship in July. Unafraid to speak her mind during game action, she combined her experience from her WNBA career with her first season on the Spurs bench to drive the team to victory.

Patty Mills: On a team of future Hall of Famers and All Stars, it is easy for Patty Mills to get overlooked. That doesn’t diminish his role on the Spurs, however. The point guard from Australia gives the Spurs a backcourt boost off the bench. He missed the start of last season rehabbing a shoulder injury. If he can stay healthy for 82 games this time around, he will give the veteran guards valuable rest and bring energy to the floor.

-Jessica Camerato

Strengths

The Spurs have championship experience that gives them an intangible advantage when it comes to the postseason. Their core has also been playing together for what feels like an eternity, an instant edge when it comes to team chemistry. The Spurs have a balanced roster of veterans and emerging star players that can feed off and learn from one another.

-Jessica Camerato

Weaknesses

Age and health are always question marks for the Spurs. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili – along with fellow veterans like Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner – have amassed thousands of minutes over their careers. It is key to manage the playing time of these players in order to have them ready to go full speed in the postseason.

-Jessica Camerato

The Burning Question

Will the Spurs come out of the Western Conference?

The Spurs have the pieces to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference and unseat the Golden State Warriors. It will likely come down to health and matchups in the postseason. If the Spurs have everyone playing at 100 percent, they have more than enough weapons to make a very deep run. They have been contenders year after year, and the addition of Aldridge boosts their chances of coming out of the West and potentially winning it all.

-Jessica Camerato

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NBA Daily: Is Stephen Curry the MVP?

Given the prolific season Stephen Curry is having, despite the Golden State Warriors being ninth in the Western Conference, does his impact make him the Most Valuable Player in the NBA this season?

Bobby Krivitsky

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In the aftermath of Klay Thompson suffering an Achilles tear that ended his season before it began, no one would have blamed Stephen Curry for prioritizing his preservation through the 2020-21 campaign.

Instead, despite the Golden State Warriors lacking the necessary talent to become a title contender, Curry’s doing everything in his power to get them into the playoffs.

The two-time league MVP is on pace to win the scoring title for the second time in his career. In a recent road loss against the Boston Celtics, Curry put up 47 points, becoming the second player in Warriors history to score 30 or more points in 10-straight games, joining Wilt Chamberlain. 

In his last 11 contests, Curry’s averaging 40 points on shooting splits that aren’t supposed to be possible at the game’s highest level. Even though he’s hoisting 14.3 attempts from beyond the arc per game, he’s making them at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s taking 23.4 shots from the field but still seeing the ball go through the hoop 54.1 percent of the time.

The context of how Curry’s producing those prodigious numbers makes them even more impressive. He is the only scoring threat on Golden State who defenses need to concern themselves with — stop Curry, win the game; it’s that simple, at least in theory it is.

 

Another layer of what makes Curry’s prolific scoring so impressive is the energy he’s exerting to do so. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Curry’s running 1.43 miles per game on offense, which is the sixth-most league-wide. And what that figure doesn’t fully capture is that while Curry has a lightning-quick release and is masterful at creating the sliver of daylight he needs to get his shot off, it takes a significant amount of energy to do that once, let alone throughout a game.

Even though Curry’s already the greatest shooter of all time, he’s taken the most lethal part of his game to new heights. From 2015 when the Warriors won their first NBA championship to 2019, a stretch in which they reached the finals every year, step-back threes accounted for just eight percent of Curry’s shooting profile from beyond the arc. But this season, Curry knew it would be more challenging to create shots for himself, which is why he’s doubled that figure to 16 percent and he’s knocking down 51.5 percent of his step-back threes, per NBA.com.

Curry’s also putting more pressure on opponents from further away from the hoop than he has in years past. According to NBA.com, from 2015 through 2019, five percent of his threes came from 30 to 40 feet. This season, shots from that distance account for 10 percent of his three-point attempts. Just like when defenses double team him out of a pick-and-roll, Curry forcing teams to defend him from further out is another way for him to create 4-3 opportunities for his teammates.

 

After that loss against the Celtics, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Curry’s “at the peak of his powers.” Though he’s not just putting his talents towards individual production, he is the primary reason Golden State’s firmly in the play-in tournament. The Warriors currently reside ninth in the Western Conference. They’re one game behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and two back of the seventh-ranked Dallas Mavericks. 

As impressive an individual season as Curry’s having and as vital as he’s been to his team’s success this season, the reality is the Warriors haven’t won at a high enough level for him to win Most Valuable Player honors for the third time in his career. Currently, Nikola Jokic is the leading MVP candidate. While it’s fair to point out the Denver Nuggets aren’t even in the top three in the Western Conference, Jokic ranks first in player efficiency rating, win shares, box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He’s averaging 26.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game. 

If Jokic misses enough of Denver’s remaining games, someone could usurp him for the right to win MVP. In that scenario, Curry would have a chance to become the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a third time, but he’d have to sway voters from giving it to Joel Embiid. Embiid’s in the midst of a career season, ranking second in player efficiency rating, eighth in win shares and fourth in box plus/minus. He’s averaging 29.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Curry ranks sixth in player efficiency rating, seventh in win shares and is second in both box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He has a case for MVP, but Jokic and Embiid are capping off career seasons while leading their respective teams to a higher level of success. Yes, their teams are more talented and there probably isn’t enough weight put on how valuable an individual is to his team, but the reality is the MVP typically goes to the best player on a top team. Furthermore, that argument also applies to Jokic, who’s the lone All-Star on a team with a better record.

Not naming Curry this season’s Most Valuable Player doesn’t mean his prolific production isn’t appreciated. Nor should it get taken as a sign elevating his team, somehow finding ways to become a more dangerous shooter and investing as much energy as he has into a season that won’t end with a championship isn’t garnering respect from the NBA community. That includes fans whose favorite team doesn’t reside in the Bay Area.

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NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky

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It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

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NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West

With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.

Ariel Pacheco

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With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.

Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed. 

The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.

Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In

Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11

The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.

Likely Play-In Teams

Dallas Mavericks

Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8

On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.

Memphis Grizzlies
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12

The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help. 

Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13

The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament. 

San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7

The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.

Outside Looking In

New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11

The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.

Sacramento Kings

Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14

The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch. 

The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.

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