SAN ANTONIO SPURS
By Kyle Fisher
Unlike the 2006-2007 season, the Spurs did make some moves to address their greatest nemesis: age. They signed Roger Mason to a two-year deal and expect first round pick George Hill to come immediately and provide needed rest for guards Tony Parker and Emmanuel Ginobili. The Spurs got several bits of bad news in the off-season as Tiago Splitter, the team's first round choice in 2007 opted to sign a long-term deal in Spain, and Ginobili reinjured one of the tendons in his left foot in the Olympics. This is the same foot that hampered Ginobili for the final few months of last season. Ginobili says he will need surgery on his foot and will need six to eight weeks to recover. That time frame puts his rehabilitation near the end of October and might restrict his playing time early in the season. The Spurs also lost sharpshooter Brent Barry, who opted to sign a free agent deal with the Rockets.
It is an odd year and in the past this has meant a parade down the Riverwalk for the Spurs. However, with Ginobili starting the season hobbled, and the overall strength of the Lakers, the youth and depth of the Hornets and Jazz, the addition of Ron Artest to the Rockets and Greg Oden's arrival with the up-and-coming Trailblazers, this will the most challenging season for the Spurs in recent memory.
Tim Duncan will man the power forward position and should log between 30 and 35 minutes a night. Coach Gregg Popovich will continue to monitor Duncan's minutes to try to keep him fresh for another playoff run. Mahinmi, Thomas and occasionally Matt Bonner will spell Duncan. Bruce Bowen will continue to be the Spurs' defensive stopper and will log around 30 minutes a night with Ime Udoka providing most of the minutes of the bench.
With Ginobili's health a big question mark at press time, look for Michael Finley to start at shooting guard with depth coming from Roger Mason and rookie George Hill. When Ginobili gets healthy don't look for him to play more than 30 minutes a night, as his health and energy are vital to the Spurs' playoff run. Finley should get around 20 minutes while Mason and Hill get in the neighborhood of 10-15 minutes. Tony Parker will again start at the point and play between 30-35 minutes while Hill and veteran Jacque Vaughn compete for backup minutes.
Kurt Thomas: Thomas came to the Spurs from the Sonics last season and started nine of his 28 games. Thomas is seen primarily as a rebounder and defensive player who helps to keep Tim Duncan out of foul trouble. Thomas is a good mid-range shooter but will get limited shot attempts and will be in a time share with Oberto.
Ian Mahinmi: Mahinmi may finally get a chance to stick with the Spurs' roster this season as a backup center/forward. Mahinmi is a good athlete who rebounded the ball well in the summer league. At just 22, he still lacks a great deal of basketball experience and will get limited minutes if he sticks on the roster.
Bruce Bowen: Bowen's 2007 was much like his 2006 campaign. He played about 30 minutes a night, shot just under 41 percent from the floor and averaged six points a game. Bowen is the Spurs' defensive stopper but this attribute does not translate well in the fantasy world. Bowen's greatest attribute will again be his 3-point shooting, as he shot 41 percent from the 3-point line and made 1.1 threes per game.
Ime Udoka: In Udoka's first season with the Spurs, he struggled with his shot most of the season shooting just 42.4 percent from the floor. Udoka is primarily a defensive specialist who can shoot 3-pointers. Udoka's best fantasy attribute is shooting the three, as he averaged making nearly one 3-pointer per night despite playing just 18 minutes a night.
Matt Bonner: Bonner came to the Spurs two years ago and was expected to provide firepower from the 3-point line off the bench. Two years later and Bonner looks completely lost. Last season he was limited to just 12.5 minutes a game and shot just 33.6 percent from the 3-point line. Bonner lacks lateral quickness and is often a defensive liability, something that will limit his playing time with coach Gregg Popovich. Unless Bonner can regain his shooting form, don't expect a lot of minutes for him.
Robert Horry: If Horry decides to play one more season, don't expect more than just an occasional appearance during the regular season. Horry is no longer the consistent shooter he once was and struggled mightily last season.
James Gist: Gist was one of the Spurs' second round picks and brings energy along with shot blocking. Gist is a tremendous athlete whose game may translate better in the NBA than in college. Gist may be a long shot to make the roster and could be headed for the Developmental League.
Emmanuel Ginobili: The Spurs worst nightmare came true in Beijing. Ginobili playing on a less than 100 percent left foot/ankle reinjured it against the United States, and the affects won't be known until the season starts. When healthy, Ginobili is perhaps the Spurs best fantasy player, as he scores (19.5 ppg), shoots a high percentage from the floor (46 percent), makes a ton of 3-pointers (2.1 per game), is above average in steals (1.47 per game) and shoots 86 percent from the line. With Ginobili's foot/ankle a huge question mark, don't expect this level of productivity, at least early in the season.
Michael Finley: Finley struggled from the floor for the third straight season with the Spurs (41.4 percent). Finley averaged 10.1 points per game but is a far cry from the player he was in Dallas. Still, if Ginobili is out or slowed by his injury for any length of time, look for Finley's minutes to increase early on, as he is more experienced than any of the Spurs other options.
Roger Mason: Mason was acquired from the Wizards in the off-season. Mason will be 28 at the start of the season and brings a blend of youth and experience to the leagues' oldest team. Mason averaged 9.1 points per game and shot nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line. Mason should be able to provide depth at several positions from point guard to small forward.
George Hill: Hill was somewhat of a surprise pick for the Spurs in the first round of I.U.P.U.I., but the Spurs like his versatility and his ability to score. Hill is expected to play both guard positions for the Spurs. Hill struggled with his shot in the summer league, so it may take Hill awhile to get adjusted to life in the NBA.
Jacque Vaughn: Vaughn assumed the backup point guard position last season and is expected to be challenged this season by rookie George Hill. Vaughn was not a great scorer (4.1 ppg) or shooter (42.8 percent) for the Spurs but plays mistake free basketball and had a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in 15 minutes a night last season.
Malik Hairston: The Spurs acquired Hairston from Phoenix during the NBA draft. Hairston was second round pick and hopes to make the team as a big bodied wing player who is a solid rebounder for his size. Hairston could also be headed to the Developmental League.
Article first appeared on 9/11/08