STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Just five months have passed since the Spurs came within a heartbeat of their fifth championship, pushing the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination in seven games of pulse-pounding finals action. Though most eyes were on San Antonio's big three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili), sophomore Kawhi Leonard and former roster washout Danny Green emerged as the players to watch in the series. Leonard performed admirably in drawing the defensive assignment against LeBron James, while Green put on a historic three-point showcase, hitting 27 treys to break Ray Allen's finals record.
There will be no rest for the heartbroken Spurs heading into the 2013-2014 campaign. With limited turnover, as only Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair departed this summer, San Antonio should again compete for the one seed in a crowded Western Conference. Threes and perimeter defense are increasingly en vogue in the NBA, and coach Gregg Popovich's ageless roster, stacked with two-way threats, figures to rank amongst the league's elite in both categories, utilizing motion offense and high bandwidth defenders in Leonard, Green, and newly-acquired Marco Belinelli to force opponents inside the three-point line. A rugged veteran bench cast, led by Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and Matt Bonner, will allow Popovich to play an extended rotation throughout the season, giving Duncan and Parker much needed rest. June draftee Deshaun Thomas, taken 58th, should figure minimally into the Spurs' plans this season, if at all.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With a familiar returning cast, changes to the rotation, which featured heavy doses of Parker, Duncan, Green and Leonard, should be fairly minimal.
In the backcourt, Tony Parker should be good to log another 30 minutes per game over the course of the campaign at the point, as Popovich will rely on his skill off the dribble to anchor the offense. Cory Joseph, used in limited minutes last season, will take most of the remaining touches at the five in 10-15 minutes per contest, while Nando De Colo and Patrick Mills may see some crunch time action at the back of the bench.
Though most of San Antonio's big three are approaching the twilight of their careers, Manu Ginobili has seen the greatest dip in production across multiple offensive categories, and his game lagged for much of the playoffs as he battled a strained hamstring. Danny Green will again start at shooting guard, and look for Ginobili's minutes to slip toward the 20 mpg mark as Kawhi Leonard becomes a larger focal point in the offense both on and off the ball. Marco Belinelli, signed as an unrestricted free agent, will fill the void left by Gary Neal as a three-point specialist on the wing clocking around 20 mpg.
The story remains roughly the same in the frontcourt. Tim Duncan's versatility as a shooter should keep him on the floor at the four and five for long stretches, although Boris Diaw, and, to a lesser extent, Matt Bonner, will be featured in small ball lineups behind him. Tiago Splitter is again the starter at the five, leaving Jeff Ayres and Aron Baynes limited opportunities to crack the rotation.
Tiago Splitter: The Brazilian product has earned Popovich's trust incrementally and finally became San Antonio's starting center last season. He responded with career per-game highs in points (10.3) and rebounds (6.4) in 24 mpg, and was rewarded in the offseason with a four-year, $36 million contract. Still, Splitter's production was held back by a raw offensive skill set, so expect any jump in value to be minimal, although he should since increased floor time as the Spurs try to keep Tim Duncan fresh for the playoffs.
Aron Baynes: Although a regular on the Australian national team, at 26, Baynes has yet to clock significant NBA minutes, serving as bench fodder behind Splitter in eight minutes per contest over 16 games during the 2012-2013 campaign. Baynes is fully recovered from a hamstring injury suffered in FIBA tournament action over the summer, but again figures to be buried on the depth chart barring a significant frontcourt injury.
Tim Duncan: For a superstar clearly in his golden years, Duncan certainly didn't play like it last season, turning back the clock to average three-year highs in minutes (30.1), points (17.8), and rebounds (9.9) in 69 games, coming within seconds of a fifth title. The 37-year old has never boasted the flashiest game, but does everything well, and will be counted on for 30 mpg to keep the Spurs in striking distance of the number one seed throughout the regular season.
Kawhi Leonard: The cat's out of the bag. Everyone's favorite sleeper pick is a sleeper no more: in an extended role in the playoff spotlight (37 mpg), Leonard broke loose, averaging 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.1 three pointers per game. Leonard is a fantastic rebounder for his position with a seemingly endless motor and an ever-expanding offensive arsenal. With the end clearly in sight for Duncan and Ginobili, Popovich has vowed to get Leonard more involved in the offense this season, so expect the San Diego State product's value to climb methodically over the course of the year as the Spurs look to build around him.
Boris Diaw: The French journeyman has become a threat off the bench for San Antonio in small ball lineups, and is coming off a successful campaign in which he converted over half of his attempts from the field (.539). Diaw won't get many starts, but could be a trusty option in percentage-based categories in deeper leagues.
Matt Bonner: The infamous “Red Mamba” could be in for a bigger role coming into next season with DeJuan Blair off to Dallas, and should again see plenty of high-percentage looks from three in the Spurs' second and third sets.
Jeff Ayres: Formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph, Ayres reconnected with his biological father over the offseason, and was brought in from Indiana to provide frontcourt depth in free agency. Ayres should be good for a handful of points and rebounds off the bench, but will see a limited role unless the injury bug strikes in San Antonio.
Tony Parker: Coming off his second straight All-Star appearance, at 31, Parker clearly has the most left of any of San Antonio's big three, and once again figures to be a solid option at the point in 2013-2014. Popovich will once again center the offense around the French star's ability to break down defenses off the dribble, giving Parker plenty of opportunities to rack up points and assists, so a repeat of last year's all-NBA second team performance could very well be in the cards.
Danny Green: The Spurs won't make the mistake of giving up on Danny Green again. The former D-League journeyman was the talk of the finals with his record setting performance from beyond the arc, and will remain a fixture in Popovich's starting five for the foreseeable future. Green's telegenic game hasn't translated into top-tier fantasy value, but the North Carolina product should be good for threes (2.2 per game last season) and steals (1.2).
Manu Ginobili: Argentina's favorite son this side of Lionel Messi, Ginobili has struggled to stay healthy of late, and saw a sharp drop in minutes (23.2) over 60 games in 2012-2013. He's not an option for the risk-averse, but when he was on the floor last season, Ginobili offered owners great value, providing production across the board in points (11.8), rebounds (3.4), assists (4.6) and steals (1.3).
Marco Belinelli: The Italian guard has matured into a valuable bench contributor, but his fantasy value will be limited by Popovich's glut of options at the two. The best case scenario for Belinelli could be a repeat of his Chicago campaign, but the veteran is not a truly elite three-point shooter (35.7%) and his one-on-one defensive efforts won't do too much to fill out a stat sheet.
Cory Joseph: Apparently, the word out of Spurs camp is that the 22-year-old Canadian point guard has 'first dibs' on the backup slot behind Parker. Still, the Texas product hasn't done enough to fully secure the role, and will likely struggle to win substantial minutes in the second unit.
Patrick Mills: Patty is giving Cory Joseph a run for his money in the race for the backup job in camp, impressing with his scoring abilities. Even if he wins the role, Mills should only see limited touches in the second team offense with options such as Ginobili, Belinelli and Diaw on the floor.
Nando De Colo: The Frenchman gives Europe a third representative on the Spurs roster, and may win minutes because of his size at the point. If he does earn a role, he could be a sneaky source of steals, but probably will not offer much else in terms of production.
Tony Parker: While fantasy owners have wised to Kawhi Leonard's value, Parker has slipped in recent rankings in the shadow of a glut of point guards out West. Although Parker is not a force on defense or from three, he offers tremendous value as a scorer (20.2 ppg), passer (7.5), and percentage-based shooter for his draft slot in the middle rounds of most leagues.
Danny Green: Although the two is not the most stacked fantasy position, Green should not be mistaken for a number one option, figuring mostly as a specialist for his three-point shooting and defensive abilities. The North Carolina product should see increased minutes this campaign, which may lead owners to give him a closer look in earlier rounds, but expect Kawhi Leonard to take away touches from the Green when the regular season starts.