These guys have probably two more years to win a championship with this group. Tim Duncan is an intelligent player, so he's going to be able to keep it going for at least that long, and the other two guys [Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker] should be in their prime. If Ginobili had been healthy last year, they definitely could have made it back to the NBA Finals.
They have a lot of guys over 30, yet they play with energy in the playoffs because Gregg Popovich does such a good job of monitoring minutes during the season and pacing them. They've been there through to the end, and they know what to expect out of their bodies.
The decline in Duncan's game shows up when guys seem to score on him a little bit easier. He's not as much of a factor on the weakside; he's more of a director out there defensively. His quickness to plays isn't what it was in coming over to block a shot or close out, but that happens to everybody. He makes up for it with his intelligence, understanding and experience. He's still one of the premier guys in the league and he can still be a focal point of a championship team.
There isn't much left to say about Parker, who has complemented his driving with the ability to knock down shots. The questions are all around Ginobili. If he can't make it back to full health from ankle surgery, then they're not going to make it back to the Finals. It's all hinging on him. He's one of the better competitors in the league, he lays it out there. Which is not to say that other guys don't, but he does not seem to be concerned about getting hurt when he's competing at a high level. He's just going for it. He's one of the most creative finishers in the league; some of the shots he puts in are unbelievable, and he makes the kinds of big plays that give them a lift emotionally. On defense, he's kind of irritating, but you can see he's not just guarding his guy but trying to figure out what the guy is doing and guessing on it. It's great to see a star give that kind of effort on that end instead of simply reacting to what his man is doing. He is definitely one of the unique players in the league, a top-15 guy to be sure. He belongs on the All-NBA team because he plays both ends of the floor.
Bruce Bowen is the one key Spur I've seen who has shown signs of decline. He's still pretty good [defensively] on the ball in confined areas, on the wing or in the corners. But when he's having to chase guys around, he's not sending them in the direction he wants them to go as much anymore. I think they're expecting bigger things out of his backup, Ime Udoka, who fits that mold of a role player who knocks down shots, is strong and plays defense.
It was good to hear that Michael Finley has lost weight this year. It will make it easier on his body.
They could use a burst of energy from Ian Mahinmi in the frontcourt, but who knows what he'll give them this year?
Going into training camp, one outsider who I thought had a chance to help them is Salim Stoudamire. He's in the right environment because he needs veterans around him to keep him in line. He can knock down shots, and he's probably ready to get his career going. He's got talent. Will he defend? I would think they'll give him the right opportunity and show him some things too.
Roger Mason is in that Udoka mode. He seems like a Spur. He played team ball with Washington, and he's a shooter.
Kurt Thomas will again be good for them in the playoffs, bringing his experience when the game slows down.
I was thinking last year that Matt Bonner would have done more for them as a spacing big man who can make threes a little bit like Robert Horry. It makes me wonder about him that he fell out of their rotation last year. Maybe he wasn't keeping up defensively, or he wasn't making the shots they need him to make.
During the season, they'll have the steady approach they've always had, not too high or low. Once the playoffs start, we'll see that urgency from them. If their three stars are healthy, I think they have a good chance to get past the Lakers, and I'd even like them in a Finals against Boston. As much as I like Kevin Garnett's passion and energy, I prefer Duncan over Garnett. Ginobili is more versatile than Ray Allen. And Parker and Paul Pierce should sort of offset each other, though from different positions.
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