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I watched, like many of you did last year, as the Spurs limped out of the playoffs in the first round. Of course I was disappointed, but should we expect anything more? Before the playoffs started, Dallas was the one team I thought we matched up against the best. Instead, they exposed everything that was wrong with the Spurs, last year. The age showed as we got beat off the court like a grade schooler playing ball with the “big boys”. We didn’t close-out on shooters and our defense looked more like Swiss cheese as players sliced in and out of the lane without a challenge. Whatever happened to the days when no one got into the paint against us? We were unforgiving, daring shooters to beat us from the outside, rotating out of double teams and rushing at shooters like a freight train bearing down on a trapped car. If we want to return to championship form, there are five key areas that must improve for us to hoist trophy number five in 2010.
First, we must improve on the offensive glass. Last year we went from being ranked 15th in the NBA in offensive rebounding, to being dead last; it is the largest drop in any single statistical rank in the last nine years for the Spurs. Our rebounding was stagnant and, at times, even embarrassing. Dyess, Blair, RJ, and Ratliff should all be major upgrades for the Spurs over their shallow front line from a year ago.
We need to become a more athletic team. Have you ever noticed how many times the Spurs make the highlight reels? We make them quite often, but it is usually on the wrong end of a monster throw down. During the “Golden Years”, Manu was seen dunking over someone on a nightly basis. Turn on ESPN two years ago, and find Tony Parker breaking someone’s ankles on his way to the patented spin move and floater in the lane. Last year it was others inflicting the shame on us, heaping spoonfuls of humiliation as we began to slow through defensive rotations and offensive letdowns. This summer after moving many of the oldest players off the roster, we have added younger and much more athletic players.
Third, show a renewed commitment to defensive excellence. In Championship years we typically outscored opponents by an average of 6 to 9 points. A few of those years we even held opposing offenses to under 90 points a game. Last year the number fell dramatically to under 4. We have allowed teams to stay too close, and in the fourth quarter were not the shut down team of years past. The emergence of George Hill off the bench and the addition of Dyess, Ratliff, Bogans should improve that statistic.
We must score more points. The league has slowly shifted as this decade has moved on to more of a finesse game. Since 2003 when the Spurs won their second title the average points per game for the NBA has leapt from 95 to just under 100, in 2009. Unfortunately, I do not believe we have kept pace. As the League got younger we were getting older. As they got smaller and quicker, we were investing in walkers and canes. Teams that have maintained the largest point differentials are winning championships. The skinny, score more and play better defense.
Finally, with all the changes the roster has experienced this off-season, the most important issue is team chemistry. We have seen in years past, quality players move through Pop’s system like beef through a meat grinder. The system is complex, and the core group has been together for many years now, not the easiest adjustment for the new guys. If we are to get back to the top, RJ and the rest of the freshman are going to have to adapt quickly. No more two year learning curves. The window is closing soon on the Tim Duncan era; we don’t have much time to waste.
As for the coming year, I see many of the key areas vastly improved from last year. Of course, the ever looming question of injuries clouds the outlook of our beloved Spurs. Look for the organization to limit the big three’s minutes early in the season, if possible. Expect to see an average first half to the season, but a burst of efficiency after the All-Star Break. Don’t expect too much from Blair early this year. While he has performed well this preseason, he has been in the line up late in games and has yet to be tested at the NBA level; with Mcdyess, Bonner, and Ratliff in the mix look for Pop to bring Blair in slowly. The Lakers are our top competition in the West, but we are a deeper team especially in the front court, in a seven game series we win in 6. Watch out for young, upstart teams like the Blazers. The Cavaliers have the deepest team in the East, in my opinion, and if King James can learn to trust his teammates they will be title contenders. It’s game time for our Spurs, and it is the time to deliver a new ring to San Antonio.


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