Last season the San Antonio Spurs finished the regular season with the West’s best 61-21 record. Despite that, San Antonio only lasted one round in the postseason, becoming the second No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 8 in a best-of-seven format by losing to the young, gritty and energetic Memphis Grizzlies in six games.
For the next six weeks, ESPN aims to tackle a new team each weekday, and in this edition of their 5-on-5 roundtable, they talked about the Spurs with a six man panel that includes Timothy Varner, Jesse Blanchard, Graydon Gordian, and Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell, along with Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold and Zach Harper of Daily Dime Live.
Here are some of the questions and responses of the six-man panel.
Fact or Fiction: The Spurs’ title window has closed
Jesse Blanchard, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. NBA championships are built around elite players, and the Spurs’ aspirations were always tied to Tim Duncan’s ability to provide dominant play on both ends. Their roster is littered with role players who make sense around such a player. But with Duncan in his twilight, slim thoughts of contention revolve around Manu Ginobili’s occasional, too inconsistent flirtations with MVP-quality play.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. The offense is still a well-oiled combination of effective penetration and consistent outside shooting, but Duncan’s decline, although slightly overstated, has been significant enough that the Spurs should no longer be considered contenders. He no longer draws the double-team effectively and lacks the movement necessary to be the otherworldly defensive presence he was for nearly a dozen years.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fact? It’s hard to be definitive about this after what we just saw the Dallas Mavericks do. We thought their window was completely closed, and through great veteran play and unmatched coaching, they persevered.
San Antonio has the components to do the same if Duncan can undergo a mini-renaissance next season. If anybody can get the Spurs back to title aspirations, it’s Gregg Popovich.
Andrew McNeil, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fiction. I don’t expect the Spurs to win another title with Tim Duncan & Co., but that doesn’t necessarily mean the window has closed. I assumed the Spurs had a better shot to win an NBA title than the Dallas Mavericks this past season, so it’s hard to say it’s completely closed.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Fact. The Spurs have morphed into the type of team they used to destroy in the playoffs on their way to championships. They’re no longer a strong defensive team, and they rely too much on outside shooting to generate offense. It’s practically impossible to win four playoff rounds with that formula.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fiction. If the lockout forces a shortened NBA season, the Spurs have an outside chance at the title. Teams such as San Antonio — veteran-led, low turnovers, system-strict — should thrive under a reduced scheduled that won’t exploit their greatest weakness: age. Think 1999, but with less Will Perdue.
Is Duncan-Ginobili-Parker the most accomplished big three ever?
Jesse Blanchard, 48 Minutes of Hell: They’re up there. They’re easily the most accomplished trio of their time. Better than Boston’s. And the Miami Heat’s trio would have to meet the standards set by Duncan-Ginobili-Parker — multiple titles, individual success and rare chemistry from having spent the majority of their careers together — to be considered a success.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Between the three titles the group has won and the consistency it has displayed, I say yes. They are not the most talented big three ever, but given how long they’ve played together, it’s realistic to call them the most accomplished.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: They are not. Magic-Kareem-Worthy did more than them. Jordan-Pippen-Grant and Jordan-Pippen-Rodman had shorter runs but arguably more success packed into those runs. Parker and Manu weren’t around for the first title, and Manu wasn’t a big contributor until the third title. They’re a great all-time trio but not the trio.
Andrew McNeil, 48 Minutes of Hell: I don’t know whether I can honestly call them the most accomplished big three ever, but I can say they’re easily ahead of my generation’s groups of three. The disappointing thing about the Spurs’ big three is that we’ve never seen all three at their peak at the same time.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: No. Magic, Kareem and Worthy or Bird, McHale and Parish were far superior. Remember, Parker has three rings, but he split time with Speedy Claxton in his first championship season, and Manu, though a great talent, has not been as dependable as players such as Kareem or McHale. Duncan props this group up, but the others don’t compare to other all-timers.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Yes. In their time together, Duncan-Ginobili-Parker have won three championships and amassed the highest winning percentage in all of professional sports. The zombie jokes say it all. Professional teams rarely compete at such a high level for such a long time.
Fact or Fiction: Kawhi Leonard will make an impact as a rookie
Jesse Blanchard, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. If only because Leonard should get every opportunity to. You don’t trade away a valuable rotation piece in George Hill for a player you don’t expect to contribute immediately when a guy like Tim Duncan has just one or two years left.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. Gregg Popovich has a reputation for distrusting young players, but if Leonard shows the commitment on the defensive end that Pop demands, Leonard has a great opportunity to steal minutes from Richard Jefferson. As long as Kawhi sees the court, his energy and length ensure he’ll make an impact.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fact. Kawhi isn’t going to have a lot of sexy numbers as a rookie, but his defense and rebounding will win Pop over for playing time. With Gary Neal swinging from the wing to more of a backup point guard, there will be minutes available for Kawhi to earn. His effort on the defensive end of the floor will make Richard Jefferson look like a sloth.
Andrew McNeil, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. I fully expect Leonard to make an impact as a rookie. Gregg Popovich doesn’t seem like he’s ready to abandon small ball anytime soon, and Leonard will be a significant upgrade over Richard Jefferson in those lineups. Leonard is also the freak athlete Pop can find creative ways to deploy.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Fact. I envision Leonard contributing above-average defense by using his length to disrupt opposing offenses on the ball and in passing lanes. He’ll also use his athleticism to get out and run with Parker and Ginobili on the break and as a slasher in the half court. The Spurs might have found another steal in the draft.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. The Spurs traded George Hill, Gregg Popovich’s “favorite player,” for an opportunity to improve their wing defense. The Spurs don’t need Leonard to become Bruce Bowen. They just need a committed defender to play behind Richard Jefferson. If that’s all the Spurs ask, I expect Leonard to earn meaningful minutes right away.
The panel are split with their decision about the Spurs future title hopes, are divided about naming Duncan, Ginobili and Parker as the most accomplished trio of their time, talked about the Spurs biggest problem heading into the next season, and all agreed that rookie Kawhi Leonard will be an impact player whenever the upcoming season begins.
What about it Spurs fans? Do agree with the panel’s take? Share us your thoughts about this matter.