By Andrew Lang
Normally the seventh seed wouldn’t be looked at as a championship contender but the San Antonio Spurs are just that. In the NBA’s brutal Western Conference, the Spurs have put up a record of 31-18. The Spurs have had some setbacks leaving them in the bottom half of the playoff standings, but this team should not be underestimated.
The Spurs were greatly weakened by injuries this year. Sharpshooting guards Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills have both missed time (19 games for Belinelli and 31 for Mills). Star point guard Tony Parker has also missed 14 games and last year’s NBA Finals’ Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard has missed 18 games of his own.
These losses have been huge for the Spurs. Leonard leads the Spurs in points with 15.6 per game as well as being second in rebounding on the team with 7.8 per game. Leonard is also a shutdown defender tied for the lowest defensive rating on the team at 97 with Tim Duncan, in addition to racking up 2.1 steals per game.Embed from Getty Images
The injuries to Parker and Mills have forced point guard Corey Joseph into a starting role for 14 games. Joseph, while capable, is nowhere near the level of Parker and not as good of a shooter as Mills. Joseph has already surpassed his previous career high in minutes played in a season only 49 games into the season. For his career, Joseph has averaged 5.5 points per game and 1.9 assists per game though he has surpassed those totals this year due to the large amount of playing time, with 8.9 points per game and 2.9 assists per game. Parker meanwhile has put up 14.2 points per game and 4.7 assists. Joseph is a good player to have off the bench, but the need to have him start so many games shows how weakened the Spurs have been this year.
Despite all of these injuries, the team has still performed well defensively. They are ranked seventh in the league in opponents’ points per game and fourth in defensive rating.
Earlier this year, LeBron James told Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick in a December 29th article, “Well, I mean, first of all, let’s be honest: We all know that Father Time is undefeated. I don’t care who you are; I don’t care how much stretching, yoga, treatment, tables—Father Time is undefeated.”
If Father Time is undefeated, Tim Duncan is at least taking him into overtime. Duncan has continued to fend off the decline that usually comes with old age racking up 14.8 points per game, 10.0 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game, 1.9 blocks per game, and 1.0 steals per game all while only playing 30.2 minutes a game. Duncan is doing all this at the age of 38 while leading the teams stifling defense.
While the Spurs haven’t been as effective this year during the regular season in part due to injuries, it would be foolish to discount them in the playoffs. During the playoffs, the game slows down, defenses tighten up, and experience becomes much more valuable. The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs was the 1996-97 season. The team has won four titles during the Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich era.
Everyone has seen what they can do when healthy, when they defeated the Heat in the finals. Watch out for this year’s Spurs come playoff time when they will be a title contender gunning for Duncan’s fifth ring.
All stats from basketball-reference.com