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Hello Darkness (Silver and Black), My Old Friend

By Jeff Koch on October 31, 2012.

And just like that, I’m back in.

Devoting so much time and energy to the Spurs during the regular season, I tend to completely disassociate myself from the Spurs and the NBA in the off-season. There’s a lot of meaningless noise in the off-season. And in particular with this Spurs team, returning almost the exact same team from last year, there isn’t a whole lot to learn until that first tip-off.

But every year the same thing happens: the season slowly turns, Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, my life is in full swing, and I notice that first game on the calendar. Whoa…only two weeks away! Better start getting ready. Can’t believe the season starts next week. Wait…the Thunder traded James Harden?! I wonder how this Nash/Howard on the Lakers thing is going to work out. Manu’s not playing because of back spasms? When did all of this occur?

And then it’s time for the first tip, the ball goes up, and I’m 100% locked in.

It’s time for another Spurs season.

However, I’m going to approach this season much the same way Shaq approached most of his seasons: I plan to ‘play’ myself into game shape. It’s a long 82 games. So I’m woefully out of shape. Couple that with having to watch this game on a stream of questionable legality (thanks to my ongoing feud with NBATV) that resembled a 16-Bit Nintendo screen, and I don’t know how much analysis I have to offer. So let’s start out slow…

Coming into this season, the aspect of the Spurs I was most excited about was the development of Leonard. It didn’t take much for most Spurs fans to fall in love with him last season. He plays with a ferocity similar to that of Ginobili, a pace similar to Parker’s, all with a stoicism that makes Duncan jealous. With a full off-season and training camp under his belt, expectations are high for him this season. (So high, in fact, that his development may be the Spurs best chance of improving upon last year’s surprising but ultimately disappointing results.) In the first game of the new season, he did not disappoint. I thought he pressed a bit in the first half, but then came out like a man possessed in the 3rd quarter, stealing every ball that came his way and being appropriately aggressive on offense. 19 pts, 7 rebs, and 5 stls kind of speaks for itself.

Taking a quick glance at the box score, the thing that jumps out at me the most is the split between the bench and the starters. The starters played big minutes–all over 30, 34 for Duncan–and had mostly positive +/-. Duncan, Diaw, Parker, and Leonard were all +12 or +13. (Green was the exception, at -4.) The bench was all in the minus. And that bore out on the court, as the Spurs fell way behind in the 2nd quarter, and then again let the Hornets back in the game late in the 3rd/early in the 4th when the bench was mostly in the game. Obviously, not having Ginobili certainly skews any observations about “the bench” as a whole. But the one of the team’s great strengths last year was depth, particularly the ability of the second unit to score as efficiently as the first unit. It’s just one game, but let’s keep an eye on this and revisit it down the road.

Finally, the other thing I’ll be keeping an eye on early in the season is the back-up PG slot. We still don’t have a traditional back-up PG in the rotation, which sort of confounds me. Ginobili is still our best back-up PG, and will most likely serve as such. Mills is a good option, too, as he has the speed to simulate Parker, is a great shooter, and can be a disruptive pest on defense. What I hope we do not see is Neal in that position. First, he’s only adequate at best (even though he clearly works on it), and lacks the creativity and confidence to run the offense as smoothly as a Parker or Ginobili. Second–and more importantly–it totally negates Neal’s value to the team. Neal is a dead-eye shooter and a clutch scorer. He is best served as a shooting guard coming off the bench, providing scoring in bunches. When he serves as back-up PG, not only does the offense suffer because he can’t orchestrate the offense all that well, it suffers because we no longer have our shooter/scorer at the wing.

Please, Pop; find another alternative.

In general, the most interesting part of the first season is watching rotations. I’ll try to touch on most aspects of the rotation in these early posts.

It feels great to get the first win of the season; and it feels great to be back in the warm familiarity of another Spurs’ season. Let’s do it again tomorrow night.

Go Spurs Go.

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