Season Preview: Denver Nuggets
Quietly, the Denver Nuggets have turned into an offensive juggernaut led by a budding superstar in center Nikola Jokic.
The Big Three: Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are gone. The next in line to carry the torch, Kawhi Leonard, has been traded. A team that has been the gold standard for consistency and stability has looked shook to the core.
To say expectations are low in San Antonio is weird to say, most basketball analyst believe they'll be luck to make the post season. Yet the Spurs have been able to push off their "expected" fall from grace many times in the past, this year should be no different.
Key Losses: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green
Key Additions: DeMar DeRozan, Lonnie Walker, Marco Belinelli, Jakob Poeltl
I think the Spurs would have been content bringing back most of the 2017 roster, under the assumption they'd be fully healthy. Of course Kawhi Leonard had other plans so out went Leonard and Danny Green, replaced by DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. Green and Leonard weren't the only ones to leave; Memphis offered Kyle Anderson a very generous contract, Tony Parker went off to Charlotte after an illustrious career with the Spurs, and Manu Ginobili finally decided to call it a career. The Spurs lost a lot of home grown talent this summer, but were able to keep some chemistry together.
Rudy Gay, Bryn Forbes, and Davis Bertans were all resigned along with the return of Marco Belinelli; all of whom should help this roster stay together. Recently drafted Lonnie Walker and Chimezie Metu join a young Derrick White and growing Dejounte Murray.
The mid range game is seemingly dead in the modern NBA, but the Spurs obviously think otherwise as their two best offensive weapons are kings of the mid range - LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. Assuming these two continue to do what they do best, score points, the Spurs offensive efficiency might be able to grind out points more easily than last years squad.
San Antonio will also be one of the few teams to have dramatic size in the front court, another serious throw back when compared to the current NBA scheme. Expect Popovich to stay with two bigs in the front court, most likely Aldridge and Gasol as starters, throughout the season.
The Spurs perimeter defense could be laughably bad this year and even then I am probably being generous. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and even Kyle Anderson were their best perimeter defenders, all of whom are gone. In their place are DeMar Derozan, Marco Belinelli, and Rudy Gay; all of whom are pretty horrible on the defensive end. The best wing defender on the team is probably Dejounte Murray by default, but he can't stop them all.
As previously discussed, the Spurs main focal points on offense will be the mid range. The worry is that there won't be enough three point shooting to help out. Last year the Spurs were bottom five in three point attempts and percentage; there's a strong chance they finish there again this year. Outside of Patty Mills, Belinelli, and Bertans, there isn't really any other respectable three point specialist on the roster.
Anything short of a playoff berth should be considered a failure for this roster and organization. The West may be an arms race, but the Spurs have been a consistent face in the playoffs for 18 years, this year should be no different.
There is a slim chance the Spurs could be a top 5 team in the West and it starts and ends with their defense. If Popovich can pull together a top 5 or even top 10 defense from this very limited roster, no team would want to run into this juggernaut.
There are a few very key factors that could lead to a very disappointing season for the Spurs. The first being that young point guard Dejounte Murray doesn't take that expected leap. His fit is already very questionable next to DeMar, especially with a lack of shooting this team has to offer as does Dejounte himself. Another issue comes from the Aldridge and DeRozan pairing. Both like to operate in the same area and when either play with another high volume scorer, their own play suffers. If the offense stutters and the defense is a bad as projected, the Spurs could be quickly heading to a .500 season or worse.