As the NBA preseason gets underway, we preview the upcoming campaign with the “Highs and Lows” system — predicting the respective ceiling and basement for each team.
Added: Tiago Splitter, James Anderson, Alonzo Gee
Lost: Roger Mason, Keith Bogans, Ian Mahinmi
Ceiling: NBA Finals
“The way some people are saying this season is San Antonio’s last real shot at a championship in the Tim Duncan era, you’d think the Spurs are using ‘This Is It’ as their marketing slogan. It’s not quite that bad.” That was what I wrote to start last year’s Spurs preview, and you could recycle the same intro this year. San Antonio is running out of chances — unless TD goes down with an early-season injury and they wind up with Harrison Barnes in the 2011 Draft … Duncan is back for Round 14, and once again Gregg Popovich is saying he’s going to limit his minutes this year. But that could actually happen, with DeJuan Blair having established himself as a legit player (and coming into camp in better shape) plus the addition of Tiago Splitter from Brazil … Forget the lineup/rotation shuffle for now and focus on the fact that Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and George Hill give the Spurs one of the best three-man guard groups in the League. Throw in rookie James Anderson, last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year, and the Spurs have a good mix of youth and experience in the backcourt. Ideally, Hill and Anderson play enough quality allow Parker to Manu to stay fresh for the postseason … Richard Jefferson was one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA last year, but he’s received nothing but rave reviews From Popovich for how he committed himself to getting better this summer. Apparently RJ went back to the basics and focused on what made him a top prospect coming out of college: efficient scoring and defense.
Basement: First-round playoff exit
Once upon a time, I would have never entertained the idea of a Duncan-led San Antonio team going down in the first round. But after a first-round loss to Dallas in ’09, then an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Suns in the 2010 conference semis, the Spurs are as ripe for an early exit as any team in the West … Duncan will always be good, but his game is starting the inevitably drop-off of the mid-30s. Last year he posted career-lows in points, rebounds and blocks. And while he had good numbers in the Phoenix series (20.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Duncan isn’t able to just hoist the oak tree on his back like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and carry the Spurs out of danger by himself … Splitter has shown every indication that he will be good in the NBA, and Blair got so much love during his rookie year that he’s on the verge of being overrated, but both of them have significant flaws. With Blair it’s always the height; with Splitter it’s inexperience and health. He has yet to play in the preseason due to a calf injury. After that, the Spurs would have to rely on Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner to bolster the front line … Can Parker and Ginobili stay healthy? Will Parker’s impending free agency — and the constant talk that he’s basically expendable thanks to George Hill — become a chemistry-wrecking distraction? Is Hill also being overrated? Will Anderson, who missed summer league with a bad hamstring injury, be able to contribute right away? The Spurs’ backcourt may not be as solid as it appears … Then there’s Jefferson. He is the X-factor who can either lift the Spurs up as a dangerous championship threat, or leave them susceptible to getting eliminated by teams they traditionally own. Jefferson’s stats last year (12.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 46% FGA) didn’t accurately depict how much he hurt his team. He made just 31.6 percent of his three-pointers, and routinely came up small in big games. If he really did re-discover his swagger this summer, the Spurs can make that last title run. If not, they’re glorified fodder.
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