With the NBA playoffs almost among us, each of the 16 teams who will eventually make up the postseason will have dreams of going all the way and be crowned the NBA champions. Of course for some this is still merely a pipe dream, while for others it is the absolute end goal, with any other result deemed a failure. With that in mind we take a quick and lighthearted look at how each team can potentially do once the playoffs start.
Why They Can Win It All
Let’s start with experience. The San Antonio Spurs franchise is a machine, built to play long into the postseason. It’s what they’ve done pretty much every year in living memory, and it’s what they know they can do this year too. So beyond statistics, this is a group of players that loves flying under the radar, and fully expects to compete for a championship in June. They plug players in (Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter, Patrick Mills) who wouldn’t get a look in elsewhere, but who excel here. At the forefront you then have Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and with these three on their game, anything is possible. This team is second in field goal percentage (48.8 percent), first in assists (25.2) and has the highest 3-point conversion rate in the league (40 percent) If you thought that was intimidating, and it is, there’s more.
This team has its stars who have seen it all, but it also has serious depth. The Spurs’ bench contributes the most points of any bench in the league on a nightly basis, with a chunky 45 (Portland’s contributes 24.1). The bench also leads the league in assists (11) and defensive rebounds (13.5). So if you think you can catch this team out when their starters head to the bench, you are most certainly wrong. Here’s another category their bench leads too, minutes played with 21.2. Head coach Gregg Popovich trusts his bench at all times, giving them big minutes during the season. When the big moments come in the playoffs or if the team needs continuity, this bench knows just what to do as they’ve been at it all season. At 27 the productivity may have dropped off a little, but Duncan is still giving this team 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, big numbers for this team. People forget that Parker is only 31 and still has many years as a top level point guard. The shot he made in Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year to win the game will live long in the memory and shows that this guy has ice in his veins. If all of that wasn’t enough, this team wants nothing more than to avenge the loss in last year’s finals so they are playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Why They Might Exit Early
Really there is not much to like here, so let’s start with age. Even though their minutes are monitored, Duncan and Ginobili especially are slowing down. This is to be expected though, and they still bring so much to this team. Other areas where flaws could be picked are the fact that the Spurs rank twelfth in rebounding in the league, but really even that isn’t all that terrible. They do have length in the form of Duncan and Splitter while Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner can also look after themselves inside the paint. The Spurs are also the only team in the league to win 30 games on the road this year, with only one more road game left against the Houston Rockets. Quicker and more explosive players may be able to get around San Antonio, and that could be an issue for them. Remember two years ago the Oklahoma City Thunder came from two games down to win their series against them 4-2. The same could happen this time round, there are younger and hungrier superstars out there who are yet to win anything.
The Spurs do allow opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line, and that puts them in the bottom 10 teams in the league in the category. It is not a strategy that is guaranteed to work, but bombing away from long distances may produce some joy against this team. That being said, the Spurs themselves are the second best shooting team from downtown anyway, so getting into a shootout with them is maybe not advisable. This team can be beaten, there’s a reason they haven’t won a title since 2007 after all. Statistically though they appear just a well drilled unit, and they are. Much like the New Zealand All Blacks in rugby union, this team has a fear factor that give them the mental edge on opponents before a game even begins. Play them with no fear, and you have a chance.
There are two, but with this team that shouldn’t be a surprise. Kawhi Leonard is the next great Spurs player, and at times last year was their best player in the playoffs. A career year in points (12.8), rebounds (6.3), assists (2.0) and PER rating (19.3) all point to a player who is constantly improving. Still only 22 years old, he works hard, says very little and is a fantastic third/fourth/fifth option for this team. His motor and appetite for the glass is reminiscent of a young Dennis Rodman too. As well as Leonard, Marco Belinelli has proved a great acquisition this year too. Off the bench he is proving a major spark, with career highs in 3-point shooting (.434), assists (2.2) and rebounds (2.8). He is also chipping in with 11.3 points a contest and all while only playing 25 minutes a night. Scary stuff.
How They’ll Do
Conference finals. Whoever they meet at that point will have too much hunger and desire to respect the Spurs and what they do and will get past them in an epic series. We should then say that this is the Spurs’ as we know it last great hurrah, but we know better than to write them off because that has happened too many times before. The Clippers and Thunder in particular should squeak past them. If this team were to go all the way though, don’t be surprised. There are few flaws to this, the most complete team in basketball.