As Tim Duncan walked off the court on June 23, fans saw something from him we rarely see: a smile. Duncan, the Spurs silent leader, had just captured his third NBA title. In what was one of his toughest seasons yet, Duncan overcame two ankle injuries and a media storm. The majority of the media had labeled Duncan a player lacking fire and not aggressive enough. Tuesday night, Duncan will return to the court in search of his fourth championship in the NBA’s regular season opener at the SBC Center against the Denver Nuggets.
Manu Ginobili, who emerged as Duncan’s co-captain, returns off his first all-star season and has looked even more impressive thus far in the preseason. Ginobili often made clutch shots or setup players when a big shot was needed including the game winning to finish off the Sonics in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Ginobili will look to carry more of the load this year since he has established himself as a top tier player in the league and will see many more playmaking opportunities. The Spurs have used Ginobili as point guard in stretches in the past because of his ballhandling skills.
Tony Parker, the third option in the trio of stars, has yet to make his inaugural all-star appearance but has posted impressive numbers throughout his first four seasons. Parker’s inconsistency with his jump shot has been a cause for concern for the Spurs, and the Spurs hired a shooting coach to help Parker become a more dependable scorer.
The Spurs lured free agent point guard Nick Van Exel in the mix. Van Exel is a former all-star, a career 15.1 ppg scorer, and is never one to shy away from a shot in crucial situation. The Spurs also return Beno Udrih, the second year point guard, who was inconsistent in the playoffs but showed flashes of potential throughout the regular season. Udrih is a steady 3-point shooter who will battle for minutes with Van Exel for the backup point guard position..
Shooting guard is the deepest position for the San Antonio Spurs. With Ginobili exerting so much energy, the Spurs needed to find an able backup to spell Ginobili. So the Spurs went out and signed veteran all-star Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks bought out Finley’s contract, enabling him to test the free agent waters. After touring the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Finley ultimately chose the Spurs because of his desire to win a championship. The Spurs shooting guard and small forward spots are interchangeable, so Bruce Bowen, arguably the best perimeter defender in the league, will also see time at both positions. Brent Barry, a deadly shooter, is expected to have an improved season over last year’s disappointment. Barry should be acclimated to the Spurs system and will look to knock down the long bombs more often after a ten percent fall in three point percentage from the previous season. Devin Brown, who filled Finley’s spot a year ago, is now on the Utah Jazz.
The most steady of the Spurs over the last decade, Tim Duncan, stands at power forward. Tim Duncan is one of the most dominant forces in the game and is expected to have another MVP level season barring injuries. Duncan is the Spurs unqestionable leader and creates opportunities for his teammates when double teamed.
Duncan is backed up by Robert Horry, a six-time NBA champion, and an unbelievably clutch shooter. Horry’s heroics in game five of the finals against the Pistons delivered the momentum to propel the Spurs to the ring. The Spurs are also in love with the potential of 30-year-old rookie Fabricio Oberto. Oberto’s passing skills and toughness make him another power forward option for the Spurs. Oberto, an Argentinian native, should make the adjustment from Europe to the Spurs quickly because of the team atmosphere and his good friend Ginobili.
Nazr Mohammed, acquired in a mid-season trade for fan favorite Malik Rose, was a vital piece of last year’s championship team and returns as a center option for the Spurs. The Spurs have yet to decide who will be the opening night center because Rasho Nesterovic is also in the mix for the starting center positon. Mohammed’s missed time in training camp and preseason due to the birth of a child may give Nesterovic the edge. Both of these men’s job is to provide rebounding and defense and a little scoring now and then. Sean Marks, who spent much of last year on the injured list, has taken advantage of preseason playing time by posting impressive numbers. Marks will be an insurance policy and probably will not see much time.
The main threats to the Spurs title run will be the Miami Heat, the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and the Houston Rockets.
The Spurs 2005-2006 team is the overwhelming favorite, and anything short of a repeat title run should be considered a disappointment. Assuming Tim Duncan remains healthy, we can plan the Riverwalk parade pretty soon. With the perfect mix of veterans, youth, and role players, the Spurs are primed to take the crown.