Are This Year's San Antonio Spurs Just Another Great Regular-Season Team?

Garrett Jochnau@@GarrettJochnauCorrespondent IIDecember 31, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 28: Chandler Parsons #25 of the Houston Rockets pursues Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs during a game at AT&T Center on December 28, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. San Antonio won the game 122-116. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photogrpah, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Folks in San Antonio have been subject to dozens of clichés regarding their beloved basketball team, with the most frequent concerning the team's age.

However, the San Antonio Spurs have recently been targeted with a different one that is beginning to become trite in its own right.

After dropping the first-round series to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011, followed by a complete collapse in the Western Conference Finals last year, the Spurs are being labeled as a fantastic regular-season team unable to compete on the big stage.

And rightfully so. The Spurs haven't won a championship since 2007 despite dominating throughout the regular season.

Even last year when a fifth title seemed within reach, a four-game collapse against the Oklahoma City Thunder proved true to what many thought. And yet even this year when the Spurs have dominated as predicted, it's hard to classify them as pretenders.

First of all, its hard to brand them a negative description when all they've done is win, even when winning was expected. This year's team is far different than last year's (or the year before that) despite consisting of an almost identical roster.

Tony Parker played at an MVP-caliber level last season, accepting the role as the team's leader. However, veteran Tim Duncan has reclaimed the torch this year, allowing Parker to assume the role of his sidekick.

Why? Because Tim Duncan has been that much better. Despite playing on old legs, Duncan has emerged as an MVP candidate, averaging 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. That is a significant upgrade from last year's line of 15.4 points and 9.0 rebounds.

Even more so than his improved statistics, Duncan has mastered every possible intangible, whether it be leadership or intelligence. Parker's play is consistent with last year's, except he isn't the Spurs' lone star anymore.

Duncan's throwback style of play may be just enough to give the team a push to play as they did in his prime. Aside from the stars, added experience to the younger role players gives the team a better shot than last season.

Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were two additions last season that helped the Spurs make a run through the postseason prior to their collapse. Green specifically folded under the pressure of the Western Conference Finals. While you cannot credit their lack of success to one player alone, Green's slump certainly didn't help.

The biggest player improvement from last season, however, is Tiago Splitter, who is finally developing into the player fans expected him to be.

Though his stats haven't shown incredible improvement, the Brazilian big man is slowly eliminating the "inconsistent" label while improving on the playmaking end.

As a result, Splitter has been thrown into the starting lineup, partnering with Duncan as the team's second-best big man. That is a role that was left unfilled last year.

Now that Splitter, Leonard, Green and the other youngsters have matured, along with a drastic improvement from Tim Duncan, the Spurs aren't the same team as last year.

They are an improved, rejuvenated version who have a legitimate shot at a title.

All stats are accurate as of Dec. 31.