The San Antonio Spurs franchise is predicated on consistency, so it should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that this summer was quiet and devoid of any big changes.
Around the Spurs, the league changed in its entirety, but the folks in the San Antonio front office ignored the NBA-wide shakeup. After all, what major changes were necessary from the team who fell within seconds of the championship? The adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
And even the most fervent Spurs detractor would agree that the team "ain't broke."
So, they made a few under-the-radar additions and stocked up on overseas talent for the future. The roster that trots out onto the hardwood on opening day will be nearly identical to the one that walked off of it last June.
After a relatively quiet summer, Spurs fans should feel confident about their team heading into the season. Though little noise was made, San Antonio's offseason was far from unsuccessful.
It's hard to continuously unearth draft-gems when you're routinely stuck with a bottom-five pick. Still, general manager R.C. Buford has exhibited a knack for doing so.
Tony Parker was selected late in the first round.
Manu Ginobili nearly fell out of the draft completely.
Even George Hill, who was later flipped for budding superstar Kawhi Leonard, has shown a level of ability that belies his 26th overall selection.
It's safe to say that the Spurs are particularly adept drafters, so it's no surprise that the team's two selections may have NBA careers that surpass their expectations.
Livio Jean-Charles, selected by San Antonio with the 28th overall pick, wasn't the most hyped international prospect, nor has he done anything quite significant just yet.
But he has shown a variety of qualities that foreshadow a solid career as a role player, once he makes the journey overseas.
As a 6'9'' forward, Jean-Charles is stuck between positions.
He is too skinny to earn consistent NBA minutes at the 4, but his lack of a reliable long-range shot casts doubt upon his ability to excel as a wingman.
However, while he is unrefined, he possesses the physical tools necessary to become a legitimate player. His 7'2'' wingspan makes him a defensive threat, and his strong finishing ability bodes well for a potential scoring prowess.
The 19-year-old will have time to further develop his shot in France, and his strong work ethic could result in a significant improvement before he next steps foot on San Antonio soil.
Accompanying Jean-Charles on the Spurs' 2013 draft board was Deshaun Thomas, a small forward out of Ohio State. Unlike Jean-Charles, Thomas is known as an adept scorer. The two also do not possess a shared defensive ability.
But despite struggling on defense, Thomas' scoring ability is a rarity at the 58th overall pick.
During the summer league, he averaged 12.4 points.
He scored 18, 16 and 17 in his first three games before experiencing a drop-off. He also made a statement on the boards, averaging a solid five per contest.
Thomas, though American, will play the beginning of his professional career across the ocean, as he improves into an NBA-ready player.
It's hard to find talent so late in the draft, but the Spurs may have found themselves an effective scorer. By allowing him to begin preparation as an international professional, he'll have the opportunity to sharpen his skills.
Neither player will be a Spur in 2013-14, but in the future both could become valuable contributors—especially Jean-Charles, who could blossom into a legitimate backup for Leonard.
Despite more flexibility than they had previously ever enjoyed, the Spurs failed to make a big splash this summer in the free-agent market. Doing so was nearly impossible after the team re-signed Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili to sizable, multi-year contracts.
Even without an abundance of cap-room after bringing back the necessary assets, the Spurs still managed to improve their roster through a pair of quiet additions.
The more prominent of the two is Marco Belinelli, the former Chicago Bull whose talent has been offset by inconsistency. (Notably, the same description has been used for Manu Ginobili on numerous occasions.)
Despite his poor efficiency, however, Belinelli was a low-risk, high-reward pickup. His contract was minimal, but his potential to develop into a top bench spark could be pivotal.
From outside, the shooting guard cannot be left open. He is also an effective driver, with the playmaking ability of a point guard.
He's no stud, but for what he's worth, the team got a bargain. We'll wait to see what he'll be able to do, but as for now, the tantalizing Italian should stir excitement.
The team also welcomed Jeff Ayres this summer. Ayres, who began his career in Indiana, never managed to crack the rotation and receive consistent playing time.
In San Antonio, he may find himself the chance to do so.
Ayres had a strong preseason where he manifested a strength on the boards as well as a varied offensive game that includes a reliable 10-foot jumper and a soft touch around the rim.
He's no Al Jefferson, but in Ayres, the team managed to secure a capable big man to further improve the team's second unit.
Overall, neither player is going to single-handedly change the franchise. But, much like their draftees, the Spurs found a duo who could strengthen an already strong team.
Against NBA teams, the San Antonio Spurs finished 3-4 in the preseason—tied for the third-worst record in the conference.
So, while it is true that San Antonio's preseason record wasn't pretty, there's one thing to remember:
It's the preseason.
The main purpose of these few games is to give the organization a taste of where each individual player stands, not where the collective team does.
And as a result of these few games, Gregg Popovich was able to learn the following few things, among others:
- Aron Baynes should see consistent minutes
- Nando de Colo is not worth dressing
- Manu Ginobili may be back
- Tim Duncan is in shape and ready to go
- Jeff Ayres is a valuable piece
- Marco Belinelli plays best when paired with Manu Ginobili
Sure, it's nice to finish 8-0 like the Chicago Bulls, but when you discover that a guy like Baynes has made an improvement, the preseason has served its purpose.
Grade: B (But remember, it's the preseason.)
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