New Year's Resolutions for the San Antonio Spurs
When a team is inching upon the brink of perfection, one has to wonder whether there are any improvements to be made.
The San Antonio Spurs have been successful thus far into the season and are often mentioned in championship discussions as a potential contender.
That said, at 24-7, there are still issues that need to be addressed. Though a number of the team's resolutions deal with maintaining their winning identity, the Spurs—like everyone else—must evaluate their current status in comparison to where they would like to be in the future.
With 2014 upon us, here are the Spurs' New Year's resolutions that will help to ensure that the new year is as successful as the previous one.
Don't Give Up on Danny Green
Danny Green is a precious and volatile talent.
Often, he's a lethal threat from beyond the arc and a ruthless perimeter stopper.
Other times, his shooting touch seemingly disappears, making him an offensive liability given his limited passing and dribbling skills.
That said, the San Antonio community should retain a positive perspective on the first-half hero of last season's NBA Finals, as his youth and defensive aptitude outweigh his problematic inconsistency.
As NBA.com's advanced stats show (subscription required), Green makes a rather large impact on defense. With Green on the bench, the team allows 103.1 points per 100 possessions on average. With him on the court, it allows nearly 10 less points, holding opponents to 94.1 points.
His contributions are also vital in providing perimeter defensive help to Kawhi Leonard, who is regarded as the team's defensive ace. As any offensive stud will testify, it's difficult to succeed alone. The same idea holds true on the other end.
Leonard, without his perimeter sidekick, actually sports a defensive rating of 104.9, significantly worse than his rating when Green shares the court—a whopping 12 points lower.
Green's defensive contributions are invaluable to the team, and his status as a young asset makes him imperative to the post-Tim Duncan era. Though his offensive inconsistencies remain a concern, he is still useful as a three-point shooter the vast majority of the time, and his other tools make him too advantageous to be considered as a trade piece.
Remain Patient with Tiago Splitter
Like Green, Tiago Splitter has become a source of frustration for Spurs fans. Despite a strong start on both ends, Splitter has re-emerged as a "soft" offensive player who seemingly lacks the confidence and athleticism to finish underneath.
Without a jump shot, Splitter and his limited finishing ability have been criticized.
However, with Splitter, patience is a virtue, and the team—and its fans—must remain patient with the big man and let him retain his starter status despite any offensive shortcomings.
On the defensive end, Splitter's contributions hold a similar purpose to Green's. Just as the latter serves as Leonard's sidekick along the perimeter, Splitter acts as Duncan's partner in the post.
He takes a lot of the stress off of the aging big man and will eventually act as his replacement—thus increasing the need to expedite his development.
Not to mention, his passing ability is top-notch, comparable to Duncan's. His shooting percentage is still rather strong thanks to a strong start, and though he often falls into unfavorable slumps, his contributions are essential to the Spurs' present and future.
Consider Shopping Their Draft Pick
I'm usually against trading first-round picks, but if done in moderation and intelligently, it can be essential to winning—especially if used to acquire true talent.
In the Spurs' case, the number of available trade pieces is limited. Danny Green is the oft-discussed player, but as mentioned earlier, he is too beneficial as a defensive stopper to be given great consideration as a piece. That leaves a pair of point guards in Cory Joseph and Nando de Colo and possibly Matt Bonner's expiring contract as assets to trade.
With such limited options, the Spurs may have to turn to their draft pick as a trade chip, if they deem it necessary to make a move—which is an option that they shouldn't ignore.
With the Jeff Ayres experiment failing, the team is lacking frontcourt depth, and a fourth big man might be needed in order to win a championship. With the Big Three likely in the midst of their final hurrah, the Spurs should certainly consider a trade, and they should look toward their pick as a source to bring in talent.
One idea would be to send Joseph, Bonner (and his expiring contract) and the first-rounder to the tanking Milwaukee Bucks for Ekpe Udoh, a talented big who has become lost in a deep frontcourt.
Overall, the Spurs shouldn't rule out a trade and should use their first-round draft pick as a trade chip in order to acquire talent from a team whose future supersedes its present in importance.
Retain Focus on Preserving Health
It's the one thing that could make or break the Spurs' postseason run. The team's older core is rather susceptible to injuries, specifically Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan—though Tony Parker has entered his 30s and must be used with caution as well.
The Spurs will make the playoffs; that much is a foregone conclusion. Though the West is extremely deep, the Spurs are talented enough—and have been successful enough—to qualify for a playoff spot without trying too hard, relatively speaking.
Since they'll find themselves playing when the postseason rolls around, the Spurs shouldn't put too much focus on the regular season and should shift their emphasis to remaining 100 percent healthy in the playoffs.
As they did last year, they should ignore any seeding implications and should rest their players accordingly throughout 2014 to preserve health and prevent injuries.
Stay True to Themselves
Too often, NBA teams' offenses revolve too much around their top dogs.
In these situations, isolations dominate the playbook, and ball movement becomes an afterthought.
Fortunately, the Spurs haven't followed suit—at least most of the time.
Tony Parker is as capable a star as they come. He's an offensive juggernaut with the ability to score from any spot on the court. That said, he is also a talented distributor, and the team's roster is full of productive players whose contributions shouldn't be ignored.
The Spurs always post a top-tier assists-per-game average and rank second entering the new year.
With so much success stemming from this pass-first philosophy, the Spurs must hold on to their identity and refrain from becoming too wrapped up in this superstar focus that at times dominates the league.
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