Early Predictions for San Antonio Spurs' Starting Lineup Next Season
While major pieces moved around it, the veteran squad stayed true to its reputation of consistency, and the lack of changes will be reflected in the starting lineup for the 2014-15 season.
That said, despite the lack of groundbreaking moves, the Spurs have plenty to offer in 2014-15 that was unavailable a year prior, to keep fans on their toes as the team tries to both repeat its success and transition into a new era.
In 2014-15, Tony Parker will return as the Spurs' starting point guard and offensive centerpiece.
Over the past few years, he has established himself as one of the league's best floor leaders and will look to strengthen his legacy as he inches toward the end of his prime.
Different from years past, though, the team's top distributor will lack his primary backup, with Patty Mills set to miss the majority of the season due to offseason surgery.
Mills' minutes will likely be taken by fourth-year point guard Cory Joseph, who—despite not having broken out yet like Mills—has established himself as a defensive presence and a viable reserve.
Additionally, Parker's load will be lessened, with Kawhi Leonard transitioning into a more focal role. The point guard's scoring totals dropped last year, and while his production will remain efficient and crucial, it would hardly be a surprise to see another statistical drop.
Parker, like other Spurs players, will be used conservatively in the regular season, as the team looks to preserve his production for as long as possible. Even so, his starting job is secure for the long run, even if his role as the franchise's alpha dog isn't.
Ever since Manu Ginobili re-accepted his role as the sixth man, Danny Green has been a natural fit as the starting 2.
He isn't a strong enough offensive player to warrant too much attention on that end, though his three-point prowess and strength on the defensive end make him the ideal role player to complement the team's stars.
That said, his inconsistency from beyond the arc has become frustrating, and even if Green is starting the game, he rarely finishes.
If he can emerge with a more diverse and consistent offensive game, though, it wouldn't be surprising to see him cut into Ginobili's minutes, especially given the veteran's age.
Green's role depends on his offseason growth, but his spot in the starting lineup is fairly set in stone.
Kawhi Leonard will return as the Spurs' starting 3; that much has been penciled in since he outplayed LeBron James in the final three games of the NBA Finals.
However, his position might undergo its biggest role change of the Big Three era.
The small forward slot has never been a focal point. The triumvirate have commanded the most attention, with the 3 existing primarily as a role player.
However, Leonard—fresh off a Finals MVP—is primed to move farther into the spotlight as he takes on a greater role.
Offensively, Parker will still be the spearhead. However, Leonard is a consistent mid-range jump shot away from being every defender's nightmare, and the team will likely take advantage of his growing offensive repertoire, utilizing him both as a scorer and a facilitator.
On the other end, Leonard has already established himself as the defensive leader along the perimeter, and little should change in 2014-15.
Once the season begins, his name will likely be thrown into All-Star discussion, so while there's no question that the starting small forward remains consistent with that of last year, his role within the lineup is in store for a drastic evolution.
The power forward position is the only spot in the starting lineup where legitimate debate is warranted.
Boris Diaw has been continuously increasing his stock since he joined the team, culminating with an incredible playoff performance.
On the other end, Tiago Splitter made a significant jump during the 2013-14 season, establishing himself as a viable defensive anchor and a capable offensive talent in the post.
Both Diaw and Splitter have their individual strengths and weaknesses, and each will be used heavily in the upcoming campaign.
As for which one will start, however, the scale tips in Splitter's favor. Namely, due to his role as Tim Duncan's natural successor, but also because his height and defense put him at a clear advantage against teams who play two post presences.
If, however, the opposition deploys a small-ball lineup, the case can be made for Diaw to start in Splitter's stead.
As he did throughout the previous season, Gregg Popovich will likely switch the two big men depending on the matchup. As for the "regular" starter, though, Splitter's upside defensively and Diaw's ability to lead the second unit make Splitter the obvious choice.
That Duncan is a center can be saved for a later date—I'd personally argue that his position changes depending on his frontcourt partner. Regardless, there's no doubting which Spurs big man will round out the starting lineup.
Duncan has been the team's defensive anchor and post centerpiece on offense for over a decade, and despite his declining playing time, he remains a top player at his position.
That said, his role within the team may change drastically in what will potentially be his final playing year. Splitter made strides on both ends last season, and with Duncan's toe out the door, the Spurs may look to shift the focal point of the post tandem—at least in the regular season—to the younger talent.
Giving Splitter the harder defensive assignment—something that was common last season—and utilizing him as a larger piece in the offense might be on the Spurs' agenda, shifting priority and allocating playing time away from Duncan.
Even with a significantly decreased role, the future Hall of Famer will retain his starter status, and even if the regular season is used to experiment for the post-Duncan era, don't be surprised if he goes out with a bang.