Highlighted by budding superstar Kawhi Leonard, small forward is a solid position for the reigning league champion San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15.
Leonard is the unit's unquestioned star, while career 2-guard Marco Belinelli was his backup due to the backcourt rotation in which he played.
NBA journeyman Austin Daye rounds out the incumbents, but the Spurs added a pass-happy piece to the position during the summer.
Reviewing the performance of the aforementioned trio and factoring offseason changes will help decide what changes, if any, San Antonio needs to make for the upcoming campaign.
Grading 2013-14 Performance
Leonard missed 14 regular-season games due to a broken finger, but rumor has it he performed pretty well anyway. The third-year forward was recognized as a NBA All-Defensive second team honoree, the first of what figures to be many such awards.
|Kawhi Leonard 2013-14 Stat Splits|
|Pre-Injury (41 Games)||11.6||6.1||1.8||1.7||0.5|
|Post-Injury (25 Games)||14.7||6.5||2.4||1.8||1.2|
|Playoffs (23 Games)||14.3||6.7||1.7||1.7||0.6|
And of course, he had a spectacular finish and was named the 2014 NBA Finals MVP following three outstanding performances opposite LeBron James.
Belinelli was on fire to start the season, hovering around 47-50 percent from distance and leading the league in that category for a couple months. The Italian sharpshooter cooled off, but he still posted a career-best 43.0 percent mark behind the arc.
During the playoffs, Belinelli reached double digits just twice in 23 appearances compared to 49 such games through the opening 82. In addition to missing open looks he typically drained, Belinelli was hounded by opposing guards, even getting contained by weaker defenders like Jose Calderon.
Some call Daye a small forward; some call him a power forward. But whichever side of the fence you're on, the midseason acquisition played just 115 total minutes for the Spurs, so it's not a significant debate, regardless.
Looking back over the entire season, though, San Antonio was largely successful at the position because Leonard picked up Belinelli's slack when it mattered the most.
Overall Grade: A-
What Happened This Offseason?
The Spurs did not lose any small forwards, but they added UCLA's Kyle Anderson with the last selection of the draft's first round.
Granted, Anderson is basically a 6'8" point forward because of his superior passing ability. He will be utilized in a variety of ways; spelling Leonard, who often chases the league's best scorers around the court, is an important responsibility.
Bleacher Report's Garrett Jochnau believes Anderson's future with the team is very bright, citing his skill set and organizational fit
"The Spurs offense is structured around ball movement along the perimeter, driving and dishing," Jochnau said. "Anderson's passing is top-notch, and his improved shooting ability will put him in a good place to succeed as a role player."
Anderson must be ready immediately, because Leonard has an unpleasant injury history. The San Diego State product has missed 42 games throughout his first three years in the league.
Though he may not necessarily be injury-prone, that label is slowly sneaking up on Leonard. No, it's not a serious cause for concern at this point, but Anderson certainly helps lessen the impact of a potential absence.
What to Expect in 2014-15
Leonard is entering the final season of his rookie contract, meaning San Antonio is at least in preliminary internal discussions about an extension. The front office has until Oct. 31 to reach an agreement; otherwise the 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent next offseason.
However, the rising star said he isn't worried about that. "I'm just playing," Leonard said, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. "The Spurs are a great organization. I'm leaving that to my agent, and I'm sure they'll come out with a great understanding and a deal. I'm not focused on that at all."
Belinelli is on the back end of a two-year deal, and Daye's contract expires after 2014-15 as well. Ultimately, San Antonio does not need to sign a small forward for its 15th and final roster opening.
As is always the case with Gregg Popovich, playing time will be a fluid situation throughout the entire season. Behind Leonard as the 30-minute-per-night starter, the Spurs' second unit is a question due to Patty Mills' shoulder injury and subsequent surgery.
Pop has likely been contemplating ways to replace the team's 2013-14 breakout performer until his return, and small forward is an important part of that. With that being said, Daye won't be a major factor and will only receive some scattered minutes.
Cory Joseph can be inserted for Mills, leaving Manu Ginobili and Belinelli in the same roles they occupied last year. This would be a well-rounded group; Joseph provides the defensive spark, Ginobili is the offensive creator and Belinelli shoots threes at a productive rate.
Or, Pop could slide Ginobili to point guard and use Belinelli and Anderson at the 2 and 3, essentially interchangeably. Defense might be a struggle since Belinelli and the rookie are below average on that end, but using Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter would help offset the weakness.
From an offensive standpoint, though, the trio could form one of the league's best reserve units. San Antonio is known for its rapid ball movement, and Anderson fits in seamlessly.
Similar to last season, it wouldn't be surprising to watch Popovich shuffle his lineups at the beginning of the year, searching for the right combinations in the backcourt and on the wings.
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