July 1, 2016, 10:00 am
The Spurs might have been this season’s most interesting team, as they integrated new pieces on the fly to create a historic defensive juggernaut. After winning 67 games in the regular season, San Antonio looked primed to challenge the record-setting Warriors for a ticket to the Finals. Their season abruptly ended a round earlier, however, as they fell to a revitalized Thunder team in six games. With an offseason of uncertainty ahead of them it will be fascinating to see how the most stable organization in the NBA tries to right the ship. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in San Antonio.
Last summer marked a shift in philosophy for the Spurs. After years of building winning teams through exemplary drafting and smart trades on the periphery of their roster, San Antonio went after the biggest name in free agency: LaMarcus Aldridge. His signing was a coup for an organization just one year removed from winning a championship, and with Aldridge heading to South Texas they were able to reconstruct a title contender on the fly.
The signing of Aldridge raised some questions, as skeptics wondered how well his isolation heavy, face up game would translate to San Antonio’s pass first system. Early returns seemed to validate these fears, as the team struggled to gel. Aldridge’s scoring slipped during the first half of the season, as he averaged six fewer points than he did in 2014-15 during that span. Moreover, his presence in the paint clogged driving lanes that were once open for Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker.
Instead of panicking, the team trusted legendary coach Gregg Popovich to smooth things out, and it didn’t take long for things to begin clicking. Aldridge delivered the best defensive season of his career, proving a worthy compliment to Tim Duncan in the post and helping to support the seemingly impenetrable perimeter bulwark created by Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Additionally, the team found a new identity on offense, as the Spurs slowed down the pace of games and allowed both Aldridge and Leonard to deviate from scripted possessions when things stalled. As a result, San Antonio finished third in offensive efficiency and first on the defensive side of the ball.
Despite spending a large chunk of the season in the shadow of the Warriors, the Spurs ended the season on such an emphatic note that many – including this writer – considered them even favorites to win the conference. This clash of titans was not to be, however, as the Thunder rallied back from an embarrassing blowout in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals to upset San Antonio. It was a sour ending to what had been an overwhelmingly triumphant season.
Now, the Spurs must turn their attention to a summer of uncertainties. If they can land Kevin Durant, they will enter 2016-17 as the favorites to win it all. If Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire, and the miss out on the big names in free agency, they’ll enter next season with holes to fill if they hope to again rule the West.
After so many successful seasons it’s difficult to know where to begin talking about Popovich. Along with Duncan he’s been the most important figure in Spurs’ history, and he continues to amaze year in and year out. Whether it’s developing castoffs and journeymen into real contributors, or finding ways to maximize talented players who seem like poor fits with one another, no one does it better than Pop. He’s the best in the NBA, period, and an undeniable member of the league’s Mt. Rushmore of coaches.
Last offseason when many around the league wondered how Aldridge would fit, sandwiched between Leonard and Duncan in the Spurs’ frontcourt, true believers needed only one syllable to justify their faith: Pop. The team has had immensely talented players over the last 15 years, and Popovich doesn’t deserve all the credit for their success, but it’s hard to argue that the consistent ways in which players in San Antonio succeed is a coincidence.
Leonard would have succeeded anywhere, he works too damn hard to fail, but becoming a top-5 player took a successful synergy between pupil and instructor. To a lesser extent the same can be said for Parker and Ginobili as well. Popovich finds ways to maximize the talent of any player who passes through San Antonio, and is among the smartest strategic thinkers in the league.
ADP: 13/9 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 12/4 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 6/3 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Leonard had his best season across the board in 2015-16, as he continued to improve offensively in his fifth year in the league. He also stayed relatively healthy, playing 72 games after missing at least 16 games in each of his previous seasons.
Leonard has transformed into a monster in terms of efficiency, and managed to do so while taking on the scoring duties of a true franchise player. He managed to score 21.2 points per game this season, blowing his previous career high (16.5) out of the water. Additionally, Leonard knocked down nearly two threes per contest (after making just one per game the previous two seasons) while shooting 50.6% from the floor. He was no slouch from the line, either, making 87.4% of his shots from the charity stripe on 4.6 attempts. These results would be impressive for anyone, but are made doubly so by the fact that Leonard’s shot was functionally broken coming out of San Diego State.
His successes didn’t end on the offensive end either, as Leonard was the most impactful defensive wing in fantasy. He averaged 6.8 boards, 1.8 steals and one block per game. We talk about three combined blocks plus steals as the gold standard for defensive stats, but usually we’re discussing about big men who can generate steals. Leonard is the opposite, as he consistently challenges for the league lead in swipes while also chipping in like a center in blocks.
Leonard is the type of player that unlocks limitless combinations for your fantasy team. His excellent percentages and contributions across the board make him a true stud. As the above splits indicate, this multicategory dominance is even more evident in nine category leagues, as Leonard’s 1.5 turnovers are staggeringly low for a player who shoulders so much responsibility.
Next season Leonard is a lock to go in the top-7 of every draft, and could easily go as high as second in nine category leagues. At 25 years old there’s no telling exactly how high his ceiling might be.
ADP: 19/18 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 35/25 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 38/25 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
As previously mentioned, Aldridge started slowly this season. In fact, after being drafted in the second round of just about every format last fall Aldridge was considered a major fantasy bust through February’s All-Star game. His scoring and rebounding were down, and Aldridge had never been the most impactful defensive player in fantasy.
As the Spurs began to reshape their identity around him and Leonard, however, Aldridge’s numbers improved. While his season averages of 18 points, 8.5 boards, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.1 blocks might not jump off the page, he played like a first round pick during the final two months of the season. During that window, his numbers rose to 19.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.1 blocks. Those small upticks were accompanied by improved efficiency, as Aldridge began to shoot the ball at the best rate of his career. In fact, Aldridge finished the season averaging 51.3% from the field. Not only was this mark a career best, but represented an improvement of nearly five percentage points over his final year in Portland.
In early rankings across the web Aldridge is sliding to the end of the third or start of the fourth round. While this is in keeping with his player rater finish from this year, it’s safe to be a bit more bullish on his potential. With Tim Duncan (assuming he returns) likely to play an even more reduced role, and given the level of play Aldridge demonstrated during the final stretch of 2015-16, it isn’t difficult to imagine him contributing like a second round pick next year.
ADP: 69/49 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 128/119 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 93/85 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 61
Tim Duncan experienced one of the larger (non-injury related) declines in player rater value this season, dropping from 21st in 2014-15 all the way to 85th. At age 40 he played in his fewest games since 2012, and averaged the fewest minutes of his career. Sadly, we are finally witnessing the slow end of the greatest player of his generation.
While he still brought exceptional defense savvy every night, Duncan wasn’t a factor on the offensive end. He was able to maintain averages of 0.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest, but chipped in just 8.6 points and 7.3 boards in his 25.2 minutes per game. His efficiency also dipped, as his 48.6% from the floor was the second-worst shooting performance of his career. Duncan was still one of the premier passing big men in the league, totalling 2.7 assists per game, but didn’t chip in enough across the board to justify his draft position.
Between the games he misses, and the increasing roles of both Leonard and Aldridge, it’s difficult to see Duncan making much of a fantasy impact next season. If he does return to the Spurs, rather than riding off into the sunset, owners will have to consider him a defensive specialist. He’s worth drafting, but only as a late round guy to help shore up your fantasy squad’s rim protection.
ADP: 57/58 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 127/112 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 153/140 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
Oh boy. Where Duncan’s decline was the graceful swan song of a once great player, Green just plain stunk last season. He was among the more popular picks for Hoop Ball’s fantasy bust of the season in our year end awards, and rightfully so. He was drafted as early as the fifth or sixth round in many leagues, and finished outside the top-140 in nine category scoring. Gross.
The issue with Green was his shooting, as he dramatically underperformed in both threes and field goal percentage. Since 2012, Green had been a safe bet for at least two treys per game on 43%-44% shooting. Instead, he gave owners just 1.5 three per game in 2015-16, and graciously hit just 37.6% of his shots. Green wasn’t useless, as his out of position blocks (0.8 per game) kept him a versatile fantasy asset. On the whole, however, his averages of 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and one steal per contest left owners more distraught than satisfied.
Looking ahead, it would be hard to blame anyone who has sworn off Green for good after this year, but there may be some bounceback value in 2016-17. Green still possess the ability to help owners in all three money fantasy categories (blocks, threes and steals), and they will probably be able to snag him outside the top-100 come October. At that point in drafts he’s probably worth the gamble.
ADP: 107/123 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 126/140 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 130/159 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
2015-16 marked Parker’s third straight season finishing outside the top-100 on the player rater, and it’s safe to assume that his value is probably never going to recover. Still, as a low end option owners could do a lot worse if they’re looking for assists. Parker averaged 5.3 helpers per game this season, continuing to make a real impact in that category.
While Parker’s averages certainly won’t blow anyone away, he chipped in a respectable 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.4 treys and 0.8 steals. The lack of threes will always be a drag on his value in fantasy, but it’s equally important that Parker doesn’t hurt you anywhere. He averaged 49.3% from the field and 76% from the line this season, and while 1.8 turnovers isn’t impressive for a role player it’s certainly tolerable given Parker’s assists.
ADP: 140/137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 171/176 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 128/148 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 58
By playing just 58 games in 2015-16 Ginobili tumbled off of standard league rosters. When he played Manu put up solid, if low end, value, but he was difficult to count on. All told, Ginobili finished with averages of 9.6 points, 2.5 boards, 3.1 assists, 1.2 threes and 1.1 steals, and continued to demonstrate the versatility of his game. His 1.7 turnovers were damaging, however, as he simply didn’t produce enough to stomach that sort of negative impact. At 38 years old Ginobili can be safely ignored in all but the deepest of leagues next season, whether he retires or not.
ADP: 140/132 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 143/121 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 180/156 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 78
West might have been the best draft day bargain of any Spur this season outside of Leonard. He lived up to his reasonable ADP with solid play across 78 games. In just 18 minutes per game he averaged 7.1 points, four rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.7 blocks, while shooting 54.5% from the field and 78.8% from the line. Again, there’s nothing spectacular about those numbers, but West delivered exactly what owners were expecting. He chipped in on defense and didn’t do anything to hurt owners. If he chooses not to retire West probably isn’t worth drafting in most leagues this fall, but he’ll make a solid streaming option for players looking for cheap big men.
ADP: N/A / 137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 151/138 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 193/179 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Mills showed flashes of solid play but still couldn’t break on to the standard league radar this year. Averaging 20.5 minutes, 8.5 points, two boards, 2.8 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.5 treys, he didn’t offer much beyond threes. Mills will continue to be an important part of the Spurs’ rotation next season, but it would take an injury to one of their starters to make him worth considering on draft day next fall.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 215/209 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 273/266 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 78
While he didn’t see a lot of playing time, Anderson showed some promise in his sophomore campaign. He averaged 4.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.2 threes, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks in just 16 minutes per contest. As he develops, Anderson could become a reliable source of defensive stats, so keep an eye on the Spurs rotation early next season.
ADP: N/A / 131 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 199/211 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 245/271 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76
Aside from a few out of position assists, Diaw offered little to fantasy owners in 2015-16. Averaging 18.2 minutes, 6.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.3 threes, 0.3 steals and 0.3 blocks he failed to make an impact in standard leagues. For now, it looks as though Diaw will be returning to San Antonio next season, but he’ll be little more than a streaming option next season.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 285/286 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 284/289 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 55
Martin was a valuable bench contributor in his 55 games for San Antonio last season, but made little impact on the fantasy landscape. He tallied 19.9 minutes, 9.3 points, 0.9 threes, 1.1 assists and 0.5 steals per contest, while shooting just 37.2% in 7.6 attempts per contest. Martin was a fine source of low end three point production in deep leagues, but his shooting woes disqualified him from most standard league rosters.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 305/290 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 318/294 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 54
Despite showing some promise, Marjanovic offered little to fantasy owners in his first NBA season. Averaging 9.4 minutes, 5.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.4 blocks he failed to make an impact in standard leagues. Marjanovic’s pure size make him an intriguing prospect, and he could be a low end source of blocks if he cracks the Spurs’ rotation next fall.
Despite their success in 2015-16, the Spurs seem to have as many unanswered questions as any team out West. Their longshot bid for Durant, along with Duncan’s decision to return or retire, will drastically shape the future of their franchise. Still, between Pop’s proven track record and the stardom of both Leonard and Aldridge, the Spurs have one of the stronger foundations in the league from which to build. The Spurs are a lock to remain among the NBA’s elite, and how they approach chasing another title should be fascinating to watch.