Two of Gregg Popovich's three most-used lineups last season included Tim Duncan. Though he was far from the high MVP-heights of his prime years—he averaged just 8.6 points per game—Duncan still provided willing ball movement and rock-solid back line defense. In their 819 minutes on the court, those Duncan-centric groups walloped their competition, with net ratings of 15.6 and 8.6.
So what will Popovich do with that time now that Duncan has retired? Free-agent pickup Pau Gasol figures to get most of it, and though he's a capable scorer at 36, he's nowhere near the defender Duncan was. Gasol will shoot more than Duncan, which could take opportunities away from LaMarcus Aldridge, who saw his field goal attempts per game decline by nearly 30% in his first season as a Spur. Popovich also lost two versatile frontcourt options with the departures of free agents David West and Boris Diaw.
The Spurs certainly still have elite talent in Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, and they can finish near the top of the West. But unless Pop can effectively minimize Duncan's absence, they will lose the flexibility that made them a terror on both ends of the court for almost two decades.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH GREGG POPOVICH (21st season with Spurs)
2015--16 RECORD 67--15 (1st in Southwest)
PG TONY PARKER
11.9 PPG; 5.3 APG; 49.3 FG%; 41.5 3FG%
SG DANNY GREEN
7.2 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 37.6 FG%; 33.2 3FG%
SF KAWHI LEONARD
21.2 PPG; 6.8 RPG; 50.6 FG%; 44.3 3FG%
PF LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE
18.0 PPG; 8.5 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 51.3 FG%
C PAU GASOL*
16.5 PPG; 11.0 RPG; 4.1 APG; 46.9 FG%
SG MANU GINÓBILI
9.6 PPG; 3.1 APG; 45.3 FG%; 39.1 3FG%
PG PATTY MILLS
8.5 PPG; 2.8 APG; 42.5 FG%; 38.4 3FG%
PF DAVID LEE*
7.8 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 1.5 APG; 53.1 FG%
A rival scout sizes up San Antonio
Kawhi Leonard is great. So you have a top 10 player, arguably top five. They'll be pretty successful as long as they have him.... Pau Gasol is probably the starting center. His pick-and-roll defense has been a disaster for years, but [coach Gregg Popovich] will get more out of him on that end than other teams did. That will be a challenge. Going from Tim Duncan's pick-and-roll defense to Pau's, that'll hurt.... I wouldn't be surprised if you see Dewayne Dedmon playing in key situations because he's so much better defensively than Pau.... They signed David Lee. Yikes. Yikes.... Manu Ginóbili is still playing, and I still like him a lot. [But at 39] he just can't do it anymore in the highest-intensity moments, against the best athletes. He doesn't have enough left.... Tony Parker is an above-average starter in the regular season, but he can't be the playmaker in the playoffs.... It's clearly Kawhi's team. They're going to run a lot of stuff for him, and he'll score a lot. Pick-and-rolls, isos, post-ups. LaMarcus Aldridge just needs to be the No. 2 guy and exploit bad matchups, make pick-and-pops and space them out with jump shots. It's not unrealistic to think that Aldridge is past his prime now [at 31]. That said, his game will age well. As a jump-shooting big with that height and that length, he'll be fine.... They'll be well-coached and well-managed, and Kawhi is great. But do I think they're a championship team with Kawhi as their best player and LaMarcus as their second-best? Without someone else emerging, probably not. Definitely not when the Warriors have the best team of all time.
TELLING NUMBER 819
No Duncan, no problem. Pop's 50-win streak will reach 18 seasons.