With Sunday’s dominant return of Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs have reminded the Western Conference that they are still the team to beat. Last year’s Conference Champs, they are flying under the radar yet again. But after battling through a handful of key injuries, they still find themselves in the second seed of the West at 43-16.
In the past, coach Gregg Popovich proved year after year that his system works, no matter who he has surrounding the “Big 3.” However, this season he has proven that his team can succeed for long stretches of time even without the them. The offseason acquisition of Marco Belinelli and the emergence of Patty Mills have both been a large part in this success and pleasant surprises for San Antonio.
Belinelli, who has bounced around the league over the course of his seven seasons, turned heads while playing for the Chicago Bulls last season. The Spurs were quick to reload in the off-season after losing Gary Neal and signed the sharp shooting Belinelli. Mainly coming off of the bench, has averaged 11.6 points on over 50 percent shooting from the floor and 46 percent from three-point territory.
As for the fifth-year guard Mills, he has been steadily improving year by year. He came into training camp in the best shape of his life and it has really shown in his recent success. Mills came on strong when he was called upon during the Spurs injury ridden month of February. He averaged 16.3 points on 49 percent shooting. The Saint Mary’s alumni now finds himself in the thick of the Spurs rotation.
As for the “Big 3,” they continue to play a high level of basketball night in and night out. But there is a new key to their success that, much like them, flies under the radar, and that is Kawhi Leonard. Leonard’s presence has been made felt on both ends of the floor as he is now seen by some as the best overall player on the team.
The fact that Leonard can successfully defend the opponents best player night-to-night is part of what still makes the Spurs the team to beat in the West. He’s also averaging 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, but it’s the little things that go unnoticed that make him vital to the success of the team. Whether it’s making the extra pass, diving for a loose ball, or simply having the high basketball IQ that most players don’t have, Leonard is the perfect student of coach Popovich.
Now that the Spurs are returning to full strength, they are a force to be reckoned with and once again the team to beat in the Western Conference. Tony Parker’s ageless playing level is the engine that keeps the Spurs running. In his thirteenth season, he is still averaging 17.8 points and 6.3 assists. In what has been rumored to be Tim Duncan’s final season, the Spurs would like him to go out on top with a championship. Something that they were 5.2 seconds away from being able to do last season. Do the Spurs have enough left in the tank to win another title? The answer is always yes.
Commentary by Rich Peters
Follow Rich Peters on Twitter @Tricky_Roma.