This is Part 16 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: Last season, the Spurs swept Minnesota, winning two of the three match-ups by double digits.
San Antonio was yet another stout defensive team that the Wolves struggled to score against. The Timberwolves failed to reach the century mark in any of the three games and only scored above 92 points one time.
Led by head coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs continue to be among the leaders of the West year-in and year-out. With a great combination of veteran talent and emerging young superstars, San Antonio seems to be in contention for the title every season. The Spurs ended up in the playoffs yet again last season, but were upended by the Thunder in the Conference Semifinals.
Without a doubt, this team had Minnesota’s number, with experience and leadership playing a huge role in the defeats. The winning mentality has been engraved in the personality of the Spurs. That’s a mindset that hasn’t been seen in Minnesota since the glory days back near the turn of the century.
What’s new? It didn’t take long for the Spurs to find a new center in Pau Gasol. The Spanish big man flew a bit under the radar in free agency with the whole drama involving Kevin Durant, but ended up signing with San Antonio 10 days after the Durant signing.
Pau fills a huge hole with the departure of Tim Duncan, and perhaps will just pick up right where he left off. Gasol has a similar skill-set to that of Duncan, but he moves a bit better than the former Spurs big man was moving last year, so the Spurs could actually see some improvement from a position that has been so consistent for years — at least on offense.
David Lee is another vet that comes over after splitting last year between Boston and Dallas. Lee has not been the same player since his former All-Star days in New York and Golden State; I’m not really sure what his role will be on a team that is deep in big men, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see his career rejuvenated in San Antonio. That’s just the way Pop works.
San Antonio is notorious for limiting player movement and building from within with great player development, and the fact that they currently have seven rookies on the roster shows that they don’t plan on changing that strategy anytime soon. This is one reason the Spurs are always such a force in the league.
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With such little player turnover, these guys get to play together for years and develop as a unit. The guys they do bring in are via free agency usually, so they don’t have to give up any key pieces of their own. Said free agents are usually vets (like Gasol and Lee) that have been around and understand the role they need to fill. Hopefully, Minnesota can find the same fortune with the roster they have now.
What’s the same? With lack of loss comes big returns, and the Spurs find themselves in that position yet again.
Kawhi Leonard is probably the biggest piece of this puzzle. He has emerged as a true superstar over the last few seasons, and I’m not entirely sure he has reached his peak potential. What is truly valuable about Leonard is how great he is defensively. He has the ability to single-handedly take guys like Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine completely out of a game, and he isn’t one to take possessions off, either.
On top of his great defense, he continues to improve on the offensive end. He improved in almost every statistical offensive category last year, and shot over 50 percent from the field. Leonard is one dangerous player, and is quickly becoming among the best in the NBA.
Along with young talent like Leonard, San Antonio also has the likes of veterans Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili returning for yet another season. Both players are far past their prime, but have proven that they can fill roles and be productive in the Spurs’ system.
I’ll be curious to see if their chemistry takes a hit with the retirement of Tim Duncan, but I think both will still be able to find a way to contribute and make the guys around them better.
Also, LaMarcus Aldridge returns for his second season in San Antonio. His production went down last year, but on a team like the Spurs, he doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘The Man’ night-in and night-out, which he did have to do in Portland.
Aldridge is another dangerous stretch-four that can spread teams out and open the floor. He split time between power forward and center last year, but with the addition of Pau Gasol, Aldridge will probably find a home in the starting lineup as the starting ‘four’, moving Danny Green to the bench, more than likely. Watching Aldridge and Towns battle it out will be fun to watch this season.
Having guys like Danny Green and Patty Mills off the bench will be very dangerous. The Spurs typically have a great bench, but affording to move proven talent and former starters into that role makes it even more dangerous. This will give the Spurs an advantage late in close games.
My prediction? The Spurs are another team that the Wolves have struggled with over the years. However, I see Minnesota starting to turn the corner this year. I’m hoping the speed of the Timberwolves can somehow counter the older, more methodical Spurs lineup.
I see Minnesota taking one game for sure, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a split. Regardless of the record against the team this year, the match-ups will probably be a lot closer than in years past.
The first test for Minnesota against the Spurs will come on December 6th at the Target Center.