Not many NBA teams can lose their starting point guard for the month of March and go on to lock up the top seed in their conference or the best record in the NBA. But the San Antonio Spurs are no ordinary team.
After Tony Parker suffered a sprained ankle last Friday, the internet and newspapers have been rife with stories of how the Spurs will not only do fine without him, but that the injury actually benefits the team. The theory is that it will do backup point guards Nando de Colo and Patty Mills a world of good to get more consistent minutes and that even if it cost the Spurs the No. 1 seed in the West, that may not be bad news if the Lakers sneak into the playoffs as an eight seed.
While that’s all well and good, I would go as far to say that not only will the Spurs beat out Oklahoma City for top spot in the West, they’ll also top Miami for the best record in the NBA.
Consider that the Spurs maintain numbers on both ends of the floor without Parker that rank in the top 10 of the NBA and play the most disciplined brand of basketball the NBA has seen since the glory days of the old Boston Celtics. The next month includes the Spurs playing 10 of their 12 games at home and will see them play teams they should beat in Portland, Minnesota, Dallas and Cleveland.
Sure, the month includes some interesting contests for the Parker-less Spurs, including matchups against OKC, Houston, Denver, the Clippers and the defending champs themselves at the end of the month just before Parker is set to return. But are any of those games not winnable for this team?
The Spurs have a way of being resourceful and defying the odds. When you consider the fact they nearly beat Miami earlier this season without Parker, Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili in the lineup and that they regularly rest their stars and remain victorious, it becomes clear that they certainly have the team chemistry and ability to beat anyone on any given day.
San Antonio has four games in hand on Miami in the victory column and will look to not only maximize the production of Ginobili and Duncan who combined for 33 points against Detroit on Saturday, but to increase the output of Kawhi Leonard, a player Gregg Popavich has heralded as the future of the franchise.
Leonard has shown the ability to score at will when needed, but his influence on games has been more on the defensive end than anywhere else. Over the next month, look for him to expand on his offensive statistics, particularly the fact that he has only scored more than 20 points once this season (against Chicago on Feb. 11).
Gary Neal returning from a hamstring injury will help out as well as the Spurs have the plenty of options to help them win many of the games remaining on their schedule. Will Parker’s 21 points and 7 assists per game be missed over the next month? Absolutely, but it doesn’t cripple or even significantly hamper their ability to win games.
On Saturday against Detroit, the Spurs showed their depth and ability to pass from the top of the roster to the bottom. San Antonio came away with 114-75 win in which the team combined for 35 assists and scored that high number with Ginobili as the top scorer with just 17 points. Few teams have that kind of depth and ability to share the ball. You can expect to see a whole lot more of that this month.
The Spurs may be old, they may need Tony Parker come May, but the fact is they don’t need him right now to finish as the NBA’s best team, something that they will do regardless of when he returns.