NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #2 San Antonio Spurs

This may be the best chance for the Spurs to finally put together back-to-back championships.

This NBA offseason has been very eventful, and the preseason is now in full swing. To help hoops junkies with the transition from the lull of summer back to competitive basketball, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 2nd-ranked San Antonio Spurs!

The San Antonio Spurs haven't missed the playoffs since the drafting of Tim Duncan in 1997. In those 16 years, they have 6 Western Conference titles and 5 NBA titles with the most recent coming last season. Time and again, the Spurs are not counted on due to their age, but they surprise us all by staying at the top of the NBA mountain. Last year, they put on one of the more dominant shows in NBA playoffs history after their bump in the road against the Mavericks. The team’s depth was showcased throughout the playoffs and was too much for the Heat to handle in the Finals.

So what’s in store for this year? If it’s up to Popovich and company, the Spurs may finally secure their first back-to-back run of championships.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 53-29
Western Conference Rank: 1st
NBA Rank: 2nd
nERD: 65.1
Playoff Chances: 89.66%
Championship Chances: 11.04%

No one should be expecting these Spurs to put up 62 wins yet again in 2014-2015, but we said that last year too. Could it happen again? Yes, but Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are another year older and the Western Conference is strong as always, if not stronger. Houston won't be a pushover and Dallas could perform better than expected. Upstarts like the Pelicans and Warriors will be looking to make some noise as well. The Spurs have the best championship chances in the West, but not by much when compared to the Rockets and Clippers according to our metrics. The Kevin Durant injury could help the Spurs at the outset of the season, but anything could happen with so many heavyweights in the Western Conference this year.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Kyle Anderson (via draft)
Nemanja Dangubic (via draft-day trade)

Notable Losses

When you can return the entire team from a championship run, you’re doing something right. The Spurs had to work hard to re-sign Aron Baynes, but that could be a fruitful signing this year with some frontcourt depth needed right away. The stash of Dangubic overseas for a year or two could prove to be helpful as well. Don't be surprised if you hear the name of 2014 undrafted free agent Bryce Cotton or D-League and international journeyman JaMychal Green early in the season if rotational depth is needed. With the trades and signings made this year, the Spurs’ immediate needs may not always be addressed, but a long-term plan is always in the works.

Three Burning Questions

Is Cory Joseph ready to make an impact?
Tony Parker can still hold his own against most point guards in the league, but don’t forget that he has been around for 14 years. With a three-year contract keeping him around for the foreseeable future, don’t expect him to give up his playmaking duties anytime soon.

However, with Patty Mills out until the All-Star break, Cory Joseph will enter the season as the backup point guard. He will have to adjust quickly, especially if Parker gets hurt (he always does at some point) or is sat by Popovich. If Parker is out for an extended time, the depth of the backcourt will be tested quickly.

Can Joseph handle the main point guard duties? Will Ginobili step in as point a little more often if he can't? If he does, could a minutes increase hurt Danny Green? The last man at shooting guard is Marco Belinelli, who didn't show up at all in the playoffs for the Spurs, so their backcourt could get very dicey quickly. Popovich has indicated his confidence in Joseph before and we may get a bigger look at what he has to offer sooner rather than later.

What will we see out of Tim Duncan?
Tim Duncan is old, but that's something that you already know. At age 38, you may not know that Duncan had the second-highest usage rate on the Spurs last season at 25.2%, second only to Parker. Duncan also had the second highest Win Shares (WS) on the team at 7.4 and 4th highest WS/48 with .164.

Does that mean we will see a repeat of those stats again this year? If the involvement of Kawhi Leonard is any indication, we will likely see Duncan’s usage rate go down but don’t expect his contributions to be affected too much. Duncan will adapt to the changes and find other ways to help the team. He shouldn’t have a hard time getting 12 to 16 points per game and grabbing an additional 6 to 8 rebounds a game either. The biggest area of improvement may be his assists. Duncan's assist total has risen per game over the last three years and his three assists a game last year was the best since the 2009-10 season.

What will the frontcourt rotation look like?
While Duncan's impact will be felt, his minutes will still be watched like a hawk by Popovich, especially early in the season. And with Tiago Splitter out for the first couple games of the season nursing a strained calf muscle, Splitter may not see a lot of court time right away anyway. Splitter was ineffective the last couple series of the 2013-14 playoffs while Boris Diaw wasn't, earning Diaw some playing time this year - if his weight stays down. Diaw isn't a spring chicken though, either.

Behind the aging stars are young guys that can play in the paint, but they don't have the experience everyone else does. Aron Baynes logged a little over nine minutes per game last year for the Spurs and Jeff Ayers Pendergraph was on the court for 13 minutes a game himself, but both were effective. Baynes contributed 11.8 points per 36 minutes while grabbing 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. Ayers nearly averaged a double-double himself per 36 minutes, grabbing 9.8 rebounds and throwing in 9.1 points at that pace.

Somehow Popovich will piece together a masterful frontcourt, starting five, and deep rotation as he always does. If he lets the young guys shine, this will be a formidable team again. But while Popovich is doing lineup tinkering early in the season, I would love to see a lineup that consists of Diaw and Leonard in the frontcourt, Joseph running the point, and Green and Ginobili on the wings. It would allow a lot of versatility on the team and showcase Leonard's ability to finally make this his team.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

SF Kawhi Leonard (Yahoo O-Rank: 15)
Leonard may be one of the most polarizing fantasy basketball players, but if you let him escape your grasp in the second round, you could live to regret it. Some claim to stay away from him in the first or even second round due to his low usage rate on the Spurs. But despite a usage rate below 20%, Leonard finished as a top-15 fantasy player last season.

How, you ask? Leonard is one of few wings that can give you a couple steals per game as well as a block or two and a couple three-pointers for good measure. Leonard is underrated and versatile, even rebounding at a good rate for a small forward.

Where could he possibly hurt you on your fantasy team? Points and assists are his two weakest areas. However, given his use in the playoffs and the Spurs needing to pass the mantle from Duncan to Leonard, I think we will see a big jump in his usage rate allowing for at least an increase in points and possibly assists. Throw in very respectable field goal and free throw percentages and his low turnover rate, Leonard makes a great second round pick and possibly worth the risk of a first-rounder if you're drafting in a late spot of your draft.

PG Tony Parker (Yahoo O-Rank: 76)
If you draft big men and wings early in your draft, Tony Parker isn't a bad value in later rounds if you need a point guard on your team still. Or if you have a point that is eligible for any guard position, Parker can give you some strength at that position. Either way, Parker's role on the Spurs makes him valuable in some categories, but not all.

If you're partial to punting steals, Parker's value reached the late second round in 2012-2013 according to Russell Peddle, but that's only one of Parker's weak areas. Obviously, you won't get much in terms of blocks from Parker and you won't see him go fighting for a lot of rebounds. Because of Parker's specifically designed role on the Spurs, you won't see him put up a lot of threes either. Bank on getting points, assists, and percentages from Parker, but depending on the construction of your fantasy basketball team, relying on Parker to be your starting point guard could be risky.