It seems like just yesterday that the regular NBA season came to an end, but alas, the Western Conference Finals are now upon us. I have to brag a little and mention that I predicted the Spurs would be in the WCF, but I did take it one step farther (perhaps one step too far) and said they would actually be in the Finals this season. While that likely won’t be the case, I am really excited to see the Spurs match up against the Golden State Warriors starting May 14th. So let’s take a realistic look at each team’s strengths and weaknesses, and also the wildcards that may impact the outcome of this series.
Let’s start with the Warriors. The Warriors have a list of strengths a mile long. Their starting lineup boasts All-Stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. On the defensive end, Thompson, Durant and Zaza Pachulia have been plus defenders at their positions. However, no one else on the roster is true stopper like Draymond Green can be–albeit questionably at times.
The Warriors also have a bench that is just as star-studded as the starting lineup with 6th man of the year candidate Andre Iguodala, Shaqtin’ a Fool Hall of Famer JaVale McGee, and Shaun Livingston to name just a few. Let’s also not forget that the Warriors are coming into the Western Conference Finals having swept both Portland and Utah averaging 115 points per game at 48% from the field and 38% from three.
Seems like the Warriors don’t have any weaknesses to speak of coming into this final conference series, right? Well, not so fast. The Warriors have had a cake walk of sorts getting to this point, and sometimes that can be a bad thing. When teams are forced to compete at their highest level it sharpens them, and taking a couple losses in the playoffs provides for good lessons that refines them by fire. The Warriors didn’t have to put up much of a fight against their first two playoff opponents possibly allowing time for skills to atrophy and lose their edge.
So how does all this measure up against the Spurs? The Spurs come into the Western Conference Finals having played 6 games in both the first and second round of the playoffs. They’ve averaged 107 points per game splitting off into an average of 109.3 points in wins, and 101.3 points in losses. They shot 47% from the field and 37% from three—just one percentage point less that Golden State in each category. The Spurs also don’t really recruit superstars, but rather, they breed them through their process of longevity and growth.
Kawhi Leonard is a phenomenon groomed by Coach Gregg Popovich, as is Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The current San Antonio Spurs carry a couple of OGs that have been playing the same fundamental game their entire careers. What I like about San Antonio is the system of having each player commit to playing their own role and trusting their teammates to play their own roles also. That’s why we’ve been able to see Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard go down without much disruption to the overall flow of the team. You can bet that the Spurs have their bench well-trained and ready when the time comes for them to step up—be prepared to see those very players become superstars one day.
The Spurs also have very strict defensive principles. For the 2016-2017 regular season, they took first place in defensive rating ranking just above the Golden State Warriors. While they no longer have Tim Duncan on their side, Leonard gets down to business leading their defense to methodically shut their opponents’ offense down and take control of games when their opponents drop their guard.
However, the Spurs are not infallible—especially not this season without Duncan. Now that Parker is out for the season and Leonard is nursing an ankle injury the Spurs might be vulnerable. San Antonio is probably one key piece away from putting it all together, even though they’ve shown they’re ready to compete at a very high level. They are not a fast team by any means. They play very slow, calculated basketball ranking 27th in pace whereas the Warriors work off the run and gun model. The Spurs also rank ninth in the NBA in assist percentage compared to the Warriors who rank first.
It’s all going to boil down to a couple of things that I’m calling wildcards–the things that may tip the scales of competition one way or another. First, and foremost, the San Antonio Spurs have Coach Popovich as a primary wildcard. Coach Pop’s strategic vision is a superteam in and of itself, so it will be very important for the Warriors not to underestimate him. If the battle exists solely between Popovich and Steve Kerr/Mike Brown, Pop wins all day long.
The Warriors, however, have Draymond Green’s fiery passion and talent which delivers the spark his team needs to make them the superteam they are today. He is the difference maker for the Warriors which was proven when he was suspended for a game after receiving too many technical fouls for the 2015-2016 NBA playoffs. Green has an uncanny ability to take a game and will it into a win for his team defensively.
Overall, I am hopeful, but not confident we will see the Spurs beat the Warriors to move on to the Finals this year. I’m tired of seeing the same two teams in the Finals, and I’d like to see things shake up a little. I’m also hoping the Boston Celtics will beat out the Washington Wizards to move on to beating the Cavs, but again I’m not overly confident this will happen. If I had it my way we would see the Spurs vs the Celtics in the Finals in June.