Everybody is already smitten with the idea of Houston and Oklahoma City coming up to give Golden State a run for their money. Let us not forget, however, that had Kawhi Leonard not gotten injured the Spurs may have topped the Warriors in the Western Conference finals last season.
Pop’s system works
First off, unlike Houston, San Antonio already has a well-run, efficient, non-selfish system that Gregg Popovich has been running for years. The Spurs function as a well-oiled machine that has claimed 55 or more wins for each of the last five years. Manu Ginobili, even with less playing time, can still make a difference, as can other veterans such as Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.
Leonard, meanwhile, is getting closer to winning the MVP. He is widely regarded as the best two-way player in the league and continues to improve year on year. Last year, Leonard averaged 25.5 points and 3.5 assists per game, both career highs. If Popovich can continue to surround him with solid, selfless players, the Spurs can be the real deal. Let’s not forget what they did to the Warriors on opening night.
Houston, OKC have missing pieces
Chris Paul and James Harden still haven’t played together yet. On paper, these are two fantastic players who are experiencing career highs on defense and offense. One negative is that Harden will have to make another adjustment in moving back to a two guard, leaving Paul to handle the ball. The team has yet to mesh on the hardwood and let’s not forget that Paul doesn’t quite have a proven track record of being a great teammate. Additionally, the Rockets did give up a defensive specialist and locker room personality in Patrick Beverley to make this trade happen. With all that in mind, the Rockets may not be ready usurp the Spurs and become the Warriors’ main Western Conference threat.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, may be better than last year with the addition of Paul George, but I will make the call that they would lose a series to the Spurs. Russell Westbrook is far too ball-centric, and though he legitimately averaged a triple-double, their offense is not productive enough to last through the playoffs.
The Spurs are here to stay. Popovich has been in this game far too long to let a team with Leonard at the helm go downhill. And they won’t. Expect the Spurs to earn a top-three spot in the West and give the Warriors some trouble if and when they face each other late in the playoffs. This is assuming Leonard does not get injured.
Where do the Spurs finish in the Western Conference next season? Comment below!
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