The average age of a player in the NBA this season is 26.8 years old. The average age of NBA players in San Antonio is 31.6. Far and away the oldest team in the league, ahead of the next closest three, the Cavaliers (29.5), Mavericks (29.8), and Clippers (29.4) by nearly 2 years.
After an incredible offseason which included acquiring All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge in free agency and former all-star David West opting out of his contract with the Indiana Pacers to take the veteran’s minimum and help contend for Popovich’s 6th title, the Spurs were once again near the top of the list of teams to win it all this summer.
Clearly a lot has changed since that point. Golden State made history with the best regular season ever. Kevin Durant came back from his injury just to reiterate the fact that he is one of the game’s greatest players. D-Wade decided to attempt to become the first player to single handedly win a playoff series. LeBron continued to be LeBron, and oh, Steph Curry made 400 threes. But that doesn’t mean San Antonio didn’t have themselves quite the regular season also, going 41-1 at home and setting the NBA record for home wins. Any other year, the Spurs would have met their expectations and gone into the playoffs as the best team in the league, but unfortunately for the 2016 Spurs, the 2016 Warriors had to happen; overshadowing nearly all of their incredible achievements something even more absurd and incredible of their own.
With their regular season series going 3-1 in favor of Golden State, fans everywhere have been waiting for the much anticipated Western Conference Final between the two powers.
Now that the Thunder have taken a 3-2 series lead while winning 2 games in San Antonio, it’s starting to look like the Pop and his boys may bow out early again. Maybe it’s time to ask, are the Spurs just too old for this?
I wish I could say no, but the numbers and the eye test say different.
The Spurs have [at least] 3 future hall of famers on their roster, all far past their prime. Tim Duncan, who was held scoreless for his first time ever in a playoff game this year, is 39. Manu Ginobili is 38, and Tony Parker, the youngest of the trio, is still on the wrong side of 30, at 33 years old.
The age doesn’t stop there either. Greg Popovich is the oldest and longest tenured (by a mile) coach in the NBA at age 67 and going on 20 years in San Antonio. The next closest in terms of years with their team? Erik Spolestra, who has been in Miami since 2008.
No one is calling for Pop’s retirement though, and really not even Parker’s. That said, Ginobilli has transitioned to coming off the bench, which, while lowering his numbers, has allowed him to continue to play the game at a high level. Parker and Duncan continue to start and while Parker’s game is still relatively strong, Duncan on the other hand has been on a decline while recording his lowest numbers ever in his incredible career: 8.6 PPG and 7.3 RPG compared to his career averages of 19 PPG and 10 RPG.
People outside the organization seem to think Duncan’s time has come, and many expect this to be his last season. While it doesn’t seem unlikely that Duncan walks away, recent rumors discussing the chance of signing Kevin Durant this off season might allow Duncan the perfect opportunity to return, but in a fundamentally different roll.
Duncan was an instant starter for San Antonio after being drafted 1st overall out of Wake Forest in 1997, starting all 82 regular season games. He has started in nearly 97% of games over his 19 year career. But should Durant make the move this offseason, it would make sense for Duncan to relinquish his starting spot. Allowing Aldridge to slide over to the 5, and Durant to slot in at the 4.
This would be an absurdly talented team, especially with the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, who finished 2nd in MVP voting this year. Duncan would have the opportunity to come off the bench and play spot minutes alongside Ginobili and West, and quite possibly win his 6th championship in southern Texas.
So Thursday night when the Thunder and Spurs tip off for game 6, there is a lot more on the line than a presumptive date with Golden State in the Western Conference finals. While Popovich is only 2-10 in his career when facing elimination on the road, he needs to make some magic happen. Should the Spurs lose, they can kiss away any realistic chance at signing Durant, who many expect to stay in Oklahoma City should they make it to the next round. They should also be prepared to cope with the possibility of losing some of the stars that built them into the dynasty they have become.
All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise stated.