San Antonio Spurs: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2013-14
5 Players Who Need to Step Up This Season For San Antonio Spurs
In a surprising turn of events, the San Antonio Spurs took the Western Conference by storm despite any aging core of All-Stars, and went seven games with the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. They failed to win their fifth championship in 15 years, but showed the NBA world that they still have what it takes to win.
Like the Indiana Pacers, the Spurs had everything they needed to pull off an upset of the defending champions. The Heat simply stepped up when they need to the most, a common theme for them over the past two seasons.
Other than losing a few bench players during the offseason (Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair) and adding Marco Belinelli and Jeff Pendergraph, the Spurs' core team remained intact. That was essential, especially since Manu Ginobili was a free agent and there was the fear that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker would retire. Without the championship run, the trio may not have stuck around, but it rejuvenated them to make at least one more run at history.
The Spurs will enter the 2013-14 season with a “Championship or Bust” attitude. They know the time is coming when the trio will retire for good and they will begin the rebuilding process. Kawhi Leonard appears to be their next big star, so they will have someone to build around when the Big Three do call it quits, but Leonard won’t be able to carry the Spurs by himself.
We know the Big Three have to continue to stay rested and healthy if the Spurs are to have a chance at making it back to the Finals, but what five other players will need to step up to push the Spurs over that hump?
5. Kawhi Leonard
If I was a betting man, I'd bet that Kawhi Leonard makes the leap to franchise player/superstar this season. In a very similar pattern as his almost-teammate Paul George, Leonard became the new face of his franchise last season, especially during the NBA Finals. He will need to continue his progression if the Spurs want to make it back to the Finals in what could be the Big Three's final run.
4. Tiago Splitter
Tiago Splitter almost split during free agency, but the Spurs were able to keep him around as the eventual replacement for Tim Duncan. He started in 58 games last season and averaged 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists, good enough for only his third season in the NBA. Splitter can expect to receive similar, if not more playing time this season, which means he will need to continue to improve so that when the Big Fundamental steps away for good, it's a smooth transition. He will also need to step up in the playoffs as his numbers fell during last season.
3. Danny Green
It took four seasons, but Danny Green went from playing in 28 total NBA games his first two seasons to starting 80 games last year. Green has proven to be a solid starter, and someone who will do whatever it takes to obtain a victory. It's a safe bet that he will be the starting shooting guard again this season, so he will need to improve his shooting a tad, but nothing major. He averaged 10.5 points per regular season game and then bumped that slightly to 11.1 in the playoffs. If he can continue to raise his scoring output, alleviating some of the pressure off the Big Three and Kawhi Leonard, then he will help carry the Spurs far this season.
2. Marco Belinelli
He's the new kid in town, but Marco Belinelli is ready to contribute. Scoring is his game, something the Spurs need a little help with from their bench. Belinelli averaged 9.6 points per game last season on 39 percent shooting, including 35 percent from 2-point range. If he is to be effective, he will need to step those numbers up, something he should get plenty of opportunities to do based on how the Spurs like to open the court up. They won't need Belinelli to score 15-to-20 points a night, but if he can raise his field goal percentage, then there is no reason he shouldn't be producing in that range. Bench depth will be crucial for the Spurs this season and Belinelli needs to step up from last season if he wants to win his first ring.
1. Boris Diaw
With the Big Three beginning the season another year older, the Spurs' bench is going to have to step it up another notch this year if they expect to help them win their fifth title. Boris Diaw is one of the leaders of the bench, so his performance will be crucial when he hits the hardwood. Diaw is far from his 15 PPG days, but asking him to improve his scoring output from 5.8 PPG isn't too much to ask, especially if the Spurs' coaching minimize the amount of 3-pointers he takes (30-of-78 last season). Diaw's a solid all-around player, but he will need to reinvigorate himself this year if he expects to help the Spurs with a championship.