The San Antonio Spurs might be older than dirt, but they're once again near the top of the NBA odds list for 2015-16. Do they have one more championship run left in them?
At what point do we stick the fork in the San Antonio Spurs? There was a time not too long ago when predicting their demise was an annual tradition, mostly because Tim Duncan was getting up in years. But Duncan became the poster boy for aging gracefully, and the Spurs won their fifth championship in 2013-14 by demolishing LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Now everyone seems to think that Duncan and the Spurs will go on forever.
For evidence, we turn to the NBA futures market, where the basketball odds have San Antonio leading the second tier of contenders at a range between +800 and +1000. This is particularly impressive when you consider how tired people were of seeing the Spurs in the NBA Finals. Still, this joyride has to end eventually. And the advanced stats suggest 2016 could be the end of the road for our heroes.
The Old Prince Still Lives at Home
As always, it starts with Duncan. Last year was his 18th in the NBA, yet Duncan was still the most important player on the Spurs at age 38, leading the team with 9.6 Win Shares. This was despite playing 28.9 minutes per game. Duncan has been logging reduced minutes for six years now, keeping him fresh for the playoffs and allowing him to stay relevant well into his twilight years – even though most of his value now comes at the defensive end.
There haven't been very many players like Duncan, but if we go by the Similarity Scores at Basketball Reference, the closest matches for players with 18 years under their belts are Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone. Year 19 wasn't particularly kind to either gentleman. Garnett went from being an All-Star with the Boston Celtics (19.2 PER) to an expensive drag on the Brooklyn Nets (13.3 PER). Malone held up a little better when he moved from the Utah Jazz (21.7 PER) to the Los Angeles Lakers (17.8 PER), but he also missed half the season with a bad knee and ended up retiring. Uh-oh.
Then you have two of the other elder statesmen on the Spurs roster, Tony Parker (age 33) and Manu Ginobili (age 37). Guards tend to age in dog years compared to big men; Parker (4.1 WS, 15.9 PER) and Ginobili (3.7 WS, 16.2 PER) have already reached the point where their production levels are barely above average.
It's not going to get any better from here. Parker's most favorable Year 15 comparison would be Andre Miller, who posted a 13.9 PER for the Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards in 2013-14. If he can keep it together, Ginobili's 14th and probably final season could end up looking like Jeff Hornacek's 1999-2000 swansong with the Jazz (16.3 PER).
Of course, the Spurs have other players beside their Big Three, and those players have a lot more tread left on their tires. In fact, the “real” Big Three in San Antonio these days is Duncan, Kawhi Leonard (8.6 WS) and Danny Green (7.8 WS). Even Cory Joseph (4.5 WS) is now a more important part of the Spurs than Parker or Ginobili. These are the players San Antonio will hang its 10-gallon hat on going forward.
And we haven't even gotten into free agency yet. The Spurs are expected to land a big-time player this summer, with Portland Trail Blazers PF LaMarcus Aldridge (8.6 WS, 22.8 PER) considered the likeliest candidate. One way San Antonio can clear the cap space is by trading assets like Tiago Splitter (4.0 WS) and Patty Mills (1.4 WS) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Brendan Haywood's non-guaranteed contract. Getting out of the Western Conference isn't easy by any means, but a Spurs team with Duncan and Aldridge together? That's a spicy basketball pick.