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Are Spurs Still Title Contenders Without Tim Duncan?

By Kody Miller in Sports
| July 11, 2016 12:00 am PDT
Tim Duncan of the Spurs Retired After 19 Seasons

The NBA lost a legend on Monday morning, when news broke that San Antonio Spurs star power forward Tim Duncan had decided to call it a career.

The legendary “Big Fundamental” mastered the artistry of the post game for the past 19 seasons, helping the Spurs become a staple title contender along the way.

Duncan wasn’t just a piece of a “Big 3” that included Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, though. He was the piece and the clear face of the franchise for nearly two decades, and before last year was still delivering high level production approaching nearly 40 years of age.

Duncan did seem to start running out of gas last season, but that doesn’t take away from his 19 years of dominance, his impressive numbers, his longevity or his five NBA titles.

The Spurs and the NBA are both sad to see Duncan go, but the writing had been on the wall for years that his time was slowly approaching. It’s finally here and now San Antonio fans are faced with the logical question; are the Spurs still legit title contenders going forward?

Life Without Duncan

The way the Spurs have set up their system, there is very real hope that San Antonio will continue to be as good as ever as they move forward. For one, they shifted their entire identity years ago, when they started passing the torch to star small forward Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard was the key reason they won their most recent NBA title and he’s going to be the main reason they have a shot to get another one anytime soon. He’s developed into their #1 scoring threat and remains arguably the top defender in the entire league. As long as he stays dialed in and can continue to be one of the league’s best two-way players, San Antonio will still be a viable championship contender.

The Spurs had also been reducing Duncan’s role as the years drained on, dropping his minutes per game in each of the past four seasons. This past year, Duncan wasn’t counted on for nearly as much floor time, as he logged just 25.2 minutes per game (lowest ever) and chipped in a career low 8.6 points per game. Duncan seemed to drift even further away from being a reliable asset during post-season play, which likely led to him deciding to say good-bye.

The addition of big man LaMarcus Aldridge last year made Duncan’s exit all the easier, plus his initial opting out this summer allowed the team to land Pau Gasol. Suddenly, even with Duncan’s exit, the Spurs look as good as ever, with two legit offensive threats in the post – both of which can also dominate the mid-range game.

There isn’t really a “replacing” of a Tim Duncan, but San Antonio has done as good a job as humanly possible of that and the planning has been impressive. It’s even possible Duncan helped plan it out, and had the Spurs not landed a quality replacement in Gasol, he may have continued until they did.

2016-17 NBA Finals Odds

Regardless, as they stand, the Spurs are built to make a run at another title. Duncan was fading down the stretch last year, so even though Gasol isn’t the defender Duncan was, the Spurs get a lift offensively down low.

Gasol can also still rebound and block shots at a high level, so considering the player Duncan had become during his final season, the Spurs really get an upgrade at center. Pairing Gasol with Ridge, and the Spurs suddenly have one of the most formidable big man duos in the entire league.

Add in Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and San Antonio may have the veteran experience, outside shooting and defense to push them back over the top.

That says a lot for a team that boasted the second best record in the league a year ago – one that Vegas already liked even with a breaking down Duncan – giving them strong +900 odds to win it all next year (per Bovada).

Spurs Prediction

The Western Conference has been eroded to just three title contenders – the Warriors, Spurs and maybe the Clippers. In all actuality, the Clippers probably aren’t good enough to make it all the way and with Kevin Durant now in Golden State, the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t a realistic bet, either.

The Spurs, as constructed, can beat the Cleveland Cavaliers if they get to the NBA Finals. That means their main objective is to lock up the #2 seed again (or hey, maybe even the #1) and then take down the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

That’s easier said than done with Kevin Durant joining the Dubs, but the Spurs do have Leonard to drape KD and they have the clear size, length and skill advantage with Ridge and Gasol in the post.

Duncan wasn’t really going to change any of that. Still, the sad reality is the Warriors were way better than the Spurs last year, and that’s still the case. David West even bolted San Antonio because he could see that he’d have a better chance at chasing that elusive NBA title with the Warriors. He probably picked correctly.

Tim Duncan retiring doesn’t crippled the Spurs and it probably doesn’t even keep them from being realistic title contenders. However, it doesn’t helpthem, as he could have still been a nice veteran presence off the bench. That’s especially the case given the fact that the Spurs have lost depth players like Boris Diaw and David West in the past month.

Our Pick

When it’s all said and done, the Spurs are still a threat. They also have more interesting odds (better payout potential) than the only teams ahead of them (Warriors and Cavaliers). That’s all for a reason, though.

We fully expect the Spurs to be dangerous and give it a go. They’ll likely wrap up the #2 seed in the Western Conference and with the rest of the conference depleted due to free agency, we very well should see a Spurs vs. Warriors clash for a shot at the NBA Finals. It’s just tough to see the Spurs taking down a team that was already far and away the best team in the league before adding Kevin Durant.

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