San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili doesn’t think his team is going to come out firing to start the 2017-18 season.
"We are not going to start full throttle," Ginobili said Wednesday, per Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com. "We’re not going to start as ready to compete as in previous years. But we’ll figure it out."
There is a reason for his tempered expectations. Wright noted the Spurs announced Kawhi Leonard would miss the preseason as he rehabs his right quadriceps tendinopathy, while point guard Tony Parker is still recovering from his ruptured quadriceps he suffered in last season’s playoffs.
Ginobili pointed to something of a silver lining because the other players will have the opportunity to garner critical experience during their absences, but he still acknowledged how important Leonard is to the overall makeup of the team.
"In a way, it kind of helps to get the other players more involved, more confident, having more shots," Ginobili said. "But we know [this is] not the team we’re going to be. So [the absence of Leonard and Parker] it helps in some ways. But we need to play with [Leonard] because he’s our go-to guy. He’s the one that carries the load offensively. We need to adjust to play with him again. It is very unfortunate that he’s not been able to be with us or to play in the preseason. We are building, of course, and hopefully we get him back quickly."
Leonard’s importance was never clearer than during last season’s Western Conference Finals when the Spurs were leading the Golden State Warriors 78-55 in Game 1 before the superstar suffered his injury. The Warriors came flying back to win the contest before sweeping a Leonard-less San Antonio squad on the way to their second title in three years.
Any chance the Spurs have at catching the mighty Warriors this season falls on Leonard’s shoulders as a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and offensive force who averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game last season.
The health of Leonard and Parker aren’t the only concerns, as Wright pointed out new addition Rudy Gay still hasn’t appeared in a preseason contest as he recovers from a ruptured left Achilles he suffered last season with the Sacramento Kings. A healthy Gay will ideally take some of the offensive pressure off Leonard’s shoulders considering he has averaged double-digit scoring figures every season of his career.
If there is any franchise equipped to figuring things out despite health problems, it is Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. They have made the playoffs 20 years in a row under the head coach with five titles during that span and figure to be one of the Western Conference roadblocks for Golden State once again in 2017-18.
As Ginobili said, they just may have to overcome a slow start to reach their full potential this time around.