The San Antonio Spurs haven’t had less talent since before Tim Duncan was drafted.
Led in 2018 by LaMarcus Aldridge, they barely scraped into the playoffs as the seventh seed. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Pau Gasol are on their last legs, and Patty Mills, Danny Green, and Rudy Gay have seen better days.
The reason for success is coaching: Gregg Popovich is just an all-time great who put together a decent regular season with mediocre talent. But come the playoffs, the lack of talent and athleticism becomes a bigger liability.
The Golden State Warriors will have the three best players on the court, and have had a bunch of success guarding Aldridge in the past. It’s probably the best matchup the Warriors could have hoped for in the first round.
But this Spurs team wasn’t supposed to be this lackluster. They were supposed to have Kawhi Leonard, probably a top-five player in the NBA. He’s the best perimeter defender in the league, and an impressive shooter and scorer. He’s an MVP-caliber star.
But he’s only played a handful of games this year, dealing with a mysterious quadriceps injury. It was never supposed to keep him out for an entire season, but it has, and it seems like he won’t return soon. Reports of strife within the Spurs organization have leaked, and trade rumors in the coming offseason have begun to swirl.
Nobody knows why Kawhi can’t play other than himself: the quadriceps tendinopathy he is dealing with is not a straightforward ailment. He’s spent a lot of time rehabbing away from the team, and is currently in New York. It seems unlikely he’ll play in the playoffs without spending time with the Spurs in San Antonio.
With a healthy Kawhi on the floor, the Spurs would have a star to match up with Kevin Durant, and the makings of a good playoff defense. Without Curry, the Warriors could have real problems scoring the ball.
But at this point, Kawhi returning seems very unlikely. He hasn’t been with the team in months, and no update on his injury has brought any hope. A fully healthy series between the Warriors and Spurs would definitely be a lot of fun, but without Steph or Kawhi, it should be a slog. Injuries are the worst part of sports, and I do hope Kawhi is able to overcome his mysterious ailment. His absence will be a strange specter hanging over the entirety of this playoff series.