Reveling In The Spurs Offensive Depth

Amid the Spurs early season woes, heightened by injuries and a constantly changing lineup, a deep, talented offensive team has emerged. All of a sudden the Spurs have at least eight different players capable of scoring in double figures on a regular basis. At the end of last season they had maybe four.

This offensive depth has been overlooked by the media, who preferred to write about the Spurs defensive struggles. Yes, the defensive issues are glaring but they will improve. Instead of looking at them again, lets enjoy the wealth of offensive talent the Spurs have right now.

First, the Spurs offense as a whole is performing better than in years past.

Year Off Rating (Rank)
06/07 109.2 (5th)
07/08 107.2 (15th)
08/09 108.5 (13th)
09/10 110.5 (5th)

The only year in the last five years the Spurs came close to performing at their current level was in 06/07.  Coincidentally it was also the last time they won a championship. A quick glance at other offensive statistics show that the Spurs are among league leaders in other important areas, and if they aren’t among the leaders then they have at least improved since last year.

There are four areas that stat geeks often look at:

  • effective field goal % – weights field goal percentage efficiency that includes three pointers
  • free throw rate – percentage of field goals that result in free throws
  • turnover rate – percentage of possessions that end in a turnover
  • offensive rebounding rate – percentage of offensive rebounds grabbed by a team

These four areas are known as the four factors of winning. The Spurs increased offensive production can be seen in how well they have performed in these areas this year.

Year eFG% FTR TOR ORR
06/07 52.09% (2nd) 31.3% (20th) 13.64% (10th) 24.24% (27th)
07/08 50.36% (10th) 27.6% (24th) 12.56% (8th) 23.38% (26th)
08/09 51.34% (5th) 25.1% (30th) 11.72% (2nd) 22.07% (30th)
09/10 51.38% (8th) 32.5% (11th) 12.9% (5th) 26.73% (15th)

While I would contend that a defensive statistic needs to be among the four factors, they show the Spurs are performing at a higher offensive level than in recent years. Their shooting and turnovers have stayed relatively the same, but it’s the increases in free throw rate and offensive rebound rate that make a big difference. The Spurs have been known for not drawing many fouls while also not committing many fouls. This year they have players who attack the basket stronger than in the past, which leads to more free throws. The offensive rebound rate has been influenced by the additions of DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess.

What sets this offensive unit apart from past groups is the depth. This increased efficiency is not happening with a short six or seven man rotation like many of the offensively minded Phoenix Suns teams of this decade but with 10 players averaging over 15 minutes and another Blair just below that at 14.7 mpg. This has allowed Pop to mess with the lineup more than usual at this point in the season, which has contributed some to the slow start but will pay dividends down the road.

One place this depth is evident is in the PER’s of the respective players. Currently, Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, Bonner and Blair all have a PER over 17 (league average is 15) and Richard Jefferson, whose PER is 14.7, was over 15 until a poor game against Philadelphia. Antonio McDyess is also at 14.1, and George Hill had been around 15 until just recently (he is at 13).

Comparing this team to the past few years it is obvious the depth is more spread out among the different positions. Those eight players above have three guards, a small forward, three posts and a Bonner, giving Pop the freedom to try many different units while still having effective offensive play, something that was not present in the past.

Last year the Spurs only had four players with a PER over 15 and one was Drew Gooden. Once Ginobili went down, the Spurs only had three “above average” players. Now, Bonner and Kurt Thomas were just under 15 but both players had to be surrounded by competent teammates to be effective. Basically the Spurs were stuck rearranging poor offensive players around Parker and Duncan looking for something that worked. The 2008 season was much of the same but with Ginobli healthy. The only recent season that the Spurs boasted any offensive depth was 2007, but even then that team was not as deep as the current roster.

All this talk does not even include Roger Mason or Michael Finley, who are predominantly shooters that help space the floor. Neither provides much in the way of rebounds, defense or assists, but both can provide a timely three.

Yes, Bonner can be frustrating at times. Yes, Hill is still learning how to play point guard. Yes, there will be injuries. But this is the most effective offensive team the Spurs have had in this decade, and it’s not coming from the Big Three playing their best basketball ever. It’s coming from a group of eight players playing better offensive basketball than any Spurs team in recent memory.

Please leave us your comments on the Spurs offense so far this season.

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