Watching the San Antonio Spurs’ greatest weakness be exploited over and over again in the opening round series versus the Memphis Grizzlies, it was clear to Spurs fans what was needed upfront for the Spurs to succeed next year.
But that’s an overly simplistic view, and looking deeper into the numbers they paint a different picture then what you would reflexively say after watching the Memphis series. The Spurs don’t just need more size, they need more size with a specific skill set.
This needed skill set enables the offense to run at a high level. The Spurs also need some added emphasis on defense, dropping out of the 10 top in league defensive rankings. Which is traditionally un-Spur like. And lastly, they need some good fortune in the trade market if indeed they do start dealing valuable parts to fill in roster weaknesses.
Here’s the basic agenda for the Spurs off season with more expansion.
1) Draft or trade for a long 4-5 with a passable defensive game.
Tim Duncan plays better with Matt Bonner sharing the frontcourt with him than any other big man in the rotation. His FG% is at its highest coming in at 57% while he scores 18.3 points and pulls down 11.5 boards. His +/- is 4 points higher playing with Bonner then any other big man. The Spurs’ numbers are up across the board against most teams when Bonner is in the lineup.
The plus/minus when Bonner is in the game versus when he is on the bench is as high as 13 points versus some teams in Bonner’s favor. But when looking at the numbers against playoff teams with good frontcourts, the numbers tell a different story.
The Lakers benefit greatly from having Bonner on the floor. Their three-point percentage jumps 11 points with Bonner on floor. Their rebounding average jumps from 44.9 with him off the floor to 51.4 with him on it. They also have a +/- of +6.2 when he is playing vs 0.0 when he is not. You see the same pattern with the Grizzlies, though it’s much more drastic. With Bonner on the floor Memphis’ +/- jumps to +12.5 versus -6.5 when he’s off it. Their three-point percentage makes a huge jump with them making 34.8% of their threes with him off the floor versus 52.4% when he’s playing.
Rebounding was up for Memphis from 37.8 with him off the floor to 47.0 with him on it. That’s almost a 10 rebound difference per game. Bonner’s positive statistics during the regular season come from him fulfilling a specific role in the offense which requires a skill set rare to big men. He can shoot the lights out. And in the Spurs offense you need a long 4-5 to let the wings do their thing. They need to get in the lane and keep moving the defense. You can’t do that with big men clustered around the hoop collapsing on them. So having Bonner play in the playoffs against teams with big and skilled front courts is a losing situation.
What the Spurs need is to draft or trade for a long 4-5 who can play some post defense and stop the huge leak Bonner brings to the table. If the Spurs acquire a long 4-5 who can play passable defense you will see a team prepared for a long playoff run.
2) Acquire a more defensive oriented wing player.
The Spurs weren’t a strong defensive team this year, but I wouldn’t call them a poor one either.
They were average to slightly above average and their defensive play didn’t prevent them from winning a bunch of games. That’s also how one could describe Richard Jefferson’s defensive play. He was solid but unspectacular. This team lacked a defensive fire and it showed with Jefferson’s advanced defensive metrics when defending bigger more physical forwards. When Jefferson was defending Paul Pierce, Pierce’s FG% jumped to 58% from 50% when he was on the bench. Pierce’s scoring exploded when faced with Jefferson, dropping in 21.4 points and 12.0 points when Jefferson was on the bench. Pierce’s rebounding was up 3.8 boards, his assists were up 4.9 and his +/- was a 12.2 compared to 9.0 when Jefferson was on the bench.
The same trends exist for Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo’s scoring is up 11.8 points when Jefferson is guarding him and his FG% jumps 14 points. When Jefferson is on the bench Carmelo’s +/- is a -25.4 compared to a +3.0 when Jefferson is defending him. Kevin Durant continues this trend of big physical small forwards giving Jefferson problems defensively. Durant’s scoring is up 4.6 point’s, he get’s to the line 4.5 more times and he dishes out 2.7 more assists. The Spurs easily handled the Thunder this year and the +/-‘s reflect that. But it appears Jefferson’s defense on Durant was the only factor keeping them in the game.
Durant’s +/- was a – 10.6 when Jefferson was guarding him and a -21.3 when Jefferson was on the bench. This was mostly due to George Hill’s defense on Durant who held him to -20.9 when guarding him. The Spurs need a physical wing defender whether coming off the bench or starting to handle the more rugged and talented wings the Spurs will face in the playoffs. It would change the whole team’s defensive approach.
3) Get good value for whomever is traded.
I know that sounds simplistic, but not every team in the league follows through on this. The Spurs reputation as the the best front office in the NBA is earned and then some. But even they have made some mistakes. For example when the Spurs didn’t get much in value back for Goran Dragic or Luis Scola. Especially in the Scola situation.
If the Spurs trade Tony Parker, they get more than 50 cents on the dollar for him. Fill some Spurs needs such as a skilled young big man or a good young wing defender.
The Spurs can’t afford not to make this trade count.