Before most games, I write a “scouting report” or game preview on the San Antonio Spurs’ next opponent. I usually look for five key areas in my reports: Where does the team currently stand? What are the commendable areas for the team? What are the deficient areas for the team? Who are the team’s top players? And how will the Spurs take down the opposing team?
Well, since the Spurs have an extra day off, I decided to write from the perspective of an opposing team that is about to face the Spurs.
Let’s say I’m a Los Angeles Clippers writer who is writing a scouting report on the Spurs, what would that look like? How scary do the Spurs look to opposing teams? Let’s get in the shoes of opposing teams and find out!
Case No. X: San Antonio Spurs (21-9)
Road: 8-8. Last 10: 9-1. 2nd place in Western Conference
The Spurs are coming into town with the league’s longest win streak at nine games, and are undefeated in the month of February. They haven’t lost since, a game in Dallas where their bench brought the team back and forced overtime after being down by almost 20-points. Even with star Manu Ginobili getting injured five games into the season, the Spurs used the opportunity to build confidence and roles in their bench. Veterans Tony Parker and Tim Duncan lead like they were supposed to, and unfamiliar faces like rookie Kawhi Leonard, second year big man Tiago Splitter, and former D-League guard Danny Green created identities for themselves with the team.
Commendable areas for the Spurs
Efficient Offensive Machine: Offensively, the Spurs are one of the most efficient teams in the league, as they rank at the top or top 10 of most categories:
- 5th Assists (22.4), field goals made (37.8), and 3PT field goals made (7.6)
- 6th points (98.5), field goal percentage (46%) and 3PT field goal percentage (39%)
- 8th field goal attempts (81.9)
- 29th turnovers (13)
The major key stat that tells you the whole story is that last one. The Spurs are now second in teams that completes the LEAST amount of turnovers. It’s safe to say along with the high shooting percentage, that implementing Splitter, Leonard, and Green has been like adding three puzzle pieces in the open places of the puzzle.
- Reconstructing the defense: In the offseason, the Spurs’ brass said this season they’d be going back to the franchise’s roots and focus on defense. The team started that way early but then began to give up sky-high shooting percentages to opposing teams. Ever since that loss to Dallas in late January, the team has begun to find its defensive identity and the numbers and wins are showing it.
The team is now ranked 11th in holding opponents to 93.7 points per game. Their opponents still shoot 45% from the field, but the team is ranked 1st overall in not allowing their opponent to get to the free throw line with 17.1 personal fouls per game. And, the Spurs are ranked 10th in defensive rebounding with 31.8 rebounds per game. Slowly, the defense is making its return.
Deficient area for the Spurs
- Frontline unknown: The Spurs’ biggest weakness in the offseason was the lack of height in the frontline. Splitter and Duncan have quited those critics down for now but it’s still unknown how the Spurs’ frontline will fair against bigger teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, and healthy Memphis Grizzlies? The Spurs are ranked 26th overall with just 9.9 offensive rebounds per game. They’re ranked 19th in the league overall in rebounding.
The Spurs’ Top-10 players
Out of every preview I’ve done this season, I believe the most effective players a team had was six, that was the 76ers. Well, it turns out the Spurs are a group of 10 strong. What does that mean? It means that of all 10 players I’m about to list below, each one of them except for Richard Jefferson and Leonard have lead the team in scoring once this season and still have the potential to be the leading scorer on any given night. That’s how dangerous the depth of this Spurs team can be.
Tony Parker – 19 points, 7.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 16 FGA (45%), 5.3 FTA (81%)
Parker’s biggest improvements have come in two areas this season, passing and free throw shooting. He’s having career highs in both areas and now that the Spurs have put Ginobili back into the lineup, Parker will be able to get opportunity to spare some minutes for playoff time.
Tim Duncan – 13.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 11.7 FGA (47%)
Duncan is now shooting more outside of the paint, but he’s been looking rejuvenated lately, as a lot more of his baskets have been coming down in the low block as they used to in the paint. Plus, he’s playing less than 30 minutes a night.
Manu Ginobili – 13.4 points, 8 FGA (56%)
Before going down with the injury, Ginobili was the teams leading scorer, almost scoring 17 points per game. Imagine what the Spurs’ offense is going to be like when he’s fully physically back in game shape?
Richard Jefferson – 9.9 points, 8.3 FGA (43%), 4.8 3PT FGA (43%)
Jefferson began to scare me as he started the month of February reverting back to the old Jefferson by averaging just five points per game. He’s found his shooting stroke again and if its any evidence from his alley-opp slam the other night, he’s playing with fire again as he’s scored double figures in his last two games. This season, Jefferson doesn’t have the safety net of being the only small forward on the lineup as Green, Leonard, and even James Anderson will be licking their chops for some minutes come playoff time.
Tiago Splitter – 9.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.1 FGA (62%)
Splitter has been one of the biggest surprises this season as he’s been a force for the Spurs’ second unit. Michael De Leon and I recently spoke about Splitter’s progression last week on WOAI’s Sports Roundtable. A big part of Splitter’s success on offense is credit to Parker, Neal, and now Ginobili finding him so efficiently in the pick-and-roll. Splitter is also integrating his own presence in the low block by calling for the ball and shooting consistent jump hooks over opponents.
Gary Neal – 9 points, 8.6 FGA (42%), 3.3 3PT (39%)
If there’s one player who plays without a conscious, it’s Neal. He is not afraid of pressure moments, nor is he afraid of missing five shots in a row; he’s going to jack up the sixth one with the same force. Neal’s fearless ability is what gives the Spurs’ bench so much fight as he was the one who led the charge in the “almost” comeback against the Mavericks. Neal also has to be commended for his backup point guard role; he’s adjusting well to it, especially running the pick-and-roll with Splitter.
DeJuan Blair – 8.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 7.6 FGA (51%)
If there was one player who really missed Ginobili, it had to be Blair. Blair started the season off strong, but as soon as Ginobili went down, he began to fade. Splitter’s emergence and Bonner’s hot shooting have also put Blair out of the limelight. Blair hadn’t scored more than 10 points since January 25th against the Hawks, he finally scored 11 points against New Jersey, coincidentally, that was the same night Ginobili returned from injury.
Danny Green – 7.4 points, 6.4 FGA (40%)
Another player who made a place on the team for himself in Ginobil’s absence was Green. Green has been getting most of his minutes because of the defensive output he gives every night on the floor. He’s also crafty and good at creating passing lanes and he can shoot the three ball. When he and Leonard defend the perimeter together, its very hard for opposing teams to score from the outside.
Matt Bonner – 7.1 points, 5.5 FGA (45%), 4 3PT FGA (44%)
The “Red Rocket” has already lead the team twice in scoring this season, and his defense hasn’t seemed all that bad this year. Plus, Bonner has been hitting big threes for the second unit, especially in the second half of ball games.
Kawhi Leonard – 6.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 steal, 6.2 FGA (45%)
In watching Leonard, you can see one thing. The kid is there to work. He’s one of the most emotionless players out there and he’ll have that same reaction if he hit the game winner or blocked the game winning shot. He’s just there, like one of those British soldiers, emotionless. Leonard is also aware that he has a role with this team. There will be nights when he doesn’t get a lot of minutes depending on the opponent. That’s the luxury the Spurs have this year with Leonard, coach Popovich can use Leonard against teams with premiere scorers like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat, or he can elect to save Leonard on the bench and throw out a run-and-gun offensive unit.
In summarizing that last part about Leonard, the Spurs have a team that is built deep from 10 to possibly 12 with James Anderson sitting on the bench, and T.J. Ford still injured. Flexibility on offense and defense is what have changed the Spurs’ identity from last seasons team, to this seasons team.