The San Antonio Spurs currently hold the NBA’s best record at 38-11 with 33 games remaining until the NBA playoffs (assuming they earn a playoff position).
Last season they finished with the number one seed in the Western Conference and are on track to do the same 49 games into this season. Since 2007, the Spurs have continued to have winning seasons but have never gotten past the Western Conference Finals in the past five years.
The switch from a defensive juggernaut of the past to an offensive machine today has been a transformation over the last few years, but lately with the Spurs’ collapses in the playoffs, it leaves many not thinking they can win a championship because of their dominating offense without the suffocating defense.
Last season, the Spurs finished the season ranked 16th (96.5) of 30 teams in opponent points per game. You could only say they were a mid-average defensive team with the second best scoring offense in the league.
This season, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has mentioned that one of the primary focuses for his team will be focusing more attention on the defensive side of the ball, and the numbers are proving his words 49 games into the regular season.
Using Basketball-Reference.com, I’ve found several correlations to this year’s Spurs team and their 2003, 2005, and 2007 title teams primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensive and Defensive Rating
Take a look at the Spurs’ offensive and defensive ratings from their championship seasons (excluding 1999) as compared to today.
2003 – Offensive: 105.6 (7th) Defensive: 99.7 (3rd)
2005 – Offensive: 107.5 (8th) Defensive: 98.8 (1st)
2007 – Offensive: 109.2 (5th) Defensive: 99.9 (2nd)
2013 – Offensive: 109.0 (5th) Defensive: 100.2 (3rd)
When looking at this data, you can see many correlations between this team and the teams of the past. Though the offense is run much differently than their championship seasons, the numbers are matching the 2007 team and surpassing the 2003 and 2005 teams. Defensively, the Spurs don’t have David Robinson, Nazr Mohammed, and Fabricio Oberto alongside Duncan in the paint, but Tiago Splitter and the other forwards are making the Spurs a top-3 defensive team in terms of efficiency once again.
A Top-10 Defensive Team?
Between the 2003, 2005, and 2007 teams, the Spurs held opponents to an average of 89.6 points per game. Each of those years they were ranked top-3 in the league in opponent points per game.
This season they’re holding teams to 95.7 points per game which is ranked 6th in the league. The numbers still don’t look as good as the championship years, but you also have to remember scoring on average has gone up across the league this season.
One monumental move the Spurs have made this season is no longer being considered a mid-average defensive team; they can call themselves a top-10 defensive team when healthy. They’re ranked 9th in opponent field goal percentage (44%), and first in opponents 3-point percentage (33%). With the quickness of the younger Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, along with bringing back Stephen Jackson, the Spurs’ perimeter wings have not allowed teams to hurt them strongly from beyond the arc. Gary Neal is still considered a liability on the perimeter defensively though, but he usually makes up for it on the offensive end.
The High Powered offense
Something else to keep in mind is the Spurs’ offense this season. In their championship seasons (03, 05, 07) the Spurs on average were ranked 15th place in points per game. This season they’re ranked third in the entire league by scoring 104.1 points per game. The offense has become much more team oriented these last few years rather than relying just on Tony Parker, Duncan, and Manu Ginobili as the team did in its championship years. Evidence of the team orientation is the fact that the Spurs lead the league in assists.
The final correlation is the number of players scoring in double figures. All numbers considered are points per game.
2003 – Duncan (23.3), Parker (15.5), Jackson (11.8). Malik Rose (10.4)
2005 – Duncan (20.3), Parker (16.6), Ginobili (16)
2007 – Duncan (20), Parker (18.6), Ginobili (16.5)
2013 – Parker (20.1), Duncan (17.3), Ginobili (12.5), Tiago Splitter (10.5)
Of course the Big-3 has always been the staples of the offense. But aside from Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, no other Spurs player on those championship teams averaged close to 10 points per game aside from Michael Finley in 2007 with nine points per game. This season, if you round their number up, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Gary Neal are all averaging 10 points per game. As evidenced by Ginobili’s decline due to injuries this season, the younger players have taken the scoring load alongside Parker and Duncan on several occasions this season.
The Spurs still have the Rodeo Road trip coming up and though Duncan’s current knee injury is listing him as day-to-day, there’s no real timetable for when he’ll return. This could mean the numbers could change, but if the Spurs take a healthy team going into the playoffs this season, they’ll not only be taking a high scoring offensive machine that is better than their championship seasons, but finally a Top-10 defensive team that numbers-wise mirrors their championship years.
Could 2013 finally be the year the team earns its fifth title? The numbers are saying so, but remember, it's just February.