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A quantitative look at Marion in Spurs’ system

Once Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner re-sign with the San Antonio Spurs in the near future, the Spurs’ roster will carry 14 guaranteed contracts. With the NBA maximum roster limit being 15, the Spurs have just one spot remaining to use in a variety of ways: re-sign Aron Baynes, sign an outside free agent, sign a training camp invite (like Bryce Cotton), sign an international player they hold the draft rights to, or just leave the spot open.

After the Dallas Mavericks inked deals with Chandler Parsons and Richard Jefferson, and with Vince Carter heading to Memphis, it seems very likely unrestricted free agent Shawn Marion’s days in Dallas are done. With Marion being a free agent, many Spurs fans have asked me through Twitter if Marion would be a good fit for the Spurs, as a backup small forward to Kawhi Leonard. Using the Synergy Sports and SportVU databases, I’ve put together some charts that show how Marion would have performed with his offensive and defensive skill sets. The following is just a quantitative comparison, and it should be known that the offensive and defensive systems the Spurs and Mavericks use are totally different, which could be a reason for some separation in the statistics.

Marion’s Offensive Capabilities

First let’s take a look at how Marion scored the basketball last year in comparison to three Spurs players who played minutes at small forward – Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, and Leonard. Some key areas to pay attention to when looking at Marion’s chart is his spot-up shooting, and any type of scoring action that comes off the ball, like his cutting, scoring off pick-and-pops, and scoring in transition. Below are the five most used scoring possessions from last season, including the playoffs per Synergy.

Screenshot (108)

Screenshot (109)

As you can see, a majority of Marion’s scoring possessions last season came off Spot-Up shooting, cutting off the ball, and in transition. Based on Synergy’s metrics, Marion ranked 75th in the NBA in scoring off Spot-Ups, and 38th in scoring in transition. In scoring off cuts, Marion ranked 177th in the league.

Being that the Spurs as a team shot 42% on their Spot-Up 3-pointers, I’ll be showing how Marion shot percentage-wise on those shots.

Team/Player 3-Point   Percentage on Spot-Ups
Spurs 42%
Marion 38%

Most of Marion’s 3-point attempts came out of Spot-Up situations. His second most used possessions for shooting 3-pointers came out of pick-and-pop possessions, where he would set a screen for a guard and flash out to the 3-point line for a shot. Of the 20 pick-and-pop three’s Marion took, he only made five (25%).

The next chart below displays touches and passes per game via the SportVU database. All numbers are only collected from the regular season on average, not the playoffs. I’ve displayed Marion’s numbers to show how he would have fared with Green, Belinelli, and Leonard’s data.

Screenshot (110) Marion’s data is a reflection of the Mavericks’ offensive system, which relied on heavy amounts of pick-and-rolls for Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Vince Carter, or post-up possessions for Dirk Nowitzki. Marion’s role based on the data was most likely to get post-up opportunities for Nowitzki, or deliver the ball to the playmakers on the team that were about to initiate the next action.

Marion’s Defensive Capabilities

The data below the shows the Spurs’ perimeter players individual defense when measured by Opponent Points Per Possession (PPP), and I’ve included Marion’s statistics at the end of the chart to show how he would have fared compared to the Spurs’ perimeter players last season. I used the PPP on Pick-and-roll ball handlers, Spot-Ups, and Isolations because those are the three types of scoring possessions per Synergy, that perimeter defenders usually see in the NBA most often.

Screenshot (111) Before looking at Marion’s individual defensive numbers, it should be noted that the Mavericks were one of the worst defensive teams in the regular season last year, ranking 22nd in Defensive Rating, by allowing 105.9 points per 100 possessions. Now when comparing Marion’s numbers to the Spurs’, he didn’t finish better than any of the Spurs’ defenders when guarding Spot-Ups (which is likely due to his team’s overall defense), but when guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers, he would have finished third best only behind Patty Mills and Leonard on the Spurs, had he played with San Antonio. Marion’s pick-and-roll defense was essential early in the Spurs’ first round series against the Mavericks, as he would hover around the paint while guarding Tony Parker, and allow Parker to take open outside jumpers, rather than letting Parker use his quickness to penetrate into the paint on most possessions. In defending isolations, Marion’s data shows he would have only been better than Parker and Belinelli at defending isolation attempts.

The Potential Price Tag

Lastly, one might be wondering what Marion’s value on the open market might be. A good measurement to see how much a player is worth is by their win shares via Basketball-Reference.com. I’ve combined the regular season and playoff win shares, and put them next to Marion, and displayed what Marion could be valued at in dollar figures, as well as how much it could be for the Spurs to sign him.

Marion: 4.5 Win Shares (WS) – $3-5 million – Marion is coming off a season where he earned $9.3 million with the Mavericks, but if he’s chasing another title, it would be understandable to see him sign from anywhere between $2.5-4 million. His former Maverick teammate Carter just inked a deal with the Grizzlies for three years, at $12.2 million –  that’s in the $4 million dollar annual range. However Jefferson’s deal with the Mavericks was only for the veteran minimum.

The Spurs do have the Full Mid-Level Exception worth $5.3 million to use on a free agent, but no one quite knows what San Antonio intends to do with that final roster spot. Also, one must consider what Marion himself might be thinking, does he still want more money in the $3-5 million range? Does he feel he can still start in the NBA like he was doing in the playoffs? Maybe even if he comes off the bench, he’d want a consistent role and consistent minutes, something that only happens in the Spurs’ system if Coach Gregg Popovich determines so.

Thus far through free agency, there haven’t been any public reports of the Spurs’ interest in Marion, but for fans who keep asking the question, “What about Marion?” I’m hoping the data above will allow you to make a prediction if he fits with the Spurs’ system, and also see if financially it would be the right move for both the Spurs and Marion.

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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