Despite falling twice in the final week of January, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the third best record in the month at 11-2, as San Antonio outscored the average opponent by 12.8 points per game in January.
With soreness in Tim Duncan’s right knee, the Spurs went 1-2 in their final three games of January, getting defeated by the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers by double digits, while San Antonio managed to blow out Houston by 31 points minus Duncan. Let’s take a look at how San Antonio fared on both sides of the ball this past month.
On the offensive end, the Spurs continued to score more points per 100 possessions like they did in December, as San Antonio scored 114 PP/100, which was the second highest in January behind the Warriors. By field goal percentage, the Spurs actually shot the best percentage in January, shooting 50.2% from the floor, while Golden State was right behind them at 50.1% from the floor. When you zoom into how they were scoring this past month, San Antonio’s scoring in the paint increased, while their reliance on the mid-range jumper decreased a bit.
In January, the Spurs scored 50.8 points in the paint per game (3rd most), compared to their 45.0 PITP during the season (5th most). In their losses to the Warriors and Cavaliers, both teams took the rim away from San Antonio, as the Spurs were held to 36 PITP against the Warriors and 46 against the Cavaliers. With their mid-range jumper, 21.3% of the Spurs’ points come from that area on the floor during the season (3rd most), but, in getting more points in the paint, only 18.2% of the Spurs’ points came from the mid-range area in January (13th most).
Another element to note on offense for San Antonio has been their increase in tempo. The table below reveals their pace (possessions per 48 minutes) per month. I left out October because it’s only a two-game sample size.
With more time together after three months of play, the Spurs as a whole have become a bit faster in making their reads, like when LaMarcus Aldridge has a high-low mismatch, or the team notices Boris Diaw has a mismatch in the post and feeds him the ball. The pace was just a bit faster in the Spurs’ losses to the Cavaliers and Warriors, but even in the Spurs’ wins, they played at a much faster pace this past month.
The chart below shows the Warriors, Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Cavaliers’ Offensive Rating by each month. Of the four teams, the Spurs are the one team that has an incline in offense in the last three months of the season, while the other three have dipped and risen at different points.
After discussing the offense as a whole, let’s take a look at a few players in particular whose production either rose or dipped in January. First, the chart below shows the field goal attempts and points per game during the season and in January of Kawhi Leonard, Aldridge, David West, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Jonathon Simmons, Boban Marjanovic and Kyle Anderson. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Danny Green were left out of the chart because from a points per game perspective, the four of them were consistent in scoring their season average in January.
In January, of players that attempted less than 13 shots per game in the league, Leonard was the leading scorer among all of them with 18.2 points per game. But, in January, the Spurs did make much more of an effort to run most sets through Aldridge, as he was the leading shot attempter per night for San Antonio, while Leonard’s shots per game dipped by 2.1 attempts in January. Though it wasn’t as evidenced in the losses to the Cavs and Warriors, the Spurs have begun to to get Aldridge more high percentage looks near the rim in January whether through the high-low passing, or by putting him in the low block and spacing the floor better for him.With Aldridge becoming more comfortable in the Spurs’ system, the shot attempts per game he and Leonard get should start to look fairly similar on a per night basis.
With West starting more games in January due to Duncan’s absence, he did see an uptick in minutes by about 2.2 more minutes per game, but his efficiency sky rocketed, as he was the Spurs’ best overall shooter by field goal percentage in January, making 66.2% of his shots. West was lethal when his teammates found him near the rim either for a driving layup, high-low basket, or look in the paint. In January in the restricted area, West converted 18 of his 20 looks right near the rim. On his mid-range jumper that West is making at 52.6% accuracy this season, that percentage rose up to 57.9% in January. Like Aldridge, West’s 9.1 points per game in January showed how he’s becoming more familiar on the offensive end with San Antonio, whether starting or coming off the bench.
While Mills actually had a better month shooting from 3-point range (38.5% on 3.0 attempts) than his season average (37.1% on 3.6 attempts), he struggled to make shots consistently from the rest of the areas on the floor (paint and mid-range) in January. Mills saw his shooting percentage decrease to 34.6% in January, while his season average is at a respectable 42.9%. Mills will need his mid-range and paint percentages to increase like they were in the prior months because when he can still score after teams run him off the 3-point line, he is another weapon for San Antonio on the offensive end.
In January, Diaw only had to take eight total mid-range jumpers. Diaw’s other shot attempts in the month either came from his two preferred areas, the paint or above the arc. As written on several occasions in the past month at Project Spurs, the versatility of Aldridge, Duncan, and West have allowed Diaw to take more shots he’s most comfortable with – either post-ups against mismatches or undersized 4s, or if he has to, he’ll take an above the break 3-pointer that’s provided to him.
All three of Simmons, Marjanovic and Anderson played over 11.4 minutes per game in January. Simmons played in all 13 January games, while Boban played in 11 and Anderson in 12. In context, some of those minutes did come in blow outs in either Spurs wins or losses, but when those players were on the floor from a scoring perspective, they took and made a good percentage of their shots as evidenced by their field goal attempts and points per game increase during the month. Simmons specifically shot 60.3% from the floor and he did play in some important first halves against some notable teams. Simmons is becoming more familiar with his strength at the NBA level in either deciding to drive to the rim or pass before he gets the ball and puts it on the floor. When he was forced to settle for the 3-point shot, Simmons connected on 41.7% of those attempts in January.
While Green’s scoring was consistent in January, he finally found his shooting stroke from beyond the arc, as he had his best shooting month this season.
Overall, the Spurs’ defense is holding teams to 94.8 points per 100 possessions, still the leader in the NBA. But, as the chart between the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and Cavaliers’ defensive rating by month shows, San Antonio’s defense began to give up more points per 100 possessions near the production level of the other four teams.
A large part of that number has to deal with how many points per 100 possessions the Spurs gave up in their losses to the Cavs and Warriors. In their wins during January, the Spurs held opposing teams to an average of 97.2 PP/100, but in those two losses, the Spurs gave up an average of 119.6 PP/100 to the Cavs and Warriors.
One specific area where Cleveland and Golden State scored a bulk of their points was in the paint. Both the Cavaliers and Warriors each scored 52 points in the paint against the Spurs’ defense in the Spurs’ two losses. During the season, against the average opponent, the Spurs’ defense only allows teams to score 39.6 points in the paint. One player missing from both of those games was Duncan. When Duncan was available to play in the Spurs’ win against the Cavaliers earlier in the month, San Antonio held Cleveland to just 40 points in the paint. If Duncan is able to play against Golden State alongside Aldridge in the future, it’ll be interesting to see what those points in the paint numbers look like for both squads.
Another area where Cleveland and Golden State picked apart the Spurs’ defense was from beyond the arc. On the average night, opposing offenses make 7.1 three pointers against the Spurs’ defense on 34.1% shooting. In their two losses to the Cavaliers and Warriors, the Spurs’ defense allowed those two teams to make an average of 10.0 threes on 40.8% shooting. Giving up three more 3-pointers is a 9-point difference in the score alone. In their wins in January, the Spurs’ defense actually held opponents to a lower shooting and 3-point shooting percentage than their season average. If you take out the losses to the Cavs and Warriors, the Spurs still held opponents to just 97.2 points per game in January. The results of those losses to Cleveland and Golden State are what really make the defensive numbers take a dramatic incline during the month.
Overall, the Spurs have won 83% of their games through four months of the season and they’re on pace to finish with 68 wins for the season. Despite the 30-point loss to Golden State and 14-point loss to Cleveland this past week, the Spurs still lead the league in both scoring margin per game (13.3) and in Net Rating (14.1 PP/100), which is points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions.
Through four months of the season, the Spurs have the formula for a contender, as they have the league’s best defense (94.8 PP/100) and third best offense (108.9 PP/100). While San Antonio does beat the average opponent by 13 points per game, two elite teams (Golden State and Cleveland) showed this past week some of the weaknesses San Antonio still has to work on before April. Luckily for the Spurs, it’s only going to be February and there’s still 35 games left to try to correct those mistakes.