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Spurs’ points in paint increase as season progresses

AT&T CENTER – In their close victory over the New York Knicks Friday, the San Antonio Spurs scored 60 of their 100 points from the paint. With the frontcourt of Kawhi Leonard (19 points), LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points), Boris Diaw (8 points), Tim Duncan (7 points) and David West (6 points), the Spurs were able to outscore New York 60-38 in the paint.

Though their overall shooting percentage (44.1%) was a struggle Friday evening, when it came to collecting points in the paint, San Antonio knocked down 30 of 47 shots close to the rim, at a percentage of 63.8%. After the game, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was asked about the Spurs’ advantage in the paint, and he said it’s something the team wants to keep emphasizing.

“It’s a strength that we have and we’re getting better and better at recognizing it,” said Popovich. “It’s something that we want to continue.”

While 60 points against New York was more than the Spurs’ season average of 44.4 points in the paint, guard Manu Ginobili said afterward he felt the team could have continued to get even more production out of the paint.

“Yes, and we didn’t do it enough,” said Ginobili. “I think we should have emphasized on it even more, and not only saying it, but doing it. For moments we did. I think we should have gone at LA (LaMarcus Aldridge) more, but sometimes it’s not easy. You’re playing and you see different things, but it was an emphasis and we did it for moments. With the type of size and players that we have, we can do that for even more.”

While Popovich and Ginobili both said the team wants to focus more on scoring in the paint, I was interested in seeing what story the data tells about the Spurs’ ability to score points near the rim. Using the numbers from NBA.com, I pulled the Spurs’ season average of 44.4 points in the paint and inputted it into a chart that also displayed how the Spurs’ points in the paint have increased from the first to 19th game, to the 20th to 38th game of the season completed Friday.

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As you can see, though the team is scoring 44.4 points in the paint on the average night (ranked 5th in the league), the trend is definitely headed upward for San Antonio’s offense of scoring more-so inside. From games 1-19, when San Antonio was scoring 41.3 points in the paint, San Antonio was ranked 17th in that category. From games 20-38, scoring 47.6 points in the paint, the Spurs climbed all the way up to being ranked 3rd in scoring in the paint during that timeframe.

But which players specifically are really helping to boost those increased paint numbers? Looking at each individual player, I inputted how many points in the paint (PITP) players who score more than 2.0 PITP score per game, and how their production inside has either increased or decreased from games 1-19, to games 20-38. Below were the findings.

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With Alridge continuing to become more comfortable with his new teammates game-by-game in a brand new system for him, he’s had a huge increase of his points in the paint over the last 19 games. He’s scoring almost three more points per game in the paint compared to those first 19 outings. As written earlier in the season, Aldridge is getting more familiar with the Spurs’ bigs like Duncan, Diaw and West, and an easy way they’re getting him some efficient shots at the rim is through the use of the high-low passing set. Even in the pick-and-roll, players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are growing more comfortable feeding Aldridge either in the low post, or on a cut off a roll. Diaw, West, Mills, Green, Leonard, Duncan, and Parker have all already assisted an Aldridge basket at least six times this season.

Another player who has had a spike in scoring in the paint is Diaw. A little over a week ago, I wrote about how with the additions of Aldridge and West, Diaw is having a highly efficient season shooting the basketball, since he’s getting more mismatches or comfortable post-ups near the rim; he’s only taking 3-pointers if it’s the shot he has to take wide-open late in the shot clock, which in turn means he’s not shooting as many mid-range jumpers, which isn’t his strong shooting area. Last week, Green said Aldridge calls Diaw “Tea-Time” because of how calmly Diaw plays, like he’s having a cup of tea while heading toward the rim. When you watch Diaw, he’s very patient in choosing when to go into a post-up, as he usually waits to see if he can get a smaller player in a mismatch, or he might post a small ball 4, where Diaw has the advantage.

While West is shooting 51.6% from mid-range at the moment, he too is starting to collect more points in the paint as well, as the Spurs’ offense has continued to progress and develop. In the last 19 games, West has gone from scoring 1.9 points in the paint to 4.1 per game. He’s currently shooting 66.7% in the restricted area and 51.1% in the non-restricted area, per NBA.com.

Lastly, Marjanovic has made an increase in scoring in the paint, and most of that is due to the fact that he’s been receiving more playing time over the last 19 games and he’s spent more minutes on the floor. Marjanovic didn’t log a single minute against the Knicks, and that’s to be expected against certain teams that play a lot smaller with their frontcourt lineups. However, when a player like Duncan or Aldridge is resting, Marjanovic has been solid in his outings when he’s had to fill in as the fourth big man in the rotation. His increased scoring in the paint is evidence of his contribution when he is given minutes.

After Friday’s game, Diaw too discussed how Popovich wants the team to look for Aldridge and Leonard more often to see if anything else develops on the floor.

“Yeah from the get-go, that’s what Pop was asking about, to go inside-out, try to get some ball inside to LaMarcus, to Kawhi, and try to play that way,” said Diaw. “Then they adjust and we’ll get easier shots from the outside. So, it was good, it was good.”

When asked if the Spurs could have gotten more points in the paint Friday, Diaw said it’s dependent how the defense is defending the paint with their scheme.

“It depends what the other team is giving you,” said Diaw. “Manu said we could have put the ball more inside, but if they double team, you get some open shots on the outside too. It all depends on what the other team is going to give you.”

There was an exact example of that sequence Friday, when Diaw found himself with a mismatch with a smaller guard (Langston Galloway). Once Diaw knew he had Galloway defending him, he immediately took the ball into the post. Once the Knicks’ defense sent a double team to help Galloway, Diaw dished a pass to Ginobili, who dished another pass to Patty Mills, and Mills found Green wide open in the corner for an open 3-pointer, as the video clip below displays.

Diaw to Manu to Patty to Green for corner 3 vs Knicks

A video posted by Paul Garcia (@paulgarciaps) on

With 38 games in the bag for the Spurs’ season and still more than half are left to continue to work and develop, there’s already a trend beginning as discussed above where San Antonio’s offense is looking more and more to get points from an efficient area to score in basketball – the paint. San Antonio has the personnel and advantage to attack the paint, which means it’ll be interesting to see just how many of their points they’re getting in the paint by seasons end.

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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