AT&T CENTER – Prior to Tuesday in the month of March, San Antonio Spurs forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge had scored over 20 points together in 5 of the Spurs’ 7 March games. During those five games, the Spurs went 4-1 with a point margin of +6.4 points per game.
Tuesday, with the Western Conference fourth seeded Los Angeles Clippers in town, Leonard and Aldridge didn’t have to score over 20 points each, as they had their bench chip in with 51 points and 11 assists. In the three March games where Leonard and Aldridge have received more help from the second unit or other members of the starting unit, San Antonio is 3-0 with a point margin of +18.0 points per game.
On most nights, the Spurs’ offense will always need to go through its foundation of production in Leonard and Aldridge, but on nights when the bench finds a rhythm and has an impact, the load is a bit lighter on Leonard and Aldridge’s shoulders, with the Spurs having more weapons either in the starting unit or on the bench. This season, the main five players that have consistently come off the Spurs’ bench is a five-man group of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson (since Jonathon Simmons’ minutes have been slashed more and more), Boris Diaw and David West.
In the chart below, I’ve displayed those five players minutes, points and assists per game, from a collection of whole season data to the stretch after the All-Star break for more current numbers.
|Player||Minutes RS/ PAB||Points RS/ PAB||Assists RS/PAB|
|Patty Mills||20.5 MPG/ 21.4 MPG||8.7 PPG/ 9.9 PPG||3.1 AST/ 4.1 AST|
|Manu Ginobili||19.4 MPG/ 17.2 MPG||9.9 PPG/ 8.6 PPG||3.1 AST/ 1.2 AST|
|Kyle Anderson||14.7 MPG/ 20.4 MPG||4.3 PPG/ 6.2 PPG||1.3 AST/ 1.4 AST|
|Boris Diaw||18.0 MPG/ 14.5 MPG||6.2 PPG/ 4.6 PPG||2.4 AST/ 2.1 AST|
|David West||17.5 MPG/ 18.9 MPG||7.0 PPG/ 8.2 PPG||1.8 AST/ 1.6 AST|
As you look at the data and try to match some of the numbers to what’s being observed on the court, you’ll notice one of the trends lately has been the almost swapping in minutes between Anderson and Diaw. As Tuesday illustrated, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich elected to bring Anderson in off the bench first as a stretch-4 big instead of Diaw, and Diaw would actually come into the game for the first time in the third quarter, alongside West. The tactic of using Anderson more often could be because of Anderson’s length and versatility to guard stretch-4s like Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans, or a 3 like Jeff Green of the Clippers for minimum stretches. Playing Anderson lately could also be Popovich experimenting with different lineups and combinations he may need to have prepared for any matchup against the teams San Antonio could face in the playoffs. If the Spurs were to face a bigger lineup like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, Popovich might stay big in the second unit with Diaw. If the Spurs played a team that plays smaller lineups like the Golden State Warriors or Oklahoma City Thunder, Popovich could elect to use Anderson instead of Diaw. Again, with this being the regular season, Popovich is able to use these opportunities to experiment with different rotations so he’ll know what he has on his roster come April.
Overall, those five bench players listed above are giving the Spurs 36.1 points and 11.5 assists per game this season as a whole. Since the All-Star break, those five are scoring 37.5 points and dishing 10.4 assists. According to Hoopsstats.com, the Spurs’ bench ranks second in scoring (40.0 points), first in passing (11.3 assists), first in shooting (48.5% field goal percentage) and third in 3-point shooting (37.5% three points percentage), through a collection of 66 games.
While Leonard, Aldridge and Parker are the Spurs’ three main scorers on a nightly basis, it’s some of the Spurs’ overall numbers that help define just how important their bench can be. Through 67 games, the Spurs have won the most games by double digits so far, with 42 victories. Even the number one seeded Golden State Warriors have just 37 wins by double digits. To go further into those double digit numbers, the Spurs have built double digit leads in 54 of their 67 games this season, and they’ve only lost one of those games when leading by double figures. The consistency of the bench is really displayed in the next statistic – the Spurs have built 43 15-point leads this season and they are a perfect 43-0 when leading by 15. With Leonard and Aldridge both playing less than 33 minutes per game this season, the only way such large margins are kept consistently by the Spurs is because Coach Popovich has a second unit that can either maintain the lead that has been set by the starters, or often times, expand that lead even more.
While the Spurs’ bench players won’t always chip in with a 15-point night from one of them, the group as a collection is very likely to give the team those 40.0 points on the average night with the 11.3 assists, and that’s not even considering the team’s possible input of an offensive threat like Kevin Martin into their scheme. With 15 games remaining until the playoffs, the Spurs’ starters and their bench have just 15 more outings to try to get as balanced of an attack ready before everything is at stake beginning in late April.