Through Cold Shooting Games, Spurs’ Defense Allows Team to Survive

AT&T CENTER – For the season as a whole, the San Antonio Spurs make 7.1 three pointers on 18.7 attempts per game, which ranks them as the second best 3-point shooting team in the league at 38.1% from beyond the arc.

The last time the Spurs made more than seven 3-pointers in a game was over a week ago, on March 5, when they defeated the Sacramento Kings in the AT&T Center. That evening, the Spurs made 8 of their 24 three point attempts.

Since then, beginning with a loss on the road in Indiana, the Spurs have made just 18 of their last 88 threes in their last four games (20.4% from three). First, you can’t put much stock into a four-game sample size, but until the Spurs do hit over seven, I’ve decided to dig a bit deeper into their cold streak from beyond the arc lately.

In discussing the Spurs’ shooting woes, it’s important to look at the players responsible for taking a majority of their 3-pointers on a nightly basis. When looking at players that attempt over two 3-pointers per game, the Spurs have four main shooters: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili. If any of those four struggle from distance, it’s going to impact the team just a bit. The problem over these past four games is that it’s not just one or two of them struggling, but instead, all four have been having issues sinking the long ball in the team’s last four games, as you can see from the data:

Player 3PA (3PT%) @ Indiana @ Minnesota Vs Chicago Vs Oklahoma City Total
Danny Green 4.4 (33.1%) 0/5 1/5 0/2 1/9 2/21 (9%)
Kawhi Leonard 4.0 (46.5%) 1/7 0/1 4/5 1/6 6/19 (31.5%)
Patty Mills 4.0 (38.8%) 3/10 1/8 1/5 1 of 4 6/27 (22.2%)
Manu Ginobili 3.1 (35.6%) 0/4 Did Not Play 0/2 0/2 0/8 (0%)

As you can see from each players shooting percentage on the season (left side of chart) to their shooting percentage from three in their last four games (right side of the chart), all four players are currently struggling to knock down the long ball consistently. While the four are struggling, the team has still been able to win 3 of those 4 games, and that’s due to the element that is helping San Antonio continue to win ball games on cold shooting nights – their defense.

Outside of the loss to the Pacers, where even by holding Indiana to 99 points, it still wasn’t enough to get a victory, the Spurs held Minnesota to 91 points, Chicago to 101 points, and the second best offense in the NBA, the Thunder, to just 85 points.

Saturday against the Thunder, Green specifically was having a rough shooting night, as he was 0-of-8 from beyond the arc, but still, when LaMarcus Aldridge got a double team and he kicked the ball out to Green in the corner, Green ignored the percentages and made the shot late in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a pro and we made it clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich of Green Saturday. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him, so screw it, let ‘em fly. And he did.”

Even Leonard was shooting 0-of-5 against the Thunder from beyond the arc, but in the fourth quarter, he too finally got a long ball to go in, as he made a step-back three pointer from the corner.

“We just stayed with it,” said Aldridge Saturday. “Our guys stayed confident taking shots. We got good looks the whole game, but they weren’t going in. So we just stayed with it and in the fourth quarter things turned for us.”

The key words one can take from Pop and Aldridge are “let ‘em fly” and “we just stayed with it.” Those words are key because on nights when the 3-point ball isn’t going in for San Antonio, as long as they continue to play a high level of defense, they will always be in a ball game and they just have to wait and hope that those shots will eventually fall. In the NBA, a phrase often used is regression to the mean, meaning there will be some wild nights where a team or player gets really hot or really cold shooting the basketball, but eventually, over a large collection of games, the shooting percentages will get back to their normal season average numbers.

A four-game sample size doesn’t mean the Spurs all of a sudden are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league like the numbers are showing, but instead, the team is going through a bit of a cold streak and the numbers overall indicate San Antonio should fight through this streak and eventually get back to making seven 3-pointers in a game and shooting close to 38% from beyond the arc. With 16 games left this season and if you combine the teams last four games, that’s a 20-game sample size. If by that point the Spurs are shooting 20% from beyond the arc, then one can legitimately say there’s a problem. The chances of that circumstance happening are very slim, so the probability in the numbers says Leonard will get back to shooting 46%, Green 33%, Mills 38%, and Ginobili 36% from beyond the arc in the coming games.

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.