2018-19 Spurs 10-Game Evaluation: Volume 4

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Over their last 15 games, the San Antonio Spurs have continued to keep rolling along in dominating fashion, where they’ve won 12 of those 15 games and they’ve led by 20 points in 10 of those 15 contests.

With all the winning over the last month, the Spurs have gone from a lottery bound team who once sat at 14th in the Western Conference standings, to the current six seed and they’re just 4.5 games out of first overall out West.

Now, with 40 games logged this season, let’s see how the Spurs have transformed themselves in the last 10 games.

If you’re new to the 10-game evaluation series, here are Volume’s 1, 2, and 3. Most of the stats used in this evaluation are from CleaningTheGlass.com and on CTG, a ranking is provided for the stats. I created the following rating system based on the rankings:

Elite – Rank near Top 5

Good – Rank near Top 10

Average – Rank near 15th

Improvement – Rank near 20th         

Ugh – Rank near 25th

Ouch – Rank near 30th

Section I. Scoring

Where do the Spurs frequently take shots from?

As the season has gone along, the Spurs have continued to stick to their identify of taking the most mid-range shots in the league which fits their go-to players styles. They’ve also stuck to being the lowest volume team in shots at the rim and at the three-point line. What’s really starting to change now through 40 games for the Spurs offensively is the accuracy across the floor. They’re now an elite team offensively in accuracy from all three levels of the floor – the rim, mid-range, and three-point line. Despite having a new go-to playmaker in DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs’ offense can execute and carve opponents up in the halfcourt, where they’re now ranked 3rd in halfcourt points per play.

One change Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has made is to shorten the rotation. The Spurs are now using a consistent nine-man rotation in a starting lineup of Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Off the bench, Popovich brings in the international unit of Patty Mills (Australia), Marco Belinelli (Italy), Davis Bertans (Latvia), and Jakob Poeltl (Austria).

While DeRozan, Aldridge, and Gay continue to be the Spurs’ three go-to playmakers, White and Forbes have seen an increase in production for the Spurs in the starting lineup. Off the bench, the “United Nations of Ball Movement” as dubbed by Mills, have also increased their production.

The table below shows each of the role player’s points and assists from the start of the season to December 6, 2018, then from December 7 to today.

Player Up to December 6, 2018 Last 15 Games
White, Derrick 5.9 pts, 3.4 ast 9.4 pts, 3.4 ast
Forbes, Bryn 11.7 pts, 2.1 ast 13.1 pts, 2.9 ast
Mills, Patty 9.7 pts, 2.6 ast 8.1 pts, 2.9 ast
Belinelli, Marco 9.2 pts, 2.0 ast 10.9 pts, 1.8 ast
Bertans, Davis 6.9 pts, 0.9 ast 8.8 pts, 1.2 ast
Poeltl, Jakob 5.6 pts, 0.9 ast 6.2 pts, 1.7 ast

The role players in the 9-man rotation have increased their production in at least one area of scoring or passing the ball. White has gone to another level offensively in the last five games. Not only has he had the assignment of guarding Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Mike Conley in three of the Spurs’ last five games, but he’s also averaging 16.4 points (73% FG, 64% three, 79% free throw), 4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.2 steals in 29.2 minutes. He’s been the Spurs’ third leading scorer during that stretch just behind DeRozan (17.2 points) and Aldridge (27 points).

While it’s only a five-game sample size, White has continued to show more poise and confidence offensively and if he continues to play solid defense, Popovich will continue to give him the minutes at the one. With the Spurs sticking to a nine-man rotation that’s working, it’s been harder for Cunningham, Pau Gasol, and even rookie Lonnie Walker IV to find any minutes. Gasol and Walker IV are both finally healthy, but there’s just no minutes right now for either player. Had Gasol not become injured, he was expected to have a role on the team in the frontcourt. However, Aldridge, Gay, Poeltl, and Bertans have solidified the rotation for now in the frontcourt which has left Gasol as the odd man out. Being a rookie, Walker IV wasn’t expected to have a consistent role early in the season and since there’s no minutes available on the wing with White and Forbes playing well, you’ll probably continue to see Walker IV spending more time in Austin, where Popovich said he’d prefer him at least playing, rather than sitting on the bench with the NBA squad.

Section II. Ball Movement

A few visiting coaches have commented about how it’s almost like there’s two different teams with the Spurs in terms of their ball movement between the starting lineup and bench. The starters look more-so to target mismatches, or they have good isolation scorers in DeRozan, Aldridge, and Gay, that they can afford to still be efficient with less ball movement. There’s more activity and increased pace when the second unit checks in as the ball moves more across the floor, more threes get taken, and more off-ball screen action is used. Regardless of the passing styles, the Spurs continue not to hurt themselves by being the best team in the league in taking care of the ball.

Section III. Defense

Where do opponents shoot from and how accurate are they against the Spurs’ defense?

It’s been a slow process, but across the board, the Spurs are starting to improve in most categories defensively. Before the Spurs defeated the Grizzlies by 20 points Saturday, I asked Memphis Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff about what he’s seen from the Spurs, and his quote summed up the Spurs’ improvement defensively.

“I think with them how they protect the paint is always key, and then they defend the 3-point line well,” said Bickerstaff. “They don’t allow you to get a ton of open looks from behind the three, they try to force you into that pocket of inefficient shots, – of inefficient offense, which is the tough contested twos. So I think you know they’ve been doing a better job of that and it puts a ton of pressure on teams to try to create and manufacture buckets. I think one of the things that they’ve been doing is their transition defense as well. They don’t let you just get easy buckets. That is another way again they put pressure on you and force you deeper into the clock. And then the pressure heightens and then each shot becomes that much more difficult.”

While as a whole the Spurs are currently ranked 20th defensively, in their last 15 games, they’ve been holding opponents to 103.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranks them 5th best during that stretch.

Now, to provide a visual glimpse of which specific Spurs players are excelling or not playing well on each end of the floor, you can study the two charts below. Each chart shows the 1st, 15th, and 30th ranked offenses and defenses, where the Spurs are ranked, and where each specific player would rank.

When each of the players from the Spurs’ bench unit of Mills, Poeltl, Bertans, and Belinelli are on the floor, the team is scoring more points per 100 possessions than the current best offense in the league of the Warriors. Defensively, it’s no surprise by defensive rating that White is the Spurs’ best defender, while Gay has been one of the keys to allowing the Spurs’ defense to switch more on the perimeter. Off the bench, Poeltl and Bertans have also been playing better than league average defense for the season as a whole.

Section IV. The Competition

Opponent is… Spurs Record
.500 and Above 14-10
Below .500 9-7

While there are 10 losses, I noticed that the Spurs had the most wins against .500 and above teams in the league with 14. That got me wondering who has played the most .500 and above opponents out West. Here were the results.

As you can see, while Golden State, Denver, and Oklahoma City have three of the best records overall in the standings right now, they’ve also had three of the easiest schedules to begin the season. The Spurs have had one of the toughest schedules and they’ve managed to place 6th so far. As long as San Antonio continues playing well, they might be able to climb up even closer to first when the Warriors, Nuggets, and Thunder play tougher opponents as the season progresses.

Section V. The Next 10

In their next 10 games, the Spurs will face the Pistons, Grizzlies, Thunder (twice), Hornets, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Clippers, 76ers, and Pelicans.

Data gathered from CleaningTheGlass.com, NBA.com/stats, and HoopsStats.com as of 01/06/2019 at 5:00 PM CST.

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