Coming off a win against the Charlotte Hornets and through 27 games of the season, the San Antonio Spurs are on pace to go 42-30 this season, as they currently sit 6th out West in the conference standings.
In this Monday edition of the Day Off, the four following topics will be explored.
- Johnson and Murray Leading the Rim Attack
- Steals and Deflections
- Murray-White Defensive Assignments
- DeRozan’s All-Star Chances
Johnson and Murray Leading the Rim Attack
One good sign for the Spurs’ future is that their top two players putting pressure on the rim are two of the younger players for the franchise in Keldon Johnson and Dejounte Murray.
Both players lead the Spurs in makes and attempts from the restricted area, which is the closest area to the basket in the paint.
Johnson has attempted 152 attempts there and made 90 of his shots from that area (59.2% accuracy). Murray is second on the team with 64 makes there off 102 attempts (62.7% accuracy).
Last season the Spurs’ two players leading this category were DeMar DeRozan and Murray. While Murray is now second this season, he’s improved his finishing this season near the rim, where he’s making 62.7% of his shots compared to 55.2% last season.
Johnson’s top-2 shot areas are taking shots in the restricted area and if not, launching from three. For Murray, his top-2 shot areas are the mid-range jumper and if not, attacking the rim.
Steals and Deflections
With Derrick White back from injury, the Spurs have another player who is going to make sure offensive players are more careful with the ball. In just 189 minutes of his return to play, White has already collected 23 deflections and 8 steals.
What does that look like if he was averaging 36 minutes a night?
White would be averaging 4.4 deflections per 36 minutes and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes.
That would give the Spurs three players in White (4.4), Devin Vassell (3.7), and Murray (3.2) averaging over three deflections per game if each player were to be playing 36 minutes a night.
In steals per 36 minutes, the top-3 list would be Vassell (2.3), Murray (1.8), and White (1.5). The problem of course is no Spurs players gets close to 36 minutes a night.
While Murray and White will continue to get their minutes since they’re the starting backcourt going forward, the question is how can the Spurs keep Vassell on the floor with DeMar DeRozan, Lonnie Walker IV, and Patty Mills ahead of him in the rotation?
Let’s look at how Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has distributed minutes from the start of the season to January 29, which was the time period before White returned, to January 30 to today, where White has been back with the team for the majority of those games. I’m only focusing on the change in minutes between the guard/wing players on the team in the main rotation.
DeRozan 34 to 32.2 (-1.8)
Johnson 31.2 to 27.3 (-3.9)
Murray 30.9 to 29.3 (-1.6)
Walker IV 28.8 to 19.8 (-9)
Mills 25.8 to 24.6 (-1.2)
White 23.7 since return
Vassell 18.3 to 15.1 (-3.2)
We see from the minutes distribution, that while every guard/wing rotation player has lost some minutes in order for White to return, Walker IV has seen his minutes most impacted.
While Popovich is still making an effort to keep Vassell in the rotation, someone or multiple players will lose some more minutes as White continues to get back into form and when he eventually gets to whatever minutes Popovich wants him to play at most this season.
Murray-White Defensive Assignments
Now that Murray and White have been starting in the last few games together, you see the chemistry and cohesion they’re starting to build on the defensive end with their switches or picking up the player on offense, even if the player wasn’t their original assignment.
This has been the case in the last two games. Murray and White’s first and second primary matchups on defense have been Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks’ starting backcourt, and LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier for Charlotte.
DeRozan’s All-Star Chances
Tuesday is the final day for All-Star fan voting, and while the Spurs don’t have any players who have been in the top-10 for fan voting out West in either the frontcourt or backcourt, DeRozan looks like an option for the NBA head coaches to choose as a reserve.
Here’s a reminder of how All-Star voting works. The five starters are selected from a combination of fan, media, and player votes. If the latest fan votes hold, the starting five out West would be:
LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic.
The 30 NBA coaches choose the seven Western Conference reserves and 3 players must be from the frontcourt, 2 players from the backcourt, and the last 2 spots are wild cards, which can be from any position.
DeRozan is listed as a guard in the All-Star voting, so he’d be among a group that likely includes Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Ja Morant, De’Aaron Fox, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
I’ll now rank these players based on points, assists, and rebounds, followed by how many Western Conference Player of the Week and Player of the Month nominations and awards they’ve received. Then team record and place out West will be followed afterward.
Lillard 29.2 points, 7.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1 Player of the Week Award, 3 POTW nominations, 1 Player of the Month nomination
Booker 24.5 points, 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1 POTW Award
Mitchell 24.2 points, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 4 POTW nominations
Fox 23.4 points, 6.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1 POTW award, 1 POTW nomination
Gilgeous-Alexander 22.6 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1 POTW nomination
DeRozan 19.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3 POTW nominations, 1 POTM nomination
Morant 18.4 points, 8.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds
By records and place out West
Mitchell – Jazz 22-5 (1st)
Booker – Suns 17-9 (4th)
Lillard – Trail Blazers 16-10 (5th)
DeRozan – Spurs 16-11 (6th)
Morant – Grizzlies 11-11 (9th)
Fox – Kings 12-14 (11th)
Gilgeous-Alexander – Thunder 11-15 (14th)
Since Mitchell and Lillard lead in stats and team success, they’re likely locks for the two guard reserve spots. Booker also looks like a lock for one of the wild card spots. So the question will probably come down to whether the coaches reward DeRozan, who has his team winning ahead of Fox and Gilgeous-Alexander, as opposed to Fox or Gilgeous-Alexander, who have more impressive stats, but their teams are out of the playoff picture at the moment. DeRozan’s case is also strong considering he’s been a nominee for the Western Conference Player of the Week three times and Player of the Month once.
Where everything stands right now, DeRozan’s case looks strong to get one of those reserve spots for the All-Star game. The reserves will be announced next week on February 23.