A Closer Look at the Numbers Behind Spurs’ Defensive Improvement

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As has been discussed quite a bit over the past several weeks, the San Antonio Spurs played poor defense on the Rodeo Road Trip.  The numbers behind how poorly they played stand out, though.

In my research for this article, I took the average points per 100 possessions the last 12 Spurs’ opponents score based on where the game was played (home or away). For instance, the Sacramento Kings typically score 109.2 points per 100 possessions at home, where the Spurs played them at the start of the Rodeo Road Trip. In their game against the Spurs, they scored 127.0 points per 100 possessions. The number that I evaluated from each game was the difference between that initial average and what Spurs’ opponents scored per 100 possessions in their game against the Spurs. For example, the Kings scored 17.8 points more per 100 possession against the Spurs than they do on average at home.

The Golden State Warriors scored 21.2 points per 100 possession more against the Spurs than they do on average when playing at home, the Portland Trail Blazers scored 9 points per 100 possessions more, the Utah Jazz scored 13.3 points more, the Memphis Grizzlies scored 2.9 points more, the Toronto Raptors scored 3.5 points more, and the New York Knicks scored 25.3 points more.

In the last game of the Rodeo Road Trip, the Spurs held the Brooklyn Nets to 9.7 points less per 100 possessions than average in Brooklyn. This was the only game over the entire Rodeo Road Trip that the Spurs held their opponent to a below average offensive efficiency on that opponent’s court.

Since that game, the Spurs have held every opponent to below their average offensive efficiency based on location. The Spurs held the Detroit Pistons to 8 points per 100 possessions less than the Piston’s average on the road, the Oklahoma City Thunder (who were without Paul George) to 12.6 points per 100 possessions less than average, the Denver Nuggets to 1.9 points less, and the Atlanta Hawks to 7.6 points per 100 possession less than average in Atlanta (when I obtained the overall average offensive efficiency for the Hawks in Atlanta, it probably didn’t include Wednesday’s game.)

Over the entire Rodeo Road Trip, Spurs’ opponent’s scored 10.4 more points per 100 possessions than average at home. Taking out the game against the Nets causes that number to jump to 13.3 points per 100 possessions more. In the most recent five games, Spurs’ opponents have scored 8.0 points per 100 possessions less than average based on location. Jabari Young of The Athletic has written about some of the behind the scenes discussions the Spurs had after their loss to the Knicks, and the next game against the Nets seems to have been a turning point for their defense.

As a quick experiment, I took the Spurs remaining sixteen games, took the Spurs’ average offensive efficiency by location and their opponent’s average offensive efficiency by location and then added the 13.3 extra points opponents scored against the Spurs per 100 possession in the first 7 games of the Rodeo Road Trip or subtracted the 8 points the Spurs have kept opponents from scoring in the past 5 games. The results – if the Spurs had an average (for them) offensive efficiency in each remaining game and played defense as bad as they did during the Rodeo Road Trip, they will lose each remaining game. However, if they have an average offensive efficiency and play defense as well as they have over the past five games, they will win each game.

Neither outcome should be expected, but if the Spurs want to get the seventh seed and avoid a first round against the Warriors, playing defense like they have over the past five games is critical.

All stats obtained from CleaningTheGlass.

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