Recently, the San Antonio Spurs have been showing growth on the defensive end, as noted by our own Paul Garcia:
Patty Mills says the Spurs' improvement defensively is coming along a lot slowly than expected.
He did say he didn't think they're going backwards on that end of the floor.
Slowly, they've gone from bottom 5 to bottom 10.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) December 20, 2019
Despite that growth, the Spurs are still working on finding their best defensive lineups, though, as they have had to play lineups that featured shooting to give spacing to DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, who the offense is built around.
What if, though, the Spurs decided that they did not need that spacing and wanted to play the best defensive lineup they could with DeRozan and Aldridge on the court at the time? What would that lineup be? In this piece, I’ll build the best defensive lineup for the Spurs that I can, with the only rule being that it needs to include DeRozan and Aldridge.
First, what positions should DeRozan and Aldridge play in this hypothetical lineup? DeRozan has played 1632 non-garbage time minutes at small forward this season, according to CleaningTheGlass, and in those possessions, the Spurs have had a 114.9 defensive rating.
DeRozan has also played at power forward at times this season. If he were to play power forward in this lineup, that would mean that Aldridge would be playing center. There have only been 137 possessions this season that DeRozan has played power forward while Aldridge has played center, much too small of a sample size to gain anything meaningful from the numbers, but the Spurs have a defensive rating of 123.2 overall with those lineups.
It seems like DeRozan has not played enough point guard or shooting guard this season to be selected at either position in CleaningTheGlass’s lineup filter, meaning he will need to be at small forward.
But what about Aldridge, should he play power forward or center? If Aldridge were to play power forward, the best defensive option at center would be Jakob Poeltl, but both players’ defensive strength is at the rim and not guarding players out at the perimeter, so having both on the court at once could actually cause problems on defense. This means that Aldridge should likely play center in this lineup.
In building a pure defensive lineup, the backcourt options are obvious. Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have only played 25 non-garbage time possessions together, and only three of those possessions included DeRozan and Aldridge. Having Murray and White on the court with DeRozan would mean that DeRozan would be able to guard the opponent’s third-best backcourt player.
When looking at current rotation players, Rudy Gay provides the best option at power forward. In the 1247 non-garbage time possessions with Gay at power forward, the Spurs have had a solid 106.3 defensive rating.
This leaves us with a lineup of Murray, White, DeRozan, Gay, and Aldridge. This lineup has only played three possessions this season, but with Murray’s minutes limit being lifted, this is a lineup that could be feasible as an end-of-game lineup that features the two players that the Spurs built their offense around while also having the potential to be a strong defensive lineup.
While this lineup is light on shooting, if the Spurs are in a close game where they need tough buckets and a few stops, this lineup may provide them with the best of both options while allowing them to play DeRozan and Aldridge.
All stats obtained from CleaningTheGlass.com