April Familiarity and the Spurs’ Starting Five


Last season from the days stretching April 13 to April 27, the San Antonio Spurs, a seven seed, took the number two seeded Denver Nuggets to a game seven in the playoffs, where Denver would go on to win the series finale.

In each game of that series, the Spurs started Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Jakob Poeltl. During the series, that quintet outscored the Nuggets by 9.2 points per 100 possessions according to CleaningTheGlass.com.

This season, with the addition of Dejounte Murray, the Spurs went away from that lineup and instead went in a different direction with Murray at the 1 and Trey Lyles starting at the 4, which meant White and Poeltl headed to the bench, and Aldridge moved up to the 5.

That lineup has been getting outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions in 312 possessions, which is a large enough sample size to say it wasn’t working.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich tried another lineup Wednesday because of the Spurs’ slow starts offensively, and instead of Murray starting, he put in Patty Mills at the 1, and Poeltl back at the 5, while Lyles went to the bench. With a trio on the wing of Mills, Forbes, and DeRozan, the Spurs got outscored by 3 pp/100, which seems like an improvement, but their defense became a turnstile, allowing opponents to score 134.8 pp/100, while San Antonio scored 131.8 pp/100.

Friday in Philly, the Spurs kept Poeltl in the starting five and instead of Mills, they went back with Murray. In 45 possessions total this season, that group is getting outscored by 16.1 pp/100.

The lineup that took the Nuggets to seven games in April has barely played this season, but with Murray out against the Knicks Saturday, Popovich went back to the old familiar lineup of White, Forbes, DeRozan, Aldridge, and Poeltl.

In 23 possessions together, that lineup is outscoring opponents by 34.1 pp/100. Here’s what the Net Rating for each lineup looks like right now when you swap the point guards, while keeping Forbes, DeRozan, Aldridge, and Poeltl on the floor.

_____ + Forbes + DeRozan + Aldridge + Poeltl

A) White +34.1 pp/100 in 23 possessions

OFF: 117.4 pp/100, DEF: 83.3 pp/100

B) Mills -3.0 pp/100 in 22 possessions

OFF: 131.8 pp/100, DEF 134.8 pp/100

C) Murray -16.1 pp/100 in 45 possessions

OFF: 108.9 pp/100, DEF: 125 pp/100

Two notes on the unit with White as point guard. One, the sample size is still quite small with just 23 possessions. Two, most of that data came against the Knicks, who entered Saturday’s contest ranked 19th on defense and dead last on offense, which means playing against them can make most teams numbers stand out, including a team that was on an eight-game losing streak.

However, since that group with White played so much together last season, there is past historical data to rely on with those five players. Here are some of their numbers from the regular season and playoffs last season.

Spurs regular season lineup with White, Forbes, DeRozan, Aldridge, Poeltl in 2018-19 regular season.

375 possessions, 99.5 pp/100 on offense and 104.3 pp/100 on defense = -4.8 pp/100 Net Rating

Spurs regular season lineup with White, Forbes, DeRozan, Aldridge, Poeltl in 2018-19 playoffs.

152 possessions, 109.2 pp/100 on offense and 100 pp/100 on defense = +9.2 pp/100 Net Rating

With Murray off the injury report, it’ll be interesting to see which point guard Coach Popovich starts the game with Monday against the Lakers and if he’ll continue to start Poeltl at center.

If he goes with White again, as the data suggests he should do, it’ll be interesting to see how many games he’ll give that group to see if they can get the Spurs’ starting group back on a positive track so they’re not falling behind by double digits early in games again.


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