Do Spurs have frontline built to contend?


On Thursday, it will have been two weeks since the NBA trade deadline passed. The San Antonio Spurs still stand a top the league with the best record at 51-12. After witnessing the Los Angeles Lakers and Andrew Bynum take full advantage of the Spurs in the paint Sunday afternoon, keeping in mind the team made no moves at the trade deadline, one has to wonder if the questions about the Spurs lacking size in the frontline will hurt them down the stretch and in the playoffs? 

I’m hear to ask the question: How does the Spurs’ frontline compare with the other playoff teams? 

The Spurs frontline consists of Tim Duncan (6’11), DeJuan Blair (6’7), Matt Bonner (6’10), Antonio McDyess (6’9) and rookie Tiago Splitter (6’11). That’s five players deep, and not one of them is seven feet tall.

I’ve compiled several playoff teams from both conferences to see which team depends on their front line the most and who may have the greatest advantage in the paint. This will help to determine where the Spurs frontline is and what to expect from them in the playoffs.

I’m focusing on a few statistics: How much does each team depend on their frontline for offensive production? What is the amount of rebounds per game each frontline will grab? What is the frontline’s amount of blocks per game? Where does the team rank defensively regarding these 13 teams chosen?

For the offensive percentage statistic, I calculated it in this manner: Frontline points per game divided by total points per game, the percentage that was left is what I call “Percentage of teams offense”. For the rebounding percentage, I calculated frontline rebounds per game divided by overall rebounds per game. I called this “Percentage of team rebounds.” 

All stats are used as of March 7, 2011.  

If you don’t want to read every individual statistic, I suggest you pay attention to “percentage of offense, rebounding, and ranked defensive position.” The summaries beneath each team will explain potential matchups for the Spurs. 

Current Western Conference Playoff Teams

  • 1. San Antonio Spurs (51-12) Frontline: Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter. Frontline (FL): 38.7ppg, 27.6rbd, 3.65blk, 37% of offense, 65% of rebounding, 9th ranked defense.

As you can see, the Spurs only rely on their frontline for 37% of their offense and the big men will grab almost 28 rebounds per game. Though the team is not the lengthiest, the Spurs will have what’s looking like a fresh Tim Duncan to anchor the post while players like Blair, Bonner and McDyess will each share the role as Duncan’s helper on different nights. On the defensive end, the Spurs won’t be able to shut down a Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki individually; but they must rely on double teams and guard rotation in the situation an opposing big man is having a big night. If everyone is on the same page on the defensive end, the Spurs can make up for their lack of size.

  • 2. Dallas Mavericks (46-17) Frontline: Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal. 43.7ppg, 24.1rbd, 3.17blk, 44% of offense, 59% of rebounding, 8th ranked defense.

Should the Spurs face the Mavericks, their big men will be expected to out rebound Dallas. But Dallas’s frontcourt offense could give the Spurs fits, particularly one giant Hasselhoff singing German. The Spurs must also keep in mind that Chandler and Haywood each average over one block per game. The penetration from Spurs guards will be key and the Spurs will need to knock down a high percentage of their outside shots in a potential series. 

  • 3. Los Angeles Lakers (45-19) Frontline: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum. 44.4ppg, 27.6rbd, 4.41blk, 44% of offense, 63% of rebounds, 7th ranked defense. 

Aside from this three-headed lengthy monster, the Lakers are very thin in the frontline department. Yet, it may be enough to cause the Spurs issues. In the recent loss to the Lakers, Bynum grabbed 17 rebounds, and six blocks. Lamar Odom’s length disrupted the Spurs offense and Pau Gasol did his damage. If the Spurs can find a way to get these big men in foul trouble, the chance of dethroning the defending champs will increase. As you see from the statistics though, when they’re on the floor, the Lakers big men produce at one of the highest levels as Spurs fans witnessed Sunday afternoon. 

  • 4. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-23) Frontline: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed. 28.2ppg, 24.7rbd, 3.73blk, 27% of offense, 58% of rebounding, 11th ranked defense. I used Perkins (Celtics) statistics with the impression he will be in the lineup with the Thunder soon. 

With the addition of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed, the Thunder have increased their defense and rebounding potential. The frontline offense won’t need to produce much because of the slew of wing players the Thunder have. Should the Spurs meet the Thunder, a possession to possession game gives the Thunder an even greater chance at the upset in a series, still the Spurs should have enough to keep the advantage in the paint.

  • 5. Denver Nuggets (37-27) Frontline: Danilo Gallinari, Nene Hilario, Al Harrington, Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson, Timofey Mozgov. 57.7ppg, 30.5rbd, 4blk, 54% of offense, 73% of rebounding, 12th ranked defense. 

The depth at the frontcourt for the Nuggets gives them more of a chance to produce offensive numbers. The problem is that they don’t play any defense, so the Spurs should be able to score on them regardless if the Nuggets win the rebounding battle.

  • 6. Portland Trailblazers (36-27) Frontline: LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, Jarron Collins. 28ppg, 22rbd, 2.98blk, 29% of offense, 56% of rebounding, 6th ranked defense. 

Should the Spurs meet the Blazers, they should win the rebounding battle. The former Texas alum (Aldridge) is essentially the entire “29% of the Blazers offense” statistic. Like Nowitzki, Aldridge would give the Spurs big men a long night in each game played due to his improved perimeter game. The problem for Portland is their lack of depth on the frontline. After Camby andCollins are withdrawn, Portland becomes a small athletic team which will be a perfect matchup for the Spurs.

  • 7. New Orleans Hornets (37-29) Frontline: David West, Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, Jason Smith, D.J. Mbenga. 47.1ppg, 27.6rbd, 4.16blk, 50% of offense, 68% of rebounding, 3rd ranked defense. 

Offensively, the Hornets frontline is one of the strongest amongst the playoff teams. But the the lack of post defense will plague this team. Even though they’re ranked as the third best defense, that stat is due more to the length and athleticism they have on the wing positions. If Duncan and DeJuan Blair can put together a good series, they will both have a chance to score major points on the Hornets frontline.

  • 8. Memphis Grizzlies (36-29) Frontline: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, Leon Powe, Hamed Haddadi. 42.4ppg, 26.2rbd, 3.02blk, 42% of offense, 64% of rebounding, 10th ranked defense. I didn’t include the Leon Powe statistics due to him recently being signed.

This is one of the more balanced frontlines in the league. On paper, a Grizzlies-Spurs frontline matchup could almost be called at even, but the Duncan factor gives the Spurs the edge. The Spurs deep bench and efficient guards would give the Spurs the nod in a series. Do not overlook Memphis though, especially if Rudy Gay (19ppg) returns to their lineup. This is a dangerous team for anyone to draw in the playoffs. 

Eastern Conference Contenders

  • 1. Boston Celtics (46-15) Frontline: Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Jermaine O”Neal, Troy Murphy, Nenad
    Kristic, The ghost of Shaquille O’Neal. 52.5ppg, 31.9rbd, 4.15blk, 53% of offense, 82% of rebounding, 2nd ranked defense. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal stats inputted considering they will both be ready for the playoffs. 

The Celtics seemed to have the advantage over the Spurs in the paint before the Green-Perkins trade. Now, the Celtics paint-control relies mainly on Garnett and Davis. Unless both O’Neals return at an extremely high level and Murphy works out, the Spurs should have the advantage in the paint.

  • 2. Chicago Bulls (44-18) Frontline: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, everything about Brian Scalabrine. 46.9ppg, 37rbd, 5.12blk, 48% of offense, 84% of rebounding, 1st ranked defense. 

The Bulls have one of the most defensive minded frontlines with Noah and Gibson each averaging 1.5 blocks per game. Even though Boozer is not a great defender, he is still as consistent as ever in the low block. Should the Spurs play the Bulls in June, they better be ready for one of the most physical-possession to possession series’ as there will be.

  • 3. Miami Heat (43-20) Frontline: Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, The ancient artifact of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eric Dampier, Juwan Howard. 37.9ppg, 29.7rbd, 4.25blk, 37% of offense, 70% of rebounding, 5th ranked defense. I included Haslem’s statistics with the impression he will be playing again by late March.

The Heat have the thinnest frontline, and with Chris Bosh containing the paint, it’s pretty much open to anyone wanting to take a stroll in there. However, the superstar talent on the wing positions will keep the Heat in any series. Overall though, as the Spurs and other teams have shown, there are just too many holes in the Heats’ defense. One penetration by a guard could open up two to three different options.

  • 4. Orlando Magic (40-24) Frontline: Dwight Howard, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson. 44.7ppg, 24.5rbd, 3.48blk, 45% of offense, 57% of rebounding, 4th ranked defense.

Though the Spurs would win the rebounding battle potentially, there isn’t one player who could guard Howard defensively one-on-one. Howard would get his points and the Spurs would need to contain the other players on the Magic from having a big night in order to keep control of a potential series in June.

  • 6. New York Knicks (33-29) Frontline: Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronney Turiaf, Sheldon Williams, Jared Jeffries, Reynaldo Balkman. 40.3ppg, 20.5rbd, 5.08blk, 38% of offense, 50% of rebounding, 13th ranked defense.

Like the Heat, the Knicks have a very thin frontline. They’ll get the nod over the Heat because their bench players are younger. In a potential matchup with the new look Knicks, the Spurs would have the edge, but Stoudemire having a big game is a trait he’s carried over from Phoenix. If the Spurs allow either Anthony or Stoudemire to have big nights yet control the rest of the Knicks, a match up in June would shift to the Spurs advantage.

Final Verdict

After going through every potential team the Spurs could face in the months of April and June, there is only one elite team that controls the paint much higher than any other team. The Lakers have the best frontline, but if one of their big men were to get in foul trouble, they would become prey for the Spurs run-in-gun onslaught.  

Some say, “We should have made a trade!” If the Spurs had went with that route, who was the key seven footer out in the trade market? And who would you want to trade to get him? Why ruin team chemistry when your team only had 10 losses at the time? Realistically, there aren’t a lot of post players available right before the trade deadline and the free agent market for them is scarce. Joel Pryzbilla, Carl Landry, Troy Murphy were a few names that may have been potential candidates; aside from Murphy, did you see what each team had to give up in order to acquire them? 

The Spurs aren’t the biggest team, but they also have a frontline unit built to contend. As I paraphrase Manu Ginobili on his response after the Spurs didn’t make a move at the trade deadline: Why interfere with something that is working?

Yes, the Lakers game looked like a volleyball match but the Lakers won’t always shoot nearly perfect from the perimeter. These types of losses like Orlando, New York, and Los Angeles have happened on occasion during the season. It’s just basketball, sometimes it’s your night, other days it’s “literally” their night. The Lakers or whomever may control the paint for one or two quarters, at the end of the game they may have a slight edge in rebounding, but numbers suggest the Spurs frontline will still be right there next to them at the end of the night.

The Spurs have only lost 12 games early in March, with that type of record, their frontline is holding ground well. Don’t you think?

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