Duncan’s making a living on the perimeter


When Johnny Ludden writes about the Spurs, it’s wise to listen.
After spending years at the San Antonio Express-News as the Spurs beat writer, Ludden is the most reliable source of all information Black and Silver. Even though he has moved on to Yahoo and spends his time breaking down the entire NBA for a national audience, Ludden has clearer insight into the maddening mind belonging to Gregg Popovich. So when Ludden recently wrote a column about the Spurs early season struggles, it was a must read.
Strewn throughout the column are golden nuggets of information about the Spurs defensive philosophy (“Keep ball-handlers out of the middle of the lane; funnel them baseline into the arms of their shot-blockers; and don’t give up open 3-pointers from the corners.”), Tim Duncan’s leaderships abilities (“Duncan, too, has surprised some of his new teammates. “I didn’t know he had so much personality,” Mason said.”), and Pop’s beard (In truth, Popovich let it go untrimmed all summer after Duncan goaded him into it.”). But the most interesting piece of insight, at least to me, was about Pop encouraging Duncan to take more perimeter shots than normal.
This was something I had noticed in the few games that I could watch in NBA Hell, I mean, central Missouri. Duncan was not only attempting more 15-20 foot shots than normal but he seemed to be hitting them at a higher rate.
Ludden writes:

“Over the years, Duncan had become increasingly hesitant about firing from distance, figuring the team had better shooters who could do that. Popovich convinced him such indecision was creating too many end-of-the-clock situations for his teammates. More and more, he’s now committing to shooting the open jumper.”

So I wasn’t just making things up. Wanting to look at this a little closer, I checked out one of my favorite basketball research tools on the Internet – nba.com’s Hot Spots feature. If you haven’t checked it out, do it now. I’ll wait. Ok, now that you’re back, I find this tool handy when looking at how a player’s offensive game changes from year to year. Hot Spots shows where a player shots on the court and with what shooting percentage, breaking it into 14 different areas. Look at Tony Parker’s progression sometime. Very interesting.
I took at look at Duncan’s pages for this season and the last two seasons. Sure enough, even the numbers back up Ludden’s claim. In 2006-07, Duncan attempted 9.56% of his shots from the “perimeter”, making 37.9% of them. In 2007-08, Duncan attempted 12.06% of his shots from the “perimeter” and made 40.85%. This season he has attempted 17.89% of his shots from the “perimeter” and made 47.83%.
While this season is still young, it shows a shift in Duncan’s game. In two seasons he has increased the number of perimeter shots taken by nearly 90%. Even better, he is making them at a higher rate.
With Manu Ginobili back and Tony Parker back, I expect Duncan to find more looks inside and this number of perimeter shots to decrease. Both guards can create open space for Duncan besides the pick-and-pops he has been running with Roger Mason and George Hill. Still, I see this as a growing trend in Duncan’s game. If you haven’t noticed, Duncan hasn’t jumped in years. Really. I don’t think anybody else on the Spurs has their shot blocked more often than him. That’s not a knock on Duncan, just the way he plays. Spending more time taking 15-20 foot shots is easier on his body and might prolong his career.
Now if only he could do something about those free throws.