Frequent Shot Selection: 2018 and 2019 Spurs

Project Spurs illustration

I first learned about the concept of Threat Balance from Dean Oliver a few years ago. The basic idea is to use data to show where the biggest threats are on the floor for a team, in which for this study, I will focus on three key areas – scoring at the rim, from the mid-range, and beyond the arc.

Using the frequency and accuracy data from, I’ve developed two visual models to see which threats the San Antonio Spurs will have on the floor this coming season compared to the 2017-18 team.

The way I select the data is finding whether a player ranked at or above the 70th percentile for their position from that specific area on the floor, and next to the player’s name, I provide their accuracy from that placement on the floor.

For players who have their name in bold on the visual model, this means that their accuracy is also at or above the 70th percentile for their position, meaning, they’re one of the better shooters in the league from that area of the floor.

Here are the two models:

Data via @PaulGarciaNBA

Scoring at the rim: While Dejounte Murray will have his own responsibility to improve his accuracy when he tries to score near the rim, the Spurs have essentially swapped one accurate shooter near the rim for another in losing Kyle Anderson, but trading for Jakob Poeltl. Something to watch there is that Anderson was a player who could score on his own from the perimeter or post, whereas Poeltl will likely get his shot attempts rolling to the rim off a pick-and-roll or off an offensive rebound. Dante Cunningham’s data was used from his time with the New Orleans Pelicans last season because there was a larger sample size compared to the fewer games he played with the Brooklyn Nets.

Scoring from Mid-Range: Over the last three years, the Spurs have continued to zig while the rest of the league zagged, as San Antonio consistently ranks as one of the teams who get more of their points from the mid-range area. While the Spurs do have accurate mid-range shooters in Rudy Gay, Bryn Forbes, and DeMar DeRozan, they did lose Anderson’s mid-range accuracy, however, on the other hand, they also lost Tony Parker’s low 39% accuracy he shot last season.

Based on the data and considering their two go-to players will be Aldridge and DeRozan, the Spurs look like they’ll once again rank near the top of the league in getting points from the mid-range – it’s just how their roster is built.

Something Michael DeLeon and I discussed on the latest Spurscast was whether Aldridge and Pau Gasol will shoot more three point attempts now that the Spurs have a really good playmaker in DeRozan on the roster.

Scoring from three: Lastly, when it comes to three-point shooting, an area where the team struggled from last season, the Spurs still have two of their high-volume marksmen in Patty Mills and Davis Bertans, but, they’ve also added a more accurate Marco Belinelli in place of Danny Green when it comes to shooting from the outside. Belinelli’s data is used from his time in Philadelphia rather than Atlanta.

These numbers are all based on last season’s data and they don’t account for a few different factors, such as how each player could have a better or worse season shooting the ball from those distinct areas, or, younger players like Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV getting more playing time to possibly propel themselves into becoming threats from some of those areas.

For now, just before training camp, the threat balance model paints an early picture of who can space the floor and where San Antonio may get some of their shots from.

Quincy Pondexter’s data was not used in the models because he had a limited sample size last season with Chicago.


    • I do consider Forbes a long range shooter. However, for this study, I was using shooters who ranked at or above the 70th percentile in frequency from three. Forbes barely missed the list since he was in the 67th percentile. Thanks for taking the time to read the article.

  1. Nice work here Paul. I would love if you guys could put together an article with your prediction for the new team rotations and minutes distribution.

    My theory is:


    Gasol, LA, Gay, DeRozan, Murray

    Poeltl, LA, Cunningham, Derozan, Mills/White

    Poeltl, Gay, Cunningham, Walker, Mills

    The logic here is that Gay subs out early so that he can come back in when LA and DeMar sit. With LA and DeMar sitting, Gay and Walker can be our main creators on offense. Eventually, I see White taking the minutes of Mills. A trio of Gay, Walker and White could make for a decent bench scoring unit as all three of them can create their own shot.

    As for Bertans, Marco and Forbes, they probably just play spot minutes when we need more floor spacing and shooting (think typical Matt Bonner usage).

    Marco and Forbes especially concern me because of their defensive struggles. They probably have to be paired with Murray and never Mills.


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