Since Volume 3 of the Spurs’ 10-game evaluation, the Spurs went 7-3 over their next 10 games. Overall, the Spurs still have the third best record in the Western Conference at 27-13 through 40 games, despite San Antonio only having their full lineup just once this season. As has been done since the 10th game of the season, the following material is a breakdown of how the Spurs have fared this season on both ends of the court.
Section I. Scoring
Even though the Spurs have slowly started to bring Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker back into the fold, they haven’t been able to do it at the rate that allows them to build anything consistent on offense. With Leonard being on a 2-days of rest restriction plan and Parker not playing in back-to-backs, San Antonio hasn’t quite found their footing with the rotation. Throw in the new right heel injury for Rudy Gay that could sideline him beyond two weeks and Danny Green’s reoccurring groin injury, and it could still be a while before San Antonio has their full team on the floor, which will allow them to start putting together a consistent offensive game plan. For now, they’re still treading along as a league average offense.
One interesting quote coming from Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich Friday before San Antonio hosted the Phoenix Suns was about the Spurs’ 3-point shooting this season.
“If you can’t shoot, you can’t win,” said Popovich. “I think we’re a good example. I guess we’ve won decently but our 3-point shooting is drastically worse than it was last year and it shows in wins and losses. You’ve got to shoot the basketball.”
While the Spurs continue to be a low volume 3-point shooting team (24.5 attempts, 27th) like last season (23.5 attempts, 25th), it’s their accuracy that has drastically dropped this season. Last season, the Spurs made 39.1% of their 3-pointers, which made the most accurate team in the league. This season, they’re only making 36.1% of their 3-pointers, which is slightly below league average (36.5%) and ranks 16th in the NBA.
Not being able to make 3s means defenses are encouraged to double and cramp spacing on drives or pick-and-rolls, while they can also help and dig often on post-ups for Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, or Pau Gasol. Like Popovich mentioned, in the Spurs’ 27 wins, they’re making 38.9% of their 3-pointers. In their 13 losses, they’re making just 30.6% of their 3-pointers. That’s a difference of 8.3%. That’s basically saying they shoot like the best 3-point shooting team of Golden State in wins, but in losses, they shoot worse than the Lakers by almost 2%, who are currently the worst 3-point shooting team in the league.
Of the Spurs’ 10 core players (listed in the chart about usage percentage below), only four of those players are taking over 1.0 attempts and making over 36.5% of their 3-pointers, which is above league average. Those four players are Gasol, Bryn Forbes, Danny Green, and Patty Mills. While Leonard is trying to find his rhythm and shooting below league average, his other two high usage teammates in Aldridge and Gay are both shooting below league average from distance. Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker don’t take more than one three per game, so that allows defenses to help off them a bit more.
Leonard has a track record of being able to shoot above league average once he eventually gets more consistent minutes and games played. The two interesting players to watch going forward will be Aldridge and Gay. When all three of Leonard, Aldridge, and Gay are healthy, can they space the floor when one of them has the ball so that the defense can’t double team as often. That’ll be the interesting area to watch once all three players are fully healthy and playing together.
Where do the Spurs’ points come from?
When watching the Spurs, one player who has shown a knack of being able to score in the mid-range is Forbes. Since defenses know Forbes is a lethal outside shooter, they try to run him off the line. Forbes has shown he can consistently make the mid-range jumper off the dribble, and the data supports him, as he’s shooting 3.6% above league average from the mid-range area.
Using the NBA’s Usage Percentages for players, I created the chart below to show the Spurs’ 10 core players and how much of the team’s possessions they’ve been using when on the floor.
When the team is mostly whole, Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans, Brandon Paul, and Joffrey Lauvergne have been the players left out of the rotation, unless their specific skill set is needed for a particular game. So far, even when most of the team is whole, Forbes has been able to be a player Popovich has kept in the main rotation off the bench. However, in the Spurs’ recent win at New York, they had all players available except for Gay. Having mostly a whole squad, Popovich stuck with a shorter rotation that night and Forbes ended up logging just one minute in the game. In the future, when the team eventually does get fully healthy, it’ll be interesting to watch if the Spurs keep a 9 or 10-man rotation on the floor, because this could be a key indicator of who Popovich will be relying on when the playoffs eventually roll around.
Where do the Spurs rank in Offense thus far?
Section II. Ball Movement
You can really see how bringing two high usage players back from injury cautiously has had an effect on the Spurs’ assist numbers. Before San Antonio brought Parker back, the Spurs ranked 8th in assists per game with 23.2. Since Parker played his first game, the Spurs have been averaging 20.6 assists, which ranks 28th during that time frame.
Before Leonard returned, the Spurs were averaging 22.9 assists per game, which ranked 12th. Since he’s returned, the Spurs have only averaged 19.7 assists per game, which ranks dead last in the league during that time frame.
The players have mentioned it’s going to be a slow process of incorporating both players back into the lineup, not just because they’re already two high usage players to begin with, but, because they’re not getting consistent minutes or playing days due to the team being cautious in bringing them back. It’s going to take patience and time before the rest of the team finds a consistent balance with Parker and Leonard back on the floor.
Section III. Defense
With the Spurs having a league average offense so far, this season, a big part of why they’re still an elite team winning games is because of how good they’ve been on the other end of the floor – their defense. Despite having players in and out of the lineup, the team is showing that regardless of who is on the floor, they’re going to stick to their defensive game plan and execute their strategy night in and night out.
It’s kind of remarkable that in only having Leonard in 8 games this season, the Spurs have the second-best defense in the league regardless. This is credited to their coaches and the players, for continuing to execute a high level of defense. As you look through the metrics above, the Spurs are basically top-10 in almost every category listed in the table.
It’s going to get even more difficult for opposing offenses to play against the Spurs once Leonard gets more minutes and games, as the Spurs are already showing that with him on the floor defensively, they’re holding teams to 95 points per 100 possessions, which is 5 PP/100 better than the best defense in the league of the Celtics.
Where do the Spurs rank in Defense thus far?
Section IV. Record Vs. Elite teams (.600 Winning Percentage)
The Spurs are currently 3-4 against teams with records of .600 or above.
Houston Rockets: 0-1
Golden State Warriors: 0-1
Boston Celtics: 1-1
Toronto Raptors: 1-0
Minnesota Timberwolves: 1-1
Section V. The Next 10
The Spurs’ next 10 games will take place in the next 18 days. During that timeframe, San Antonio will mostly be on the road, as they have seven away games and just three home games. The Spurs will also have two back-to-back sets during this period. The Spurs will see teams they’ve already played before in the Blazers, Kings, Hawks, Nets, Raptors, Pacers, and Grizzlies during their next 10 games. For the first time this season, San Antonio will face the Lakers, Nuggets, and Cavaliers.
Data gathered from NBA.com/stats as of 01/06/2018 at 1:00 AM CST. Bench stats collected from HoopsStats.com after 39 games for San Antonio. Player Tracking stats collected after 39 games. Other stats collected from CleaningtheGlass.com as of 1:30 AM CST.