With 73% of their season now complete (60 games), the San Antonio Spurs still remain an elite team on both sides of the floor, and they’re still in position to not only win over 60 games, but they are actually able to see the number one overall seed in sight. With the loss of Kevin Durant for most likely the rest of the regular season, the Golden State Warriors have slipped to 50-11, which gives them just a 2.5 game lead in standings over the Spurs (47-13).
As usual, we’ll take a look at how the Spurs have been performing on both ends of the court through 60 games, by observing what the data says about San Antonio’s scoring, passing, and defense.
Section I. Scoring
The Spurs have declined just a bit offensively, and most of that can be attributed to two elements: 1) Pau Gasol was injured for a stretch of 15 games, and 2) even after Gasol returned, Dewayne Dedmon, who is known more for his defensive prowess, has become the Spurs’ fulltime starting center. While the Spurs’ starting lineup still scores 110.1 Pp/100 when Dedmon starts, Gasol starting games gave San Antonio a better starting unit offensively (112.8 Pp/100), but as Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich mentioned Wednesday, having Dedmon in the starting lineup overall gives the Spurs their best chance to win ball games.
While Dedmon brings energy and the ability to crash offensive boards, plus he can slip in for dunks or alley-oops off pick-and-rolls, he doesn’t provide as much fire power as Gasol does offensively, but the skills Dedmon brings to the defensive end of the floor are why the Spurs have decided to make the switch.
Let’s spend a few words discussing Kawhi Leonard and his MVP chances with 22 games left in the regular season for the media to decide where he might fall in the voting. The two names you often hear in the MVP debate this season are Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are also in the discussion, but with Durant’s unfortunate injury, his name will likely be excluded from the conversation. So, that leaves four candidates – Westbrook, Harden, James and Leonard. On paper, Westbrook and Harden look like the clear favorites from a stats perspective.
For Westbrook, Harden, and Leonard, the three of them are the only current All-Stars on their team. If you take this school of thought, then James is likely omitted because he has two current All-Stars in Kevin Love (who has been injured) and Kyrie Irving. While Westbrook is doing something that is rare in basketball (averaging a triple double), it might be tough for voters to give him first place votes because his team overall is just seventh in the Western Conference. While Harden’s team has a better record (3rd in the Western Conference) and his numbers are also eye popping, his defensive reputation could be used as an argument why he shouldn’t get the first place votes. Lastly, while Leonard doesn’t have the rebound or assist numbers of the other three players above, his defensive reputation should give him more consideration from voters, plus the fact that his team will most likely win over 60 games and possibly have the best record overall if San Antonio can overtake the Warriors in the standings.
When it comes down to it, the voters will most likely look past the defensive end of the floor and award one of Harden or Westbrook with the award. But, if Leonard and Spurs can claim the top-seed by the end of the season, how can the voters not give Kawhi the top slot when he has an elite defensive reputation, he is a force on offense like the others, and he’s the only All-Star on his team.
Where do the Spurs’ points come from?
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.
For the last 22 games of the season, the usage percentage to watch for the Spurs is Gasol. Will he begin to start getting more responsibility with the second unit? So far through four games coming off of the bench, Gasol has been averaging 15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 blocks in 25.8 minutes. Are these just numbers based off a small sample size, or is there a sustainable story in there with Gasol now anchoring the second unit alongside Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Jonathon Simmons and David Lee?
Where do the Spurs rank in Offense thus far?
Best: Golden State Warriors – 113.5 Pp/100
Spurs: 109.8 Pp/100 – 5th
League Average: Charlotte Hornets – 105.1 Pp/100
Worst: Philadelphia 76ers – 100.0
Section II. Ball Movement
While most of the Spurs’ passing data hasn’t increased or declined too much, it is interesting to note that San Antonio is a perfect 15-0 when they collect 28 or more assists in a game this season. With Gasol coming off the bench now, it’ll also be interesting to see if the Spurs’ top bench passing unit starts to increase their assists even more with Gasol in the mix.
Section III. Defense
Dedmon now starting has begun to show in the data, as the Spurs are playing their best defense of the season by holding teams to 100.7 Pp/100. 100.7 is the lowest Defensive Rating number the Spurs have had since the first 10 games of the season before all the offenses across the league started to increase their scoring. The opponent shots in the restricted area (26.9 attempts) and opponent field goal percentage (58.2%) in the restricted area are also areas where you can see Dedmon’s effect on the Spurs’ defense.
So far, every NBA team except the Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks are scoring over 100 points per game. With 28 teams across the league scoring over 100 points per game, holding teams below 100 points has been a difficult task for all teams except the Spurs, Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks. Those are the only four teams who are still able to hold opposing offenses below 100 points each night. The Spurs specifically have held 32 of their 60 opponents below 100 points this season.
Where do the Spurs rank in Defense thus far?
Best: San Antonio Spurs – 100.7 Pp/100
League Average: Boston Celtics – 105.8 Pp/100
Worst: Denver Nuggets 110.7 Pp/100
Section IV. Record Vs. Elite teams (.600 Winning Percentage)
The Spurs are currently 9-2 against teams with records of .600 or above.
Golden State Warriors: 1-0
Houston Rockets: 2-1
Cleveland Cavaliers: 1-0
Boston Celtics: 2-0
Utah Jazz: 1-1
Washington Wizards: 2-0
Section V. The Next 10
Over the Spurs’ next 10 games, they’ll see five teams below .500 (Minnesota twice, Sacramento twice, Portland), three teams above .500 (Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Memphis), and two teams above .600 (Golden State, Houston). The Spurs will have a home heavy schedule during that timeframe, as only three of those games will take place on the road. But, the Spurs will have three back-to-backs in progress during this stretch.
Data gathered from NBA.com/stats as of 03/04/2017. Bench stats collected from HoopsStats.com after 59 games for San Antonio. Passing stats collected after 58 games.