In their 120-111 loss to the Utah Jazz Saturday, the San Antonio Spurs made a switch in the starting lineup as Davis Bertans started in place of Pau Gasol from the tip. Though the Jazz would go on to win because the Spurs’ defense had trouble containing Ricky Rubio and Utah’s offense, the Spurs did seem to have a solid night offensively, as they scored 111 points in the loss.
Overall through 56 games, offense has been the Spurs’ main area of concern, as San Antonio currently ranks 18th offensively, scoring 104.7 points per 100 possessions. When you go and look at what the numbers say about pairing Aldridge with Bertans instead of Gasol, the offense indeed sees a boost, while the defense suffers slightly.
Using the 2-man lineup statistics from NBA.com/stats, here are a few different metrics to look at when Aldridge is paired with either Gasol or Bertans this season.
Defensively, the numbers show the Spurs do slip on that end of the floor just a bit when Aldridge is paired with Bertans rather than Gasol. But, it’s not a vast difference. With Gasol, the Spurs play defense near the level of their own 2nd ranked defense this season. With Bertans, they drop to the level defensively of the Toronto Raptors, who are still the 3rd best defense in the NBA.
Offensively, you can see why the benefit of adding Bertans next to Aldridge outweighs the slip in defense. With Bertans next to Aldridge, the Spurs score the ball like the 5th best offense in the NBA of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When Gasol’s next to Aldridge, the Spurs’ offense drops near the 26th ranked offense of the Brooklyn Nets.
If you zoom in on the effective field goal percentage, you’ll see that the Spurs shoot 2.9% better with Bertans by Aldridge’s side rather than Gasol. While 2.9% might not seem like a lot, when compared to the eFG% of teams in the league, it’s like saying the Spurs shoot the ball like the 8th ranked 76ers in eFG%, rather than the 30th ranked eFG% of the Charlotte Hornets.
When you look at where the team gets their points from when Aldridge and Gasol are on the floor compared to Aldridge and Bertans, you’ll see that when it comes to adding the long ball, the Spurs look more-so like a 2018 NBA offense that spreads the floor.
|Lineups||Mid-Range||3PT||Free Throw||Points in the Paint|
|Aldridge & Gasol||20.8%||24.1%||13%||42.2%|
|Aldridge & Bertans||13.8%||31.6%||13.6%||41%|
There’s not much difference at the free throw line or in the paint when it comes to the Spurs collecting their points with either Gasol or Bertans next to Aldridge. But, with Gasol next to Aldridge, the Spurs get points from the non-paint two (mid-range) near the level of the Indiana Pacers, who get the most percentage of their points in the league from mid-range. With Gasol, the Spurs get 24.1% of their points from three, which is comparable to the Milwaukee Bucks, who rank 28th in getting points from the outside. With Bertans, the Spurs get 31.6% of their points from the long ball, which makes them more of a modern NBA offense, since that number is near the level of the Atlanta Hawks, who are ranked 9th in getting a percentage of their points from the 3-point line.
With Bertans on the floor, he’s not just a floor spacing spot-up 3-point shooter. You can also get him some open looks off screen action like the Spurs do in this clip from their Motion Weak set.
When Popovich was asked Monday if the Spurs will keep Bertans in the starting lineup next to Aldridge, Popovich responded, “We’ll see. We’ll see who’s healthy and who we’re playing and all that sort of thing and just make adjustments accordingly.”
While the offensive numbers do favor Bertans and Aldridge together, context does matter. Who are the other three players on the floor with them? Are there more 3-point shooters, or players who play closer to the rim? For example, with the starting lineup, Danny Green is the only player among he, Dejounte Murray, and Kyle Anderson who is known as a floor spacer. The spacing Bertans provides on offense can help Aldridge only to a certain degree that he can pull his defender away from the paint, like he does in this clip against Brooklyn.
Maybe Popovich started Bertans because the Jazz use a traditional frontcourt lineup of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, and he wanted to pull one of those bigs away from the paint so Aldridge could work with more space. Or, maybe starting Bertans will be a move he’s going to try for more games since the numbers show it gives the Spurs a boost in an area they need most right now without Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay. When the Rodeo Road trip begins Wednesday, whoever starts in the frontcourt alongside Aldridge could indicate if the Spurs are looking at making a move to try to get more points on the scoreboard, or continuing to ride the ship guided by their defense.