The Core Nine


After departing San Antonio with a five-game winning streak, the Spurs have kicked off the 2019 Rodeo Road trip with a four-game losing streak. One player who missed all four road games was Derrick White, who is back on the injured list recovering from right heel soreness.

White is a member of what I refer to as the core nine, or nine key rotation players for the Spurs. Rewind back to December, when the Spurs played their best basketball in an individual month, going 11-5 and outscoring opponents by 10.3 points per game. A part of that success was Head Coach Gregg Popovich shortening the rotation to nine specific players – White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge as the starters, and Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, and Jakob Poeltl establishing the second unit.

Those nine players played together in 13 of the 16 December games, and the Spurs went 8-5 when they all played in the same game, outscoring opponents by a total of 118 points in those contests.

So, I was interested in going back to the beginning of the season and seeing how often these nine core players have been in the same game together. Here were the results based on month, win-loss record, and total point differential.

Month Win-Loss Record Total Point Differential
November 2-6 -75 total points
December 8-5 +118 total points
January 4-1 +37 total points
February 1-0 + 5 total points

Overall, the Spurs are 15-12 with their nine core players present in games. They’ve only had those nine players in the same game for just 47% of their games so far this season, and that number will continue to decline when White misses Tuesday’s game in Memphis. If you take all 27 games when the core nine are together, they barely have a positive point differential of +3.2 points per game.

However, there is another lens to look at with the core nine. Back during the December homestand, the Spurs changed part of their defensive scheme and they played their best defense of the season for several games.

So, when you take out November, you see a different core nine. From December onward, the Spurs are 13-6 with the core nine and that group has a point differential of +8.4 points per game.

While right now in early February it looks like the Spurs are falling apart – falling behind by over 15 points on the road trip in each game and allowing the opponent to score over 125 points, it’s important to remember that they’ve only had their nine best players available in the same game just six times since the calendar turned to 2019.

The Spurs are hoping to get White back healthy after the All-Star break, and if that’s the case, they’ll have a chance to once again bring the core nine together and try to go on a post-All-Star break run that could potentially provide a playoff berth.

With Dejounte Murray out for the season and Lonnie Walker IV only being a rookie with limited NBA experience, the Spurs need to have their core nine players healthy and ready when the playoffs arrive (should they qualify) to go as far as this squad can take them in the postseason.


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