The San Antonio Spurs are facing a four game losing streak six games into the early season after a blowout loss to the Utah Jazz Sunday by 21 points.
During their 2-4 start to the season, the Spurs have faced two games where the opponent had a comfortable lead heading into the 4th quarter, and that was the December 30 14-point loss the Lakers and Sunday’s game to the Jazz.
There’s one common element to both of those losses and that’s the gap in 3-point scoring between the Spurs and their opponent on that night.
In that loss to the Lakers, Spurs were outscored 42-30 from the 3-point line. 32% of the Lakers shots attempts that night came from three and they drilled 54% of those looks.
The Spurs only allowed 46% of the Lakers 3s to be taken wide open (6+ feet from a defender), but when the Lakers got a wide open three, they were a scorching 8/12 (67%) on those looks.
The players who made the most of the 3s they got in that game were Wesley Matthews (18 points from three) and Dennis Schroder (9 of his 21 points from three).
Fast forward to Sunday’s game and the Jazz outscored San Antonio 63-18 from the 3-point line. 46% of the Jazz shots attempts came from three and they made 51% of those attempts.
54% of the Jazz 3s were wide open and they made 50% of those wide open 3s. The players getting the most out of their 3-point looks for Utah were Bojan Bogdanovic (18 of 28 points), Donovan Mitchell (15 of 22 points), Royce O’Neale (9 of 11 points), and Mike Conley (9 of 15 points).
I went back and watched the film of all the players from the Jazz and Lakers mentioned above and here were some common observations from these games:
Miscommunication on Transition Defense – Often when the opponent pushed the ball up the floor after a Spurs miss or turnover, the Spurs didn’t communicate and all it took was one or two passes to get the opponent a wide open three.
Defending drive and kick action – In the halfcourt, these teams were able to drive and kick by using their dribble penetration to get the Spurs’ help defense scrambling. The Spurs would sometimes make it to the shooter, but instead of closing out properly, the shooter would use a shot fake to side step and get a quality look. This was something Bogdanovic did often.
Drop defense – Not every team has a Donovan Mitchell who can be dangerous with his pull-up three against drop action by the defense, but this is something to note when the Spurs play offensive players who can pull-up from three off a pick-and-roll or dribble-hand-off. The Spurs’ defensive strategy is to have their bigs drop on pick-and-rolls to limit paint attempts or help on drives, so they sacrifice the mid-range and 3-point line if the wing defender isn’t able to get around the screen. This was something Mitchell did often, as he used that tiny bit of space to get a good 3-point look against the Spurs’ defense.
Zone Looks – When the Spurs are struggling to guard the 3-point line in their man defense, they’ll shift to a zone at times, and sometimes the defense is able to move the ball around to get a quality shot from three against the zone. Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said when the Spurs went to the zone in the second half against Utah, he thought their defense was better on the 3-point line.
Individual errors – When you go back and watch the tape, you’ll find some of the Spurs’ errors are just by individual players losing focus on a possession and the defense makes them pay. You might see a Spurs player guarding a 3-point shooter, he looks toward another player driving in and then when he turns around to find his man, the 3-point shooter is wide open and he drills a three off the pass from the player driving.
These are the common observations I noticed when watching the film and one thing to note is some of those shots the opponent makes are when the Spurs play good defense and the ball just goes in the basket despite that good shot contest. But, when a player makes 3-6 three pointers in a game, that moves beyond just it being a lucky night for one player.
For the season, opponents are generating 58% of their 3s as wide open six games into the season against the Spurs defense. On average, opponents shoot 43% on wide open 3s. It’s games like the Lakers and Jazz games where those wide open 3s go in at a high rate that really stick out.
The Spurs for the season only allow 32 threes per game to the opponent, which is 5th in the league at giving up the fewest attempts. But, teams are shooting 41% from three against them, ranking San Antonio 28th in opponent 3-point accuracy.
The Spurs though have to make and generate more 3s on the other end, or shoot more efficiently when attacking the rim.
When looking at the math game through 6 games (keep in mind small sample size), the trend is back from the last two seasons – the Spurs’ biggest gap being at the 3-point line.
They’re outscoring opponents by 6 on paint and mid-range 2s, outscoring opponents by 12 at the free throw line, but getting outscored by 45 points from three.
It’s still early in the season and the Spurs can continue working on getting better defensively with more time together and especially since they’re playing players on the wing who provide versatility defensively in Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, and Keldon Johnson. When Derrick White gets healthy, they have to hope adding another player who can help with 3-point shooting and defense will help in these early areas of concern.