There has been much made about the San Antonio Spurs’ struggles on the road this season. While many teams often play better at home than away, the difference in play for this team is especially apparent, as it has led the Spurs to their first losing season on the road since before they drafted Tim Duncan.
Many have pointed to the drop off on offense as easily the largest factor to their difficulty to win games outside of the AT&T Center – which is corroborated by many metrics. Maybe the most illustrative of those metrics is their offensive rating, which drops 6.3 points per 100 possessions on the road. Apart from the Spurs’ shooting, which does decline significantly on the road, it can get tricky to pin down the exact cause of these stretches that the Spurs face in most away games when they struggle to score a basket for minutes at a time.
The Spurs commit turnovers on a smaller percentage of their possessions on the road, they are better at getting to the line on the road, they are holding opponents to a lower effective field goal percentage on the road, and they are not sending their opponents to the free throw line more often on the road than they do at home.
They do, however, allow opponents to grab 2.6% more of their own misses on the road than they do at home, and force turnovers on 0.8% fewer possessions on the road. While the Spurs commit a smaller percentage of turnovers and grab a larger percentage of their own misses on road than their opponent, that difference is not enough to overcome an effective field goal percentage 1.4 % worse than their opponents.
Shot selection weighs heavily into this equation. The Spurs shoot the 5th least amount of 3-point attempts per 100 possessions in the league and own the 6th worst percentage of converting those attempts in the league, home or away. This underscores one of the Spurs’ greatest weaknesses all season – they don’t have enough shooting on the floor at any given time.
The absence of Kawhi Leonard compounds this issue twofold. Leonard is a strong 3-point shooter, converting 38% of his attempts last season while attempting 5.2 a game. The space he created for his teammates from long distance has affected the team as well. Every single player who was on the Spurs’ roster last season is shooting a lower percentage from 3-point range this season, with the exception of Bryn Forbes.
The Spurs are not as bad on the road as their record would indicate, however. The stats site at CleaningTheGlass.com uses a formula to predict a team’s record based on its net rating. Team’s with an overall net rating that is similar to the Spurs’ net rating on the road (+0.3 points per 100 possessions) win about 50% of their games, even. The Spurs are only winning 37% of their games on the road, however. For perspective, if the Spurs would have won 50% of their road games to this point in the season, their current record would be 48-27, which would have them securely third in the Western Conference.
Their inability to create solid, high percentage shots in the clutch is a major factor in their worse-than-expected road record. Of their 38 played road games, the score has been within 5 points or less with 5 minutes or less in 16 games, and they have had the 4th worst record in games of such criteria away from the AT&T center since the start of the calendar year.
This potentially speaks to larger difficulties the Spurs could face in the playoffs, when teams spend more time and effort game-planning against a certain offense. The simplest remedy may be an improved 3 point shooting percentage across the board, but without a perimeter player with the gravity of Leonard, that may be a difficult proposition.
All stats from NBA.com/stats unless otherwise noted.