The combination of a high number of turnovers and a low frequency in 3-point attempts usually means the result for a team would be a loss. For the San Antonio Spurs, since they don’t take many 3-point attempts, nor play a run-and-gun style of offensive attack, taking care of the basketball must be a priority since error with turnovers can have a larger negative impact in the grand scheme of a whole game.
Last Monday, the Spurs narrowly escaped with a 4-point win over the Toronto Raptors after coughing the ball up a season-high 20 times. The Spurs executed against the Miami Heat with only 13 turnovers later that week, but then on Friday in Orlando, the turnovers impacted the Spurs’ ability to win the game against the Magic, as San Antonio was run off the floor after turning the ball over 19 times.
Sunday, in their sixth game without Kawhi Leonard, the turnovers issue once again plagued the Spurs. Though San Antonio still had a chance to win the ball game after leading by 9-points with 6:44 left, luck wasn’t on their side, as Victor Oladipo made a contested 3-pointer to give the Indiana Pacers the lead late in the ball game, and LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills both missed late shot attempts to win or send the game to overtime.
As the Spurs now find themselves 4-2 in the early season, they’ll see that they’ve been able to survive a bit without Leonard, but, with the extra added responsibility to some role players and while trying to integrate two new players into the rotation, San Antonio has seen in recent losses to Orlando and Indiana, that they’ll need to address the turnover situation.
In their two losses to the Pacers and Magic, the Spurs have averaged 17.5 turnovers per game. Turning the ball over leads to better shooting from the opponent, as they’re getting easier opportunities to score in transition. Usually, when San Antonio is operating as a Top-10 offensive unit, they can recover from high turnover games, however, without Leonard, they’re currently operating as a bottom-10 offensive unit, as they rank 20th in points per possession (103.6 PP/100) according to CleaningtheGlass.com. The Spurs are turning the ball over on 15.6% of their possessions, which makes them a little worse than league average (16th) and without Leonard, they’re not getting additional points from the free throw line, as they have a free throw rate of 19.1 free throw makes per 100 possessions (19th in NBA).
Last season the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Warriors both ranked in the bottom-10 for turnovers per game, but, both teams could afford to do that because of their high volume of three-point attempts and makes. The Spurs currently rank last in 3-point frequency (21% of their shots) and 25th in accuracy (32.8% from 3-point range). The message is clear for now, without the additional scoring, defense and playmaking of Leonard, San Antonio can’t afford to dig themselves in holes with turnovers.
After re-watching all the turnovers from the game against Indiana, you’ll see that a large portion of the turnovers are happening for a few reasons. First, there’s the fact that the Spurs only have seven players from last season’s team playing key roles in LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Dejounte Murray, Manu Ginobili, and Patty Mills. While doing this, the Spurs have been bringing in newcomers Rudy Gay and Brandon Paul into core minutes. Bringing in new players means there will be some hiccups along the way as the new players and old players will need time to develop chemistry in where to find each other on the floor.
One other important aspect that needs to be considered since Leonard is out is that other role players like Green, Murray and Anderson, are being asked to do a little bit more in terms of playmaking. This was evident in a few off reads in the pick-and-roll or when trying to create a drive-and-kick possession against Indiana. The video clip below shows exactly how growing pains will happen this early in the season as Mills is expecting Paul to be in the normal motion set position on the outside of the arc in the first clip, and then in the second clip, Green runs a route traditionally made for Leonard and Tony Parker, but, when the defense corrals him, he looks for a corner shooter, and that player isn’t there.
For the Spurs, considering they’ve already had three games with over 18 turnovers, it might be more positive that they’re 4-2 rather than 3-3 minus Leonard. Going back to Sunday’s game against Indiana, San Antonio still had several chances to win that game. If the ball had gone out for Oladipo or if Aldridge or Mills had made their late-game buckets, maybe San Antonio is sitting at 5-1. It’s best these types of hiccups happen early in the season, as they can be part of the development process to a new season. However, even when Leonard eventually returns, the Spurs have to make sure to monitor this turnover issue so that it doesn’t become a long term problem that brings forth more losses.
All stats used via NBA.com/stats and CleaningtheGlass.com