What’s going on with the Spurs’ Starting Lineup?

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Anyone who has watched a San Antonio Spurs game over the past week or so has probably seen the Spurs’ per quarter point differential stats that Sean Elliot and Bill Land have highlighted on Fox Sports Southwest. In the first and third quarters, the Spurs are consistently being out-scored by opponents and in the second and fourth quarters, they are consistently out-scoring opponents. One way to read this is that the Spurs’ starting lineup has been outscored by Spurs’ opponents and the bench has brought them back into games. 

What is happening when the starting lineup is in that is causing the Spurs to get outscored by opponents? In lineups with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs have an above-average offense, scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions, ranking in the 64th percentile among all lineups that have played at least 100 possessions.

Their defense, however, is more of a problem. In those lineups, Spurs’ opponents are scoring 120.5 points per 100 possessions, ranking them in the 4th percentile of all lineups defensively. 

Spurs’ opponents are shooting very well against these lineups, with an effective field goal percentage of 59.2%, ranking the Spurs’ defense in the 2nd percentile. Spurs’ opponents are shooting well from each area of the court, but one area, in particular, stands out – the rim. Spurs’ opponents are taking 38.5% of their shots at the rim and making 67.1% of them, both ranking in the bottom 20th percentile in the league. 

There are a few changes the Spurs can make to improve these lineups. Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich said that Derrick White could return as soon as this weekend, which could help the Spurs’ perimeter defense. This would likely mean that Lonnie Walker or Keldon Johnson would be moved to the bench.

One idea to help the defense at the rim is to move the other to the bench as well and start Jakob Poeltl. Spurs’ opponents are only making 52.7% of their shots at the rim against lineups with Poeltl, ranking in the 98th percentile for all lineups.

This move would make the Spurs’ starting lineup bigger and their bench lineup smaller. While both the starters and the bench are trying to play like the “Bubble Spurs” did, this style doesn’t play to the Spurs’ strengths when both DeRozan and Aldridge are on the court together.

While starting Poeltl may cause the starting lineup to play slower, that may improve the defense and work to the offensive strengths of DeRozan and Aldridge. Walker and Johnson, both deserved starters, would be good fits in the bench offense. 

If the Spurs could make a change that would cause their starting lineup to be a positive group, their hunt for a playoff spot would become much easier this year. Finding a way to keep their opponents from shooting at the rim and make those shots at the rim more difficult would be a big step towards that goal.

All stats from CleaningTheGlass.com

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