Spurs 10-Game Evaluation: Volume 1

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    A new season is upon the San Antonio Spurs as they’ve already gone through 10 games of their 2017-18 regular season without All-Star Kawhi Leonard, guard Tony Parker, and seven games minus Joffrey Lauvergne. Despite missing three key players, the Spurs have managed to go 6-4 in their first 10 games. Now that a 10-game sample size is available, it’s time to evaluate how the Spurs have fared on both ends of the floor in this early season and where they rank amongst their peers in different categories.

    This will be Volume 1 of the Spurs’ 10-game evaluation. Going forward, an evaluation will be conducted after every 10 games the Spurs play this season to track which type of direction their team is headed.

    Section I. Scoring


    Category Volume 1 Rank
    Offensive Rating (PP/100) 100.6 PP/100 25th
    Points Per Possession 104.5 PP/100 22nd
    Halfcourt Points Per Play 87.6 PP/100 26th
    True Shooting % 51.6% 28th
    Above the Break 3-Point % 31.8% 27th
    Corner 3-Point % 45.7% 6th
    Bench Points Per Game 38.7 points 9th

    Without their All-NBA player in Leonard, the Spurs are bottom five in offense right now. They’ve had a few spurts here and there of showing dominance for a half or a quarter, but overall, the offensive end of the floor is still the area where they’re struggling the most. As the data shows above, whether in the half or full court, San Antonio ranks near the bottom of league in scoring the basketball. Based on their true shooting percentage, the Spurs have been struggling to make shots from three key areas in the floor overall, 3-point range, and the free throw line. With the team bringing in new comers Rudy Gay and Brandon Paul, while also asking role players to increase their responsibility, eventually with more time on the floor together, San Antonio’s offense should start to slowly become more efficient. Once Leonard returns, the offense should be able to increase its production furthermore.

    Two numbers the Spurs can look at as a positive early on is their corner 3-point shooting, which ranks 6th in the NBA and their bench points. With the Spurs’ offensive attack being centered toward LaMarcus Aldridge in post-ups, good ball movement will open corner 3s. With a bench unit primarily of Dejounte Murray, Manu Ginobili, Bryn Fobres, Paul and Gay, the Spurs’ bench unit is still scoring as a top-10 unit already, and that’s before Leonard and Parker return, which would mean Kyle Anderson and Patty Mills will also return to the bench.

    Where do the Spurs’ points come from?

    Area Volume 1 Rank
    Points in the Paint 44.6% 5th
    3-Pointers 22.8% 29th
    Free Throws 16.3% 15th
    Mid-Range 16.2% 4th

    With the offense running through Aldridge mainly out of the post, as well as spread pick-and-roll attacks with all their bigs being able to shoot 3s, the Spurs rank 5th in generating points from the paint. Aldridge’s ability to make the non-paint two is still important as well for the Spurs’ offense, as they’re still getting 16.2% of their scoring from the mid-range area. Once Leonard returns, the Spurs’ percentage of points from three should slightly increase, as well as the percentage of points they get from the free throw line. That’ll mean the percentage of points coming from the paint will slowly start to decrease.

    Using the NBA’s Usage Percentages for players, I created the chart below to show the Spurs’ 10 core players and how much of the team’s possessions they’ve been using when on the floor.

    As mentioned above, with Leonard and Parker out, the Spurs are asking Gay to be their second playmaker behind Aldridge for now, while you’ve also seen an increase in usage from numerous role players like Forbes, Danny Green, Anderson and even Paul, who is barely starting his rookie season.

    The interesting dynamic to watch when Leonard returns will be to see just how much of Aldridge’s usage decreases and if the Spurs can find a balanced attack to keep Aldridge and Leonard’s production efficient with less possessions for both.

    Where do the Spurs rank in Offense thus far?

    Since it’s still early in the season, the Spurs are closer to the Houston Rockets, who are second in offensive rating with 108.4 Points per 100 possessions, rather than being almost 9 PP/100 closer to the league worst offense of the Chicago Bulls. The Warriors right now offensively are in a rank of their own.

    Section II. Ball Movement

    Category Volume 1 Rank
    Assists 21.7 assists 18th
    Turnovers 14.6 turnovers 6th
    Turnover % 15.0% 10th
    Assisted Made Baskets 58.3% 10th
    Passes Per Game 314.1 Passes 8th
    Secondary Assists Per Game 3.8 assists 3rd
    Bench Assists Per Game 8.9 assists 5th

    With new players and their go-to option on offense in Leonard out for now, the Spurs are working to become a better passing unit. It should be noted that they have had a 30-assist game, which is a key stat in showing when teams are really excelling at moving the ball on certain nights. Since the Spurs are having to mainly run most possessions in the halfcourt as post-ups, that tends to allow defenses to shrink the floor, which means less assists when baskets are made. The key area the Spurs need to focus on is the turnovers. In most of their losses this season, San Antonio has turned the ball over more than 15 times, which allows easy baskets on the other end for the opponent. If the Spurs take care of the ball like their season average is showing, they’ll be able to hang around in ball games despite the poor shooting numbers.

    The one pass the Spurs are already a Top-5 unit in making is the good to great pass, or the hockey assist. Being ranked the third best in this category gives an indication that the Spurs’ new players are more willing passers to try to get their teammates even better shots than the one they might have.

    Section III. Defense

    Category Volume 1 Rank
    Defensive Rating (PP/100) 101.9 PP/100 12th
    Opponent Points Per Possession 104.9 PP/100 14th
    Opp Halfcourt Points Per Play 93.4 PP/100 24th
    Opp eFG% 53.6% 22nd
    Blocks Per Game 6.7 BPG 2nd
    Opp Offensive Rebound % 15.5% 2nd
    Opp Free Throw Rate 18.7 FTM 12th
    Opp Frequency Off Live Rebounds 30.1% 13th
    Opp Points Added off Live Rebounds +0.2 PP/100 6th
    Opp Points in the Paint 43.2 PPG 17th
    Opp Restricted Area Shots 26.6 FGA 14th
    Opp Restricted Area FG% 60.9% 12th
    Contested 3PT Shots 18.2 FGA 23rd
    Opp Corner 3 Shots 6.0 FGA 16th
    Opp Corner 3 FG% 45.0% 28th
    Opp Above the Break 3 shots 20.1 FGA 6th
    Opp Above the Break 3 FG% 34.8% 15th

    After Sunday’s win against the Phoenix Suns, Pau Gasol said the Spurs’ focus right now has to be defense. Gasol said as long as the Spurs execute their defensive game plan, they’ll be able to have their best chance at winning each game. Being without a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard, the Spurs have managed to stay better than league average defensively. Running two bigs in Gasol and Aldridge, the Spurs have had their way in blocking shots at an elite level, while they’re also winning the rebounding battle more often and keeping opponents from having second chance looks. However, with Lauvergne out, the Spurs have had to go small earlier with their second unit and that means teams are getting more points and attempts in the restricted area. Still, even in the restricted area, the Spurs are hovering around league average when it comes to defending the paint.

    The one area where playing two bigs can affect the Spurs’ defense is at the 3-point line. Teams are getting a good chunk of uncontested threes and shooting a very high percentage from the corners right now on the Spurs’ defense. Part of this is playing two bigs and the other parts are not having Leonard and trying to build chemistry in knowing where to be on help and rotations with new players and other players getting increased minutes.

    The metric that shows effort and hustle is how the Spurs are getting back on live rebounds. With San Antonio not shooting very well right now, their defense is playing some elite transition defense in getting back to prevent points on the other end, as teams are only adding 0.2 Points per 100 possessions on live rebounds each game. The Spurs are also doing a pretty good job of not fouling opponents and sending them to the free throw line despite not having Leonard.

    Where do the Spurs rank in Defense thus far?

    The Spurs might be able to bump themselves into a Top-10 defensive unit without Leonard, but once he returns, they should be able to return to a Top-5 defensive team too.

    Section IV. Record Vs. Elite teams (.600 Winning Percentage)

    Category Currently
    Winning Percentage 25%
    Record 1-3

    The Spurs are currently 1-3 against teams with records of .600 or above.

    Golden State Warriors: 0-1

    Boston Celtics: 0-1

    Minnesota Timberwolves: 1-0

    Orlando Magic: 0-1

    Total: 1-3

    Section V. The Next 10

    The Spurs’ next 10 games will take place over 21 days, with meetings against teams they’ve already seen in the Bulls, Timberwolves, and Hornets, but, San Antonio will also face the following teams for the first time this season; the Clippers, Bucks, Mavericks (twice), Thunder, Hawks, and Pelicans.

    Data gathered from NBA.com/stats as of 11/05/2017 at 10:00 PM CST. Bench stats collected from HoopsStats.com after 9 games for San Antonio. Player Tracking stats collected after 9 games. Other stats collected from CleaningtheGlass.com as of 10:00 PM CST.

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    Stephen Michael 26, is a journalist, social media coordinator, host, and entertainment reporter. Michael graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and earned a Master's Degree in Digital Media in 2020 from the University of the Incarnate Word. He has worked covering the San Antonio Rampage, Stars, and San Antonio Futbol Club. He was the host of the Project Spurs Roundtable on NBC affiliate News 4 San Antonio from 2015-17.

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