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How the Spurs’ Recent Lineup Changes Can Benefit Their Offense

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Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Note: At the time of writing, the lineup numbers from the NBA’s stat site contained information from the Spurs’ Wednesday night game against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the shot tracking numbers seem to not include this game. I attempted to point out where the numbers only included two games rather than all three that have occurred since the lineup change.

Tony Parker’s move to the bench after being the San Antonio Spurs’ starting point guard since 2001 has been much discussed as a move that encapsulates Spurs’ culture. This is indeed true, as Parker has seemingly selflessly embraced his new role as both backup point guard and mentor to Dejounte Murray. The most obvious result of this move is that Murray will get a sizable increase in playing time and offensive responsibilities. Parker and Patty Mills have both received change in roles through this move, too, however, and these are moves that could benefit both of their seasons.

In the 66 minutes that he has played since the lineup change was made, Mills has not been on the court without Parker or Murray. This has allowed Mills to be a more pure shooter rather than a primary ball handler. In the three games since the lineup change, Mills has made 2.7 three’s on 6.0 attempts, good for 44.4%. These numbers are up from his season averages of 1.7 three-pointers made a game on 4.7 attempts (38.8%). While this is a fairly small sample size, the reason for the increase is sound and there is reason to believe that his shooting numbers won’t regress back to his current season averages after several games.

Before the lineup change, 38% of Mills’ shots could be categorized as catch and shoot. That number has jumped to 77% in the two games that nba.com’s stat site has shot tracking data for since. The percentage of shots that Mills takes without dribbling the ball has more than doubled since the change as well. While these percentages may be a bit extreme due to small sample size, it is clear that the Spurs’ role for Mills is now a spot-up shooter off the bench, a role in which he can excel.

The spacing that he provides through that shooting can help Murray excel on offense as well. In the 23 minutes they have played together since the lineup change, lineups featuring both Mills and Murray are outscoring opponents by 17.5 points per 100 possessions. This particular combination of guards provides not only a symbiosis on offense but on defense as well, as Murray has the length to guard the league’s bigger guards, allowing Mills to match up with opposing team’s point guards on that end of the court.

Parker has benefited from the change as well. Since the lineup change, Parker has seen increases in points per game, field goal percentage and assists per game. While these increases may drop off a bit, an rise in production makes sense. While Parker has lost explosiveness as he has aged and doesn’t have the skillset of a typical star point guard in today’s NBA, he can excel as a backup point guard.  Having Parker drive and kick to Spurs’ bench players will benefit them as well, certainly. Since moving to the bench, for instance, Parker has played 35 minutes with Bryn Forbes. Lineups that have both players have outscored opponents by 8.6 points per 100 possessions.

While there will be growing pains for these new lineups at some point over the next couple weeks, it appears as if moving Parker to the bench and starting Murray will overall have a positive effect on the Spurs’ offense, which has been average this season. The next test will be re-incorporating the Spurs’ injured players into these new lineups.

All stats obtained from nba.com/stats.

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