From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the San Antonio Spurs, who were seconds away from a fifth championship.
87.7 – Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Spurs’ starting lineup – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter – in 364 minutes together last season.
That mark was the league’s best among 58 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together and was over 15 points per 100 possessions better than the league average.
After eight years of defensive regression and two straight seasons of being ranked 11th on that end of the floor, the Spurs improved to third in defensive efficiency last season. And as beautiful as their offense has been over the last few years, it was the defensive improvement that got them back to The Finals.
San Antonio ranked sixth defensively on Dec. 23, when Gregg Popovich went to this starting lineup permanently (or at least, in games in which guys weren’t injured or resting). So they already were improved, and they basically allowed the same number of points per 100 possessions after that point (99.1) as they did before it (99.3).
But having a lineup that consistently holds opponents under 90 points per 100 possessions is a great way to start games. The new Spurs starters did just about everything well defensively.
Spurs starters defensive comparison
|All Spurs lineups||99.2||46.6%||35.3%||74.9%||15.3%||.235|
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
The lineup didn’t force a lot of turnovers, but it defended shots at a rate that would have led the league, rebounded at a rate that would have led the league (by far), and kept opponents off the free throw line at a rate that would have led the league (by far).
Among 67 players 6-10 and taller who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season, Duncan (2.03) averaged the fourth fewest fouls per 36 minutes. Splitter (2.90) was also below that group’s average of 3.38. Roy Hibbert, aka “Mr. Verticality,” averaged 4.43.
The playoffs brought new challenges, however. After Splitter sprained his ankle in the first round, he returned for Game 2 of the conference semifinals and that Spurs lineup struggled to defend the hot-shooting, small-ball Warriors.
But San Antonio survived that series and the lineup went on to allow the Grizzlies and Heat to score a paltry 78.0 points per 100 possessions over the next eight games. Here are some defensive possessions from those two series…
Spurs playoff efficiency with Parker, Green, Leonard,
Duncan and Splitter on the floor
The defense wasn’t enough to convince Popovich to keep the band together though. He inserted Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup for Game 5 of The Finals, a moved that helped Ginobili play his best game of the postseason and helped the Spurs get to within one win of their fifth championship. Splitter played just 23 minutes over the final three games, almost entirely as Duncan’s back-up.
Playoff series are small sample sizes and certain matchups can take what was a great lineup in the regular season and render it useless. And though that lineup defended well all year, it did struggle offensively in the postseason. The Spurs’ offense was much more efficient with an additional shooter on the floor.
But this lineup will be back on the floor to start this season. While the big three is a year older, Green (26), Leonard (22), and Splitter (28) have proven that they can pick up some of the slack. More importantly, the Spurs have reestablished themselves as a top-five defense.
If they stay relatively healthy this season, the best defensive lineup in the league could be on the floor for a lot more than 386 minutes. And that can make up for any offensive slippage.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions