Limit elbow touches, paint touches, post touches and passes out of the post. Simple right?
The Spurs are a juggernaut offensively, this isn’t new news. The Spurs have the 3rd best offense according to the offensive rating metric and are widely known for their use of crisp ball movement to create scoring opportunities.
So I decided to do a deep dive on the spurs offensive ball movement and see if there were any cracks and more specifically trends in losses this year that defenses could target and mimic.
If looking deep into data has taught me anything, we should never assume what we see when watching games is necessarily always true. So let’s back up the Spurs magical ball movement with some facts.
You can see below the Spurs are in the top few teams in the below metrics which demonstrates the ball is being moved a lot and generating assists. The use of elbows and post touches is a key to the Spurs offense:
Now that we have established the metrics the Spurs rank highly on offensively in terms of ball movement, let’s have a look for any trends in losses this year that a defense may be able to target and replicate.
I have specifically narrowed my analysis down to Spurs losses in any game after January 1, 2016*. I chose this based on my own assumption that teams prior to January 1 are in the forming stage and the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders. I also assumed the Spurs prior to January 1 are bringing LaMarcus Aldridge and a number of other new role players up to speed in how to run the offense and therefore losses prior to January 1 could be down to chemistry issues and teams feeling each other out and not necessarily having targeted defensive schemes.
So what did I find?
All Spurs losses post January 1 have similar trends (except for a loss vs the Hornets who came back from being 23 points down to beat the Spurs, Jeremy Lin went crazy). I have assumed the Hornets game as an outlier, counting the Hornets game doesn’t skew the data a lot but counting it does mask a few trends that are important factors in all other Spurs losses.
Let’s have a look at the same metrics as above but now for Spurs losses post January 1 and how much each metric was reduced by:
At a high level what are the numbers telling us:
How to replicate what has worked in Spurs losses? Defensive schemes should focus on and measure the following (in order):
1. Reduce Elbow touches by > 24.9% (Reduction of 5.5 per game, allows for 16.6 elbow touches)
2. Reduce paint touches by > 22.3% (Reduction of 3.8 per game, allows for 13.2 paint touches)
3. Reduce post touches by > 10.9% (Reduction of 2.4 per game, allows for 19.6 post touches)
4. Reduce passes out of post by > 18.9% (Reduction of 1.19 a game, allows for 5.61 passes from the post per game)
It is impossible to totally stop any team from getting the ball where they want it let alone the Spurs, but the above numbers show the reductions in touches to key spots on the court are very achievable with a focused defense and has an impact on the Spurs offense.
The total reductions above by a defense is 12.89 times a game. Just over 3 possessions a quarter, again VERY achievable.
What else does implementing the above 4 schemes help achieve?
We shouldn’t assume applying the above 4 schemes broadly against all Spurs players is the answer either, certain players need to be targeted in certain spots.
Now I dive deeper again into the data and focus on Aldridge, Duncan, Diaw, West and Leonard individually in post January 1 losses.
*Warning* Stick with me here. The below starts going into a fair bit of detail, if your eyes start glazing over then scroll down to the bottom where I summarize everything that should be passed onto coaches to implement and in simple terms.
Reducing Elbow Touches:
Reducing Paint Touches:
Reducing Post Touches:
Passes out of post:
(Scroll down to here for anyone lost by the nerdy stuff above)
To summarize everything clearly into a scouting report for coaches:
So the above post went into a little more detail then I usually like and obviously there are many ways a team can be stopped offensively. What the above does highlight are the common trends in Spurs losses and what teams coming into the playoffs should consider looking at if they face the Spurs.
Especially if you aren’t a Golden State Warriors like team who can just outscore anyone!
*The SportVu data (www.stats.com) collected for this post was based on all Spurs game except for the last game vs the Golden State Warriors