San Antonio Spurs News

MySynergySports: How do the Spurs use their possessions?

By Quixem Ramirez

April 17, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) controls the ball against the defense of Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World Peace (15) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

(Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of posts that detail the San Antonio Spurs in a much more defined, analytical light. Statistics courtesy of the excellent MySynergySports.)

The San Antonio Spurs’ offense was the most efficient, deadly, consistent and downright unstoppable offense in the league — and for an entire month, they were ridiculous.

This offense, meanwhile, operates under the assumption that passing invariably leads to solid looks from the perimeter. It’s odd, on the surface, because it’s directly antithetical to the usual attack of choice which is generally the inefficient isolation attempt.

Even the most efficient isolation teams — both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers used an average of 1000 of these possessions last season, and both coincidentally rank among the top offenses in the league — stand to improve by allocating these attempts into spot-ups, cuts, pick-and-rolls, etc.

San Antonio continues to challenge this methodology. They don’t rely on isolations, as this posssession type only represents 7.3% of their offense, rather choosing to attack where the defense is at it’s weakest. For the Spurs, that means creating auspicious matchups through the pick-and-roll, racing out in transition where it becomes a battle of attrition or shooting from the perimeter, generally open shots because of ball movement.

It’s unique, certainly, but the Spurs aren’t doing anything groundbreaking. For the breakdown of each possession type, see the table below.

Takeaways: As you can see, San Antonio ranks among the top third in every possession attempt aside from post-ups and hand offs. Those two possession types represent a smidgen above 10% of the overall pie and didn’t take away much from the offenses effectiveness. No offense is perfect even one that scores 110.9 points per 100 possessions.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of the Spurs’ possessions came from Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, both struggled scoring in the post last season. Duncan grades as a decent post player while Splitter was merely below-average despite converting on a higher percentage of his attempts. That was because Duncan limited his turnovers and drew more fouls, alleviating his paltry 39.9% mark in the post. Splitter turned the ball over on a nearly a fifth of his possessions which is an easy way to become an ineffective post threat.

Both Duncan and Splitter regressed from their 2010-11 seasons. Duncan was more efficient as a scorer and at preventing turnovers that season, explaining his higher point per possession numbers. Splitter simply avoided turnovers.

The Spurs’ offense won’t suddenly rely on post-ups this season, and they may even reduce the amount considering the wear it puts on Duncan. But they will need some semblance of balance in the interior and if Splitter can become a reliable post threat, that would be a nice boost to an offense that needs to improve to keep up with their more talented brethren in Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.