MySynergySports: How are the Spurs’ possessions distributed?


May 5, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Boris Diaw (33) is defended by Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) during the first half of game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

(Editor’s note: This is the second 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 is subject to the same general distribution of possessions as any technically sound offensive team.

The top three players require a rigorous load — in this instance, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili account for about a third of the entire possessions — while the rest of the roster falls in a linear hierarchy. The best players generally earn the most possessions and that is indeed true in San Antonio.

But not many teams have three legitimate players that score the ball at an efficient rate with a usage rate upwards of 20%. That’s a difficult task to handle for anyone; the more a player holds the ball, the more attention he receives, the more he’s trusted to create for himself in inopportune situations and the less effective that player is. By default, and because he’s expected to run around pick-and-rolls against defenders who are hell bent on impeding his path to the basket, Parker is the least efficient of the trio, averaging 0.93 points per possession.

Tim Duncan is next in line efficiency wise. His numbers clock at 0.96 PPP even after accounting for his gradual descent to an average post-up threat. He’s compensated by becoming a two-way pick-and-roll threat and cutting deftly when his teammates venture towards the rim.

Manu Ginobili is the most efficient of the triumvirate. His PPP mark (1.05) isn’t only the best mark of the three, it also represents one of the best marks in basketball. In the face of his declining offensive role, Ginobili simply made the most of his attempts, be them from the foul line, behind the arc, or mid-range 16-footers.

In doing so, his last season proved that he is a dynamic scorer even without the ball. He made a ton of shots — his 66.8% true shooting percentage (includes 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) is impressive for centers, much less guards who take a bunch of perimeter shots — and did everything in between. Sure, he benefited from being put into more spot-up situations than Parker, which makes sense since that’s not Parker’s game anyway, but his pick-and-roll duties didn’t vanquish either. When given the chance, he was a hassle to defend. If he hadn’t turned the ball over on nearly a third of his possessions as the ball handler, his PPP likely would have been in the top 10.

For more on the Spurs’ distribution of possessions and a quick takeaway, check the table below (limited to players who appeared in 400+ minutes with San Antonio last season to include Boris Diaw.)

Too much Blair: Blair’s usage rate seems disproportionally high primarily because it is. He’s only effective in two facets — as the pick-and-roll man, where he averaged 1.17 PPP and shot 62.2%, and on offensive rebounds, which represented 15.4% of his possessions. That will obviously change this year which is a positive for the Spurs’ offense considering it can’t afford to be bogged down by one-dimensional options.

More Diaw, please: While Diaw didn’t play enough, and his sample size isn’t sufficient, it’s apparent that he deserves more time with the ball. His playoff usage rate rose a bit from his minuscule regular season rate but not enough to maximize his passing gifts. His optimal usage rate appears to be in the 15-18% range, a range that allowed him to succeed in Phoenix’ transition offense. San Antonio should aim to accomplish the same with Diaw, who will enter this season as the incumbent starting power forward.

Patty, Patty, Patty: Small sample size aside, is there any reason not to be excited about Mills’ second year in San Antonio? He can do it all; score in the pick-and-roll, pass out of it as well and spot up from the perimeter, especially from the corner.

More Synergy breakdowns: Part I