With the majority of the season complete, we looked at what lineups have worked best for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2018-19 regular season.
In his time as the mastermind of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich has learned how to craft a balanced rotation based on the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents. With careful consideration of his own personnel and intense scouting of each opposing team, Pop operates the flow of each game as if he’s carefully executing the strategy of a Grandmaster in chess.
As a result of his meticulous tinkering, San Antonio has generated some truly unique lineups that’ve brought excellent results. It hasn’t been a perfect season for the Spurs, who are holding on to the seventh seed in the Western Conference by a hair, but specific combinations of players have been constructed to play off of each other and keep pace with the league’s elite.
It certainly helps to have two All-Star talents in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, but the Spurs at their best have used a combination of role players with the corporate knowledge and basketball IQ to recreate San Antonio’s prestigious style of ‘beautiful basketball.’
While the coveted duo of mid-range assassins manages to keep the team afloat, the lifeblood of the San Antonio Spurs’ style of play will always be team-based execution rather than isolation scoring. This is reflected by the success of some unlikely lineup combinations throughout the season. In order to accurately represent lineups utilized by Gregg Popovich, all lineups discussed must have 50 minutes logged in the regular season by San Antonio.
As Pop and the Spurs carefully stroll back to the postseason, it’s crucial that he identifies which lineups work best and groups specific players together to enable the team to succeed.
Next: The Ideal Bench Mob
The Ideal Bench Mob: Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl
Through 61 minutes across 23 separate games, the Gregg Popovich has had the opportunity to deploy the bench lineup that he anticipated for the entirety of the season. The offseason brought chatter of huge improvement from both Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes, two dynamic young guards with the potential to break out in 2019.
An unanticipated turn of events led to Forbes’ implementation to the starting five, disrupting the previously anticipated Bench Mob. While the lineup hasn’t been as prominent as Pop may have hoped, it’s been the most effective lineup that the Spurs have deployed this season.
In addition to having the third best Net Rating (20.9) of any qualifying lineup, the ideal bench mob has the highest offensive rating of any group for the Spurs this season at 130.7. Defense is hard to come by with this group, so the ideal strategy for this group is to give 100 percent effort on defense while pushing the tempo and hailing a barrage of three-pointers on the opponent’s second unit.
From a shooting perspective, this is San Antonio’s most deadly lineup. With an effective field goal percentage of 70.8 and a true shooting percentage of 73.1 to match, San Antonio’s second unit is adept at staying active both on and off the ball, passing fluidly and dictating pace.
With the postseason on the horizon and a handful of important matchups with playoff contenders over the final stretch of the year, Popovich should consider allowing Bryn Forbes to run with the second unit while DeRozan and Aldridge are off the floor
Next: Starters and Shooters
Starters and Shooters: Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Davis Bertans, LaMarcus Aldridge
Having two stars leading a team from the mid-range arouses a sense of nostalgia from previous eras of the sport, though it’s unsurprising to see San Antonio zig when the rest of the league zags. Three-point shooting has become the name of the game in the NBA, scouts and general managers are all searching for the next great floor spacer.
This is an integral part of the Spurs strategy on the offensive end of the floor, but not without maintaining the identity of their core duo. As Popovich has matured as a coach, he’s come to understand that players don’t need to overextend themselves outside of their comfort zones. As a result, DeRozan and Aldridge are both in the midst of a silent protest of the three-point line.
Instead, Popovich has put the duo in position to score within the arc with three crafty shooters surrounding them. With Derrick White and Bryn Forbes zipping around the perimeter, San Antonio has two reliable three-point marksman with the ability to catch defenders off guard with an array of dribble moves and ball fakes. This leaves Bertans to motion off the ball and set off-ball screens for his teammates and spot up for outside jumpers.
Big bucket courtesy of LA! pic.twitter.com/Avxfb7GOSP
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 28, 2019
With a Net Rating of 26.5, this can be considered San Antonio’s most efficient offensive unit because of its success with ball movement. This lineup has the Spurs’ best Assist-to-Turnover ratio at 2.85 while dominating the glass with a defensive rebounding percentage of 83.3 percent.
More importantly than any of their defensive success, this particular group has great defensive chemistry. Posting a defensive rating of 89.5 through 90 minutes, the lineup that effectively surrounds DeRozan and Aldridge with capable playmakers and shooters manages to play hard on both ends of the floor. In matchups that allow small ball lineups, Popovich should deploy this group in fourth quarters and tight games.
Next: Executing without the Stars
Executing without the Stars: Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl
Having a hierarchy of three go-to scorers is essential to the success of any team. Looking back on league history, every successful team has had a third player that takes the pressure off of the top two and leads the team with the other two off the floor. For this year’s iteration of the San Antonio Spurs, Rudy Gay is that player.
To keep and establish leads, San Antonio must take advantage of the team’s depth by keeping a constant flow in the rotation. Through 58 minutes in 19 games, the Spurs have executed this strategy to perfection with Rudy Gay leading the way for the second unit.
Going forward, the Spurs will need to closely monitor the minutes and usage of Rudy Gay. Wear and tear have been hugely impactful on the trajectory of the team and Gay’s health has been in question since well before his arrival in the Alamo City.
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Pop should consider staggering the minutes that Gay contributes early in games to preserve him for moments when he can truly shine.
With Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Gay, Bertans and Jakob Poeltl on the floor together, the Spurs play a cohesive brand of basketball that emphasized two-way effort and contained yet effective offense. Utilizing the size, hustle and shot creation of Rudy Gay on one end of the floor draws the attention of help defenders, eventually leading to open shots for others.
This group has the best defensive rating of any qualifying lineup at 83.8 while posting the top Net Rating for the team with 33.1. They’ve been one of the team’s faster lineups with a 113.45 PACE while posting a true shooting percentage of 65.2.
By utilizing Gay as the glue between the starting five and the backups, Pop could ensure that he has one of his top three players on the floor at all times if necessary.
There’s still plenty of time to toy around with lineups but the coaching staff now has the information needed to close out the regular season strong and make a push in the postseason.