San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been vocal on his anti-three-point shooting stance. The old school coach has always found creative ways to score, but with the game evolving, he might have to make some forceful changes to his game plan.
When I dove into the research for this article, I kept trying to defend the San Antonio Spurs stats and takes that made the team seem better than they actually were. According to NBA.com, San Antonio finished the regular season with the highest three-point percentage in the league, shooting 39.2 percent.
That percentage looks great at first glance, but when taking into account the new style of play of the NBA with volume shooters being a hot commodity, 39.2 percent is kind of pointless. The Spurs were also by average the best midrange shooting team and the best at free throws, but in an era where the three-point shot rules, these Spurs statistics do not mean much.
It is hard to try and perfectly set a team’s offensive success with simply scoring percentages, the Spurs were top of the list in percentages in almost every offensive category, yet in the real world, the Spurs offense was not a particularly dangerous offense.
They ranked first in three-point % with 39.2, first in free throw percentage with 81.9 and second in field goal percentage at 49.1
These percentages look great, but they can be misleading. These particular high percentages just show that the Spurs are smart and careful with their shots – they are not a volume shooting team.
Next: Comparing against the competition
Comparing against the competition
San Antonio ranked dead last in three-point attempts and No. 26 in threes made. When a team shoots the least number of threes in the league, that team does not have to make many threes to have the highest percentage made. And that is why the fact that the Spurs shot such a high percentage from three is actually very useless.
On the other hand, the Warriors attempted a lot more shots from deep and made a lot of their attempts, therefore making the Spurs stat even more meaningless. Golden State had the volume and the efficiency. This is why they are such a feared offense, especially when taking into consideration that any player of their players can drill a clutch three at a given time. The Spurs are simply not feared like that, but they can be with a few changes.
The Golden State Warriors rank No. 8 in attempts from deep, No. 3 in triples made and in three-point field goal percentage.
These two teams and stats show some very dangerous offense with the ability to score from anywhere in the court. Another offense that relies on mid-range and perfectly executed plays to shoot threes – take your pick.
The Spurs are a two-dimensional offense and do not possess a single player that is currently feared from deep. I am not saying that a potential player like that does not exist in the Spurs line up because we do have them, but I am saying at this moment none of them are feared like Curry, Harden, Thompson, Van Vleet, etc.
Golden State and Milwaukee rank on the top two for points scored during the regular season, San Antonio is No. 18. The Spurs are ranked sixth in Offensive Rating, but that means nothing when the numbers are skewed because of the low volume of points and attempts.
The Spurs need to attempt more triples because they cannot keep relying on a flurry of mid-range jumpers and free throws. The lead scored for the team cannot be DeRozan from midrange, not in today’s league.
If I take 50 shots from the three-point line and I only make 10, that equals 30 points and a low percentage rate. However, if I take 20 shots from inside the arc and I make 10 of them, I finish as a 50 percent shooter with only 20 points.
All that stupid math to realize that three is greater than two and a long mid-range shot is the worst shot ever if you take into consideration that if you shoot that ball jus two steps further back, that shot is now worth more. As dumb as it sounds, that is what the NBA is doing now. They don’t care about quality shots in a controlled offense, they care about adding up faster by threes.
This new deep-ball basketball is an ugly style and the Spurs cannot over compensate and do what Houston did, where they shot so many triples and punished their bodies in hunting for a foul. This exhausts players and makes it easier for them to figure out your strategy.
Next: An ode to the silver and black shooters
An ode to the silver and black shooters
Let us be clear, the Spurs had some shooters and now they have even more after their offseason moves.
I truly believe that Bryn Forbes is destined for a great offensive performance next season. Forbes earned Gregg Popovich’s respect and I am sure he will have more freedom to pull up and shoot whenever he feels hot. Forbes will be a feared, reliable shooter for the Spurs and with his hard grind defense and leadership on offense – he can be a top player very soon. Shooting 42.6 percent from deep, he simply needs to add a bit more volume to be up there with Curry and Thompson.
Swingman Marco Belinelli is a rotational piece who is a reliable three-point shooter in the regular season. His issue is that he seemed to go missing in the playoffs and has been a defensive liability for the Spurs, therefore limiting his role. If he can improve his defense and steady his shooting in the postseason, he’ll be another lethal weapon for the Spurs.
Patty Mills and Rudy Gay are both solid shooters as well. They each lift up the team and can hit that game-altering shots from deep most nights. As older players passing down minutes to the new players, Gay and Mills need to make sure that they are efficient scorers whenever they run alongside the team’s depth. Specifically with guards, defenses should never let off the gas defensively no matter what lineup Pop rolls out.
Let’s get to the young guns that will propel the Spurs to a new age three-dimensional offense. We all know what point guard Dejounte Murray can do from midrange and his notoriety on defense, but there has been videos of him rehabbing and developing a nice little jumper from deep. If Murray can efficiently shoot the 3 ball, he will be one of the best young players in the league.
Derrick White was a surprise to all of us during that playoff series against the Denver Nuggets. He started off hot and confident, working every single side of the game, then was quickly extinguished when Denver game planned against him and his lack of experience, which cost him. Those flashes of greatness were what we needed to see and he has gone public saying he is trying to make 500 shots in every workout – White is poised for something big.
Now to the Summer League guys and what to expect from that group. Sophomore Lonnie Walker IV is the most experienced of the bunch. He is strong, fast, explosive and can dunk like no one’s business. After watching him in the Summer League, and I can confirm that he is shooting confidently from all over the floor.
The two first-round rookies have been impressive scorers. They still made youthful mistakes, but it is clear that they are both natural scorers. Both Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson have been tearing it up during the Summer League and they can obviously shoot from deep, but they need to become more well-rounded players with better defense if they want a chance to play significant minutes for Pop. I would not count of them to play many minutes their rookie season, but their ceiling is high and being so young, the sky is the limit.
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No. They haven’t had to shoot like that, but if they can take a few shots, even if they miss them, it would open up the offense a lot.
Try and look at it like this: Insert any of those players with the ball outside the 3 point line and the defense will not hard perimeter defense because they know that it’s no threat from deep. Then out of nowhere, they shoot and miss, shocking the defense. Then they try again, defense is shocked again, but they move on. Eventually, defenders will be forced to guard these players from deep. Even if they don’t make another shot from three, they have opened up the paint and by doing so, they will also have opened up triples for the actual shooters on the team.
San Antonio need to improve its offense, and this upcoming season is the perfect season with such a young core made up of natural scorers. The Spurs have no excuse not to be more explosive and lethal from deep. I am not saying go crazy like the Rockets, but they can use that beautiful Spurs system of brilliant creative plays and flawless ball movement to generate a few extra threes.
The Spurs and Coach Pop have reinvented and revolutionized basketball so many times before, I believe it’s time to do it again