The San Antonio Spurs offense can be one of the best in the league
Despite a slow start to the season, the San Antonio Spurs offense gives us reason to be hopeful about what’s still to come.
Throughout much of their franchise history, the San Antonio Spurs have been known as one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Led by defensive-minded franchise cornerstones such as David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have spent much of the past three decades as one of the better defensive teams in the league. That’s all been flipped head over heels these past two years.
It’s been a difficult start to the 2019-20 season for the Spurs. They find themselves in the midst of a brutal losing streak that’s one of the longest in recent memory. Throughout this rough patch, they’ve routinely given up massive point totals, with opponents averaging 123 points per game. Despite the atrocious defense, San Antonio’s near league-best offense has kept these games close.
Over the same seven-game losing streak the Spurs offense has averaged 115 points per game, just a bit above their season average. On the season they’re averaging 113.5 points per contest, good enough for 8th best in the league. Their offensive rating is similarly impressive. At 111.4 it stands as the 4th highest mark in the NBA.
Many, including yours truly, have focused on what the Spurs have done wrong this year. Let’s give a little credit to what they’re doing right.
San Antonio is playing at a much faster pace than they have in years past. They’re not quite playing up to the blistering speed they started the season at but they’re still playing quicker than they have in seasons past. That has helped them put up shots at one of the best rates in the league.
The Spurs are in the top-ten in field goals attempted and rank 5th in the NBA in field goal percentage. All of those attempts and the impressive accuracy are somewhat diminished by San Antonio’s affinity for mid-range shots.
As a team, the Spurs are unsurprisingly leading the league in two-point shots made. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they hadn’t almost completely abandoned the three-point shot in favor of closer looks.
Hand up, I’ve been fairly critical of Marco Belinelli this season. Lackluster defensive performances aside, he’s failed to live up to the expectations that Spurs fans had for him on the offensive end. Maybe it’s blind optimism but I’d like to believe that things will get better.
Belinelli is a career 37.5 percent shooter from behind the arc. He’s made a career off of connecting on shots from deep but has been going through one of the coldest stretches of his career. Marco is finding the bottom of the net on just 28.3 percent of his three-point attempts on the season.
It’s rare to see a career marksman like Belinelli completely lose their touch like this. Positive regression towards his career average has to be on the way. Does he deserve to be playing over Lonnie Walker? Probably not. But I doubt he will play this poorly all season.
San Antonio’s struggles from behind the arc have drawn a lot of attention and have distracted from other things that they’re doing very well. Rebounding is kind of taken for granted these days. It’s something that’s just taken as a given, as something that has to happen after most possessions. And while that’s true, it can also shift the balance of any given game. It’s flown under the radar but San Antonio has quietly brought down the 9th most rebounds in the league and is 2nd in offensive rebounding.
The Spurs haven’t been able to turn around and realize those offensive rebounds as second-chance points at the rate they should be but it’s impressive nonetheless. Trey Lyles has been better than expected this year, especially at corralling rebounds. He’s averaging over twice as many offensive rebounds per game this season than he did in any season prior. There’s still plenty he can work on but we should appreciate his contributions on the glass more.
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Another reason for optimism has been the gradual improvement of DeMar DeRozan‘s offensive game. DeRozan has shot over 60 percent from the floor in four of the Spurs five most recent games and just had back to back outings of 30+ points. After an uneven start to the season, it looks like he might be finding his groove.
It would be unfair not to mention that all of those contests have resulted in Spurs losses and that the Spurs post a -7.6 net rating when DeRozan is on the floor. Those statistics notwithstanding, DeRozan remains one of the few players who San Antonio can reliably count on to deliver offensive production.
Finally, the Spurs are still waiting on Dejounte Murray to be fully cleared and have his minutes restriction removed. Murray has struggled as of late but in the first two games of the season, he showed the tremendous impact he can have on the Spurs offense. At his best Murray is a game-changing guard who is capable of turning defense into offense at a moment’s notice. He brings a dynamic to the team that no other player is capable of matching.
Look, this team isn’t perfect. Far from it. There are plenty of flaws that need correcting if this group is ever to reach its ceiling. From inefficient offense to the abandonment of three-point shooting and absent defense, there is much work to be done. That being said, despite their limitations, the Spurs have still managed to have one of the better offenses in the league. If they can address a few key issues they can have one of the very best.
The Spurs have a lot of work to do to climb back into playoff contention. But this is a veteran group with one of the best coaching staffs in the league. They still have plenty of time to get this season back on track. Have faith Spurs fans, better days are on the way.