Shooting won’t save the San Antonio Spurs’ season, but some defense might

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 2: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Bryn Forbes #11 react after a Oklahoma City Thunder basket during second half action at AT&T Center on January 2, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 2: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Bryn Forbes #11 react after a Oklahoma City Thunder basket during second half action at AT&T Center on January 2, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

Three-point shooting, or lacktherof, won’t tbe downfall of the 2019-20 San Antonio Spurs. Their defense, on the other hand, will be their undoing.

Now that we’re 33 games through the season, the identity of this San Antonio Spurs team is coming to fruition. Offensively, they’re rather conservative, opting for mid-range jumpers more often than any other team in the league.

They’re eighth in average drives to the basket with the third-highest field goal percentage of any team taking those shots. Referees don’t tend to give them the calls they desire, as shown by their No. 21 ranking in free throw attempts per game.

After losing sharpshooter Davis Bertans, many thought the Spurs would be a significantly worse three-point shooting team, but they’re still sixth in three-point percentage at 36.8 percent on the least attempts of any team in the league, leading to a solid 110.3 offensive rating, 11th in the NBA. They’re slowly but surely building on top of their locker room chemistry and flowing on that end of the floor.

However, the Spurs’ intense lack of defense has been their undoing this season and there’s nothing in the offense that’s going to change that. San Antonio allows 114.8 points per contest, which ranks 25th in the NBA while allowing teams to shoot 46.4 percent from the field and 36.2 percent frfom behind the arc, both of which rank at the No. 20 spot amongst their competition.

San Antonio doesn’t force turnovers either, ranking 26th in steals with only 6.7 per game with starters Dejounte Murray (1.8) and DeMar DeRozan (1.0) accounting for 41.8 percent of that total. Because of this lack of intensity in that category, the Spurs are 29th in the league in opponent turnovers, meaning teams can take care of the ball against them easily.

This is a testament to the Spurs’ lack of pressure on both ends of the floor. In a contract year, sharpshooter Bryn Forbes is third on the team in minutes played, yet only has 14 steals on the year. Being a 6-foot-2 shooting guard without much reach or innate athletecism makes it difficult to get in the passing lanes or reach at ball handlers, but Forbes’ deficiencies are killing his team.

Though his on-ball defense has been solid, a similar statement could be made about combo guard Derrick White, who only has 17 total steals, or 0.5 per game, this season. As someone who is known for defense, seeing White fall behind in this category is not only a shock, but a dissapointment considering his two-way breakout last season.

defense 2️⃣ offense#GoSpursGo

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 3, 2020

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DeRozan himself may be averaging a steal per game, but his body language suggests a very different defensive effort this year. His hands are rarely up and out on defense, and they certainly aren’t very active unless he has the ball in his hands. One-on-one, DeRozan isn’t a difficult matchup for most of the small forwards he matches up against.

Similarly to the perimeter defense, San Antonio is mediocre defending the paint. They 22nd in opponent points in the paint, allowing 49.3 points per game under the basket. This could be a byproduct of their small-ball starting five, in which natural power forward LaMarcus Aldridge slides down to center. More minutes for rim protector Jakob Poeltl could help aid this, but he’s also been inconsistent this year, leading to a reduced role by head coach Gregg Popovich.

If this team wants to hold on to its eighth seed, it needs to either make a trade or wake up on that side of the game. Defense leads to offense and Murray can’t be the only guy giving full effort on defense every time he’s on the floor.

Next. Three New Year’s resolutions for the Spurs backcourt

There are still 49 games to play over the course of many months, but the idea that the Spurs could miss the playoffs becomes increasingly likely now without any growth as a defensive unit.