San Antonio Spurs: How does pace factor into success and failures?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 26: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs listens to instruction from assistant coach Becky Hammond during second half action at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 26: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs listens to instruction from assistant coach Becky Hammond during second half action at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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When diving deep to look at how pace correlates to results for the San Antonio Spurs this year, you find some very interesting results.

Historically the San Antonio Spurs have had an interesting balance between fast-paced, upbeat action and slower tempos with set motions and long, drawn-out plays. This has been exasperated by an uptick in playing speed in the mid-2000’s that’s now strung across the league ever since the Golden State Warriors dynasty took the helm in 2015.

This development has been staggering for the most recent iterations of the Spurs. These teams tended to keep the ball moving and operate within the mid-range, a barren wasteland left behind by the rest of the NBA. This is considered a bad shot by most teams league-wide in this modern era, but the Spurs beg to differ as it leads to higher field goal percentage and in many ways, better spacing for three-point shooters to find their spots.

San Antonio has been a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of pace in recent years, but the athletic boost and speed that young players like Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and Derrick White afford this team bumped them into the top half of teams in terms of pace at 13.

In watching the Spurs methodically pick apart the Utah Jazz in their last meeting, I came to wonder how they pair up against opponents based on playing speed and was surprised by the results.

According to my calculations and rankings based on NBA.com’s advanced stats page, the Spurs’ win percentage against teams in the top half of pace is nearly identical to their win percentage against opponents in the bottom half.

Their record is 13-16 against teams ranked 15 or higher in the category, and hold an 8-10 record against teams ranked 16-30. The average pace of teams they’ve either won or are leading in the season series against is 14.7, and the average pace of teams they’ve lost or are losing the season series against is 14.6. I also deduced that the average pace of teams in a season series tie with the Spurs is 13.2.

To lay this out in easier terms, the pace at which their opponent is playing doesn’t seem to have much correlation to the outcome of the game. Since the Spurs are so up-and-down when it comes to their own pace, they’re constantly shifting gears and haven’t quite established much consistency in that regard.

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San Antonio’s record against teams in the top 20% of pace is 5-7, and their record against the slowest 20% of teams is an even 3-3. However, they have yet to play three of those teams: the Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers. Keep in mind the speed of the game when San Antonio matches up against those teams because it could play a huge factor in the outcome.

Being a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of playing pace, San Antonio does a pretty strong job squaring up against any team. If the opponent is playing fast, so are the Spurs, and vice versa when opponents are playing a slower pace.

Still, given the team is five games below .500, maybe it’s time they take control of their playing speed. However, that may take some more maneuvering since some of the veterans are slower and the youth plays an up-tempo style.

Putting Lonnie Walker IV, 2018 Draft Class into Tiers. Next

It’s just another byproduct of the team’s wonky roster construction and methodical strategy.

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