San Antonio Spurs: Despite their record, one trait holds true from previous seasons

Patty Mills Becky Hammon Gregg Popovich Tim Duncan (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
Patty Mills Becky Hammon Gregg Popovich Tim Duncan (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images) /

For the first time in a long time, the San Antonio Spurs are on the outside looking into the playoff picture. Even so, they’re consistent in one category.

It’s still peculiar to see the San Antonio Spurs placed as the 12th seed in the Western Conference with such a small number of games left to go in the 2019-20 regular season. By this point, their chances of making the playoffs are slim-to-none, which will end the team’s 22-year playoff streak just one winning season shy of the all-time record for consecutive postseason appearances.

Needless to say, this group has looked distinctly different from many previous iterations of the team. Known around the league for being a model franchise in terms of defensive tenacity, the Spurs are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They rank 25th in defensive rating and 23rd in opponent effective field goal percentage, which makes a lot of sense in correlation with their record.

However, the team remains effective offensively and uphold one of head coach Gregg Popovich’s most important philosophies: Limit turnovers at all costs.

San Antonio ranks best in total turnovers (773, 12.3 per game) this year with 47 whole turnovers fewer than the runner-up Orlando Magic. Likewise, their turnover percentage is the lowest in the league at 11 percent, which is an estimate of their turnovers per 100 plays.

For years, Popovich has emphasized that keeping turnovers limited is key to a successful offense. With this teaching at the forefront of their minds, Spurs players have been extra careful to take care of the ball during their days in San Antonio. Turning the ball over consistently is a good way for a role player to get their minutes cut in favor of someone less clumsy.

This is a great reason why combo guard Derrick White is in line for a bump in playing time and contract extension when the time is right. White was one of the best high-usage ball handlers in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.75. He’s an exceptional passer who makes accurate reads to teammates at every opportunity and with time, he’ll be a go-to player for this organization.

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Popovich would be proud to note that the Spurs are the league-leader in assist-to-turnover ratio as well. His club is the only this season to hit the 2.0 mark in that category thanks to the thoughtful effort by his primary ball handlers. Even the team’s leader in turnovers, wing DeMar DeRozan, only averages 2.4 turnovers per game.

There are 15 players who played at least 2,000 minutes and had a usage percentage of at least 26 percent this season. Of this pool of players. 12 of them were either considered or earned an All-Star bid this season and three of them are on track to do it at some point in their career. DeRozan had fewer turnovers this season than all but two of them—All-Star Jayson Tatum and Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum.

While he could do an even better job of this considering his track record as a solid passer, DeRozan is doing this while averaging his second-highest assist percentage and assists per game of his career. It’s clear that Popovich’s influence is rubbing off on the former All-Star as he learns to play more of a team-based game than he ever has.

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Being careful with the ball in their hands equates to more efficient offense as a whole. This is a staple of Spurs basketball and it remains a priority as they remain the league-leader in a category they’ve dominated in years past.