There were several reasons the San Antonio Spurs missed the playoffs last season, including these unfortunate statistics from their starters.
While the San Antonio Spurs‘ playoff streak recently became old enough to drink, that streak was officially snapped on the NBA campus in Orlando. It was a disappointing season for the Silver and Black, who struggled with identity issues and compounded those with inconsistent play all season long.
Nothing was normal in an NBA season that lasted almost a full year from start to finish. By the time the finale of the Orlando bubble games came around, the Spurs had officially been eliminated from the playoffs, making their last contest against the Utah Jazz irrelevant.
Coming off their worst winning percentage in a season (45.1) since 1996-97, the Spurs will need to address everything from personnel and coaching strategies to individual performances to avoid making their mediocrity a mainstay year after year.
Lineup issues were a big part of the Spurs’ downfall last season, with Coach Gregg Popovich making some questionable decisions regarding the playing time of some guys on the roster. As next season looms closer, here’s a look at some things that went wrong with the team’s five starters in 2019-20.
Next: No. 5
5. Trey Lyles (53 starts) – Six percent offensive rebounding percentage
Although he was a last-minute addition after Marcus Morris spurned San Antonio, Trey Lyles found himself to be the starting power forward for the Spurs for most of the season. Lyles’ debut season in the Alamo City had mixed results.
On the positive end, Lyles found a way to space the floor for an offense that needs all the spacing it can get when considering their two stars. The 38.7 percent he shot from deep was the highest mark for a season in his career, though he didn’t attempt as many as he did for the last three seasons.
Unfortunately, one thing that suffers from starting Trey Lyles at power forward is the team’s second chance opportunities. With Trey sticking around the 3-point line and not getting in the mix down low, that leaves LaMarcus Aldridge on an island on the offensive glass. As a result, the Spurs were 27th in offensive rebounds per game last season.
Standing at 6-9, Lyles has never been a force on either side of the glass, averaging 3.9 per game in his first four seasons. While his 5.7 rebounds per game mark with the Spurs was his best effort yet, it’s not nearly enough for a starting power forward.
Considering he gets only six percent of available offensive boards compared to Jakob Poeltl, who averages double that mark, Trey will need to find a way to balance his outside-in game with helping out on the boards.
Next: No. 4
4. LaMarcus Aldridge (53 starts) – 1.9 offensive rebounds per game (career-low)
A theme quickly emerged when diving into the statistics of last season’s starters: they don’t give themselves enough shots. Not only did Lyles only average 1.1 offensive boards, but his frontcourt teammate LaMarcus Aldridge averaged a career-low 1.9 in that category.
Last season marked the first time Aldridge has ever pulled down less than two offensive rebounds per game in a season. The previous low mark for the seven-time All-Star was when he averaged 2.3 in his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers.
With an offensive rebounding rate of 6.3 percent, Aldridge paled in comparison to Drew Eubanks (11.1) and Jakob Poeltl (12.1). Given that he’s a crucial point of San Antonio’s offense, these numbers obviously can’t be looked at in a vacuum. It’s much easier to grab offensive boards when you’re shooting less than five times per game, as Eubanks and Poeltl do, compared to 15 times for Aldridge. Still, LaMarcus has some work to do to get back to his usual numbers.
With additional rest after having shoulder surgery during the NBA restart, LaMarcus should be one of the freshest guys on the court when the Spurs return for the 2020-21 season. As rotations and offensive schemes continue to evolve in San Antonio, Aldridge will need to make an extra effort to give the Spurs more shots at the basket going forward.
Next: No. 3
3. Dejounte Murray (58 starts) – 38.9 percent finishing at the rim in the bubble
With his early-career ACL tear now a thing of the past, Dejounte Murray has entrenched himself in the Spurs’ growing group of talented two-way guards. Averaging career-high seasons in points, rebounds, assists, steals per game, and field goal percentage last season, Murray will likely be the team’s floor general for years to come.
While Dejounte’s offensive opportunities have more often come from drives to the hole and turnovers, his improved jump shot has added a new dimension to his game. After making just 18 total shots from deep in his first two seasons with the Spurs, he buried 41 of his 111 attempts last season for a 36.9 percent mark.
Unfortunately, Murray’s ability to finish at the rim disappeared when the Spurs finished their season at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. Since his rookie season, Murray has always shot comfortably above 50 percent from the restricted area. For whatever reason, that number took a dive in Dejounte’s final eight games:
2016-17: 53.7 percent
2017-18: 55.3 percent
2018-19: 55.2 percent
Last 8 games: 38.9 percent
The number is staggering compared to how he’s normally shot from the paint in his career, but there a few important things to remember. The Spurs looked like a completely different team in both attitude and personnel in the bubble, as DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray were the only full-time starters to maintain their starting roles.
Not only did Murray have to adjust to a completely new environment, but he also had to play with guys he didn’t spend that much time playing with earlier in the season, such as Derrick White. Given that his rough finishing stretch only lasted eight games, it’s safe to say Dejounte’s dip is an anomaly that should regress to the mean in 2020-21.
Next: No. 2
2. Bryn Forbes (62 starts) – 114.8 defensive rating
I was really tempted to just have “62 starts” as Bryn Forbes‘ scariest statistic last season, but that’s more Gregg Popovich’s fault than Bryn’s. While a marksman from deep, Forbes’s detrimental effect on the Spurs’ defense has been depressing.
Standing at 6-2, Forbes has the footspeed to keep up with other guards in the NBA — he just can’t. Among all NBA players who played in 60 or more games last season, only three had a worse defensive rating than Bryn: Cedi Osman, Trae Young, and Collin Sexton.
At 114.8, Forbes had the worst defensive rating of his career in 2019-20. In 2018-19, Forbes finished with a rating of 110.2. The year before that, when he started in just 12 of his 80 games played? 102.8.
It’s clear that Bryn struggles against starter-quality guards — so much so that it costs the Spurs games. The emergence of Keldon Johnson on the Orlando campus was the most exciting development for the Silver and Black, in my opinion. In just those games, Johnson showed a level of hustle and overall play that should warrant him a spot above Forbes in the rotation.
If Bryn is still with the Spurs next season, he could still make an impact as a bench scorer when the team needs a spark. The experiment of playing him as a starter? That should officially be ended for good.
Next: No. 1
1. DeMar DeRozan (68 starts) – 12.1 percent dip in FT percentage in crunch time
In 2019-20, DeMar DeRozan enjoyed the best shooting season of his career. Eclipsing the 50 percent mark for the first time in his 11-year tenure, DeRozan made 53.1 of his shots from the field.
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DeMar has always been a terrific free-throw shooter as well, establishing an 82.9 percent mark throughout his time in San Antonio and Toronto.
While the 84.5 percent he shot from the charity stripe last season was the second-best season of his career, the timing of his misses was a cause of concern.
Many of DeRozan’s few missed attempts last season came with the game on the line, to a point where it seemed to become a mental block for the four-time All-Star.
DeMar headed to the line 48 times when the point differential was five points or less and five minutes or less were remaining in the game. Of those attempts, he missed 14 for a 70.8 percent average.
As San Antonio’s main weapon and one of their best shot-creators, DeRozan will likely be toward the top of the list when it comes to taking late-game free throws for seasons to come. Another drop that significant could lead to some more tough losses in the future.
The good news for the Spurs is this hasn’t been a growing trend for DeMar. In 2018-19, he made 20 of his 22 clutch time free throws for a 90.9 percent mark. The previous year in Toronto, he made 81.6. Much like Murray’s finishing woes, I’d chalk this one up to another anomaly that can easily be corrected next season.