San Antonio Spurs: This unexpected 5-man lineup is one of the NBA’s best

San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs have long enjoyed having one of the best bench units in the NBA, and this season has proven no different. Through 18 games played, the Spurs’ second unit is eighth in the league in scoring, eighth in 3-point shooting percentage, and tied for second in blocks per game.

It’s not a surprise, then, that San Antonio has been able to recover from uncharacteristically slow starts this season. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay have led the scoring charge off the bench while the elite defense of Jakob Poeltl and all-around skills of Devin Vassell are adding their own sparks.

That bench unit should only keep improving with Derrick White’s reported return this weekend, as he’ll likely take Lonnie Walker’s spot in the starting lineup before long. Derrick’s return will give the Spurs another two-way player capable of making big plays down the stretch. While he’ll undoubtedly be a centerpiece in closing lineups, the current lineup that’s been most effective so far is surprising in many ways.

The San Antonio Spurs’ bench is turning games around

In a recent column for The Ringer recognizing special performers in the first quarter of the NBA season, Dan Devine brought my attention to a particularly effective Spurs’ lineup. Calling Devin Vassell an “instant-impact perimeter defender,” he shared the five-man Spurs team that he called one of the league’s most potent lineups.

Devine sorted all lineups by plus/minus, which predictably resulted in teams like the Lakers, Clippers, and Sixers among the top, but an interesting mix of Spurs makes the list at number five. The lineup is as follows:

Rudy GayPatty MillsDejounte MurrayJakob PoeltlDevin Vassell

As crazy as it is, only one starter is in San Antonio’s most potent plus/minus lineup so far this season. Of course, plus/minus numbers are always tricky, but the vast difference between this lineup and all other Spurs’ lineups is striking. The team above is at a plus 50 after Wednesday’s game against the Celtics. The next-best lineup of Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Mills, Lonnie Walker, and Vassell is at plus 17.

In terms of all lineups in the league, the order goes as follows:

1. Utah Jazz – 932. LA Clippers – 873. Los Angeles Lakers – 684. Philadelphia 76ers – 66

In all four instances, the starting lineup is the one securing the plus/minus figure. In the Spurs’ case, it’s almost an all-bench lineup. The data can be analyzed in two ways: either the starting unit is playing unusually poorly, or the bench has just been on fire.

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As the season continues, I’d expect a regression to the mean for this seemingly random lineup, but it’s an impressive statistic for the time being in any case.