The San Antonio Spurs have been hideous on the defensive end since the start of the season, and there is nothing groundbreaking about discussing their struggles to hold opponents in check. However, when a glaring issue arises, we should place it under the microscope, not sweep it beneath the rug and look the other way.
Fans are likely familiar with the borderline historically efficient three-point and field goal percentages that teams are shooting against this extremely inexperienced rendition of the Silver and Black. And while they have made undeniable strides in those departments in recent weeks, the bad habit of excessive fouling has taken its place.
San Antonio has committed the second-most fouls (23.1) in the NBA since the trade deadline, also forfeiting a league-worst 31.7 free throw attempts during that seven-game stretch. For reference, they were a commendable 12th (19.9) and 10th (23.1) in those categories in the previous 55 contests.
Although almost every player on the roster has seen a spike in foul rate in the month following the departure of Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson, a particular group is dragging everyone else down. You might be wondering who is to blame. Look no further than the Spurs' frontcourt rotation.
Despite Zach Collins, Charles Bassey, Dominick Barlow, Doug McDermott, Isaiah Roby, and Gorgui Dieng soaking up around a third of all the rotation minutes since the trade deadline, that group is accountable for nearly half of San Antonio's fouls over that period. It doesn't take a mathematician to see that number is severely disproportionate.
Personal Fouls Per 36 Minutes
Dominick Barlow - 6.9 (5 GP)
Isaiah Roby - 5.7 (3 GP)
Gorgui Dieng - 5.1 (4 GP)
Zach Collins - 4.8 (7 GP)
Doug McDermott - 4.5 (5 GP)
Charles Bassey - 4.4 (5 GP)
Those statistics do not mean this frontcourt has no hope of improving this season or beyond, but it is certainly an area the Spurs need to address as soon as possible.
Dieng and Roby might not be back with the club next season, which could soothe some concerns. Barlow and Bassey are still finding their footing as they navigate the infancy of their careers, so the Spurs have time to instill better fundamentals. McDermott has always been a defensive liability, yet the Spurs can live with that as long as his shooting offsets his defense.
As for Collins, he should eventually return to the second unit when PATFO find an upgrade at the starting center position. He was a staple for one of the best benches in the league when healthy, and San Antonio can afford to let him rack up whistles if he reprises his prior role as an enforcer.
Zach was at his best when he could be physical without fretting about the consequences of fouling out. The sooner the coaching staff can place the 25-year-old in an ideal context, the sooner the Spurs will see results. That solution isn't readily available, and lackluster personnel is the main culprit behind their struggles.
General Manager Brian Wright will have a chance to revamp the roster via the draft and free agency this summer. For now, Gregg Popovich can only hold his guys accountable, impart decades of priceless hoops knowledge, and hope they have the drive to put in the hours necessary to become an invaluable cog of a defense that hopes to return to its former glory.