It hasn't been the best summer for Spurs fans. A third round sweep, losing key talent, failing to sign big-name free agents, unhappy players, devastating injuries, etc.
But that's life.
Pau Gasol re-upped with the team for 3 years, and LaMarcus Aldridge is still a Spur, for now. Last year I predicted how that front court might fare over the season. I'll be evaluating that, as well as the team's general performance in relation to scoring.
Allow me to philosophize for a moment. When thinking about the future, we typically tap into a recency bias. How a team will perform in the upcoming season = how they performed the previous season ± offseason transactions. But it's not that simple. A player's performance isn't a straight line from the end of one season to the start of the next. It's not even a straight line within a single season; players have a career game followed by an abysmal one, in any sport. Those microtrends are part of the entropy of sports, and a large part of what makes it fun to be a fan. But it's also a small slice of a larger picture - one that encapsulates a player's entire career, or a franchise's history. It's not different than the stock market. Looking at a symbol over the last month generally shows wild fluctuations. But zooming out to the last five years, the line becomes smoother and the trends surface.
That's the grain of salt.
Taking into account his entire career, Aldridge isn't really moving the needle much on his effective FG% from one season to the next. He's got a 49% total eFG%1. Gasol, on the other hand, has had some large swings over his longer career. His first eight years were similar to Aldridge's, no huge fluctuations. His numbers had an upswing when he was traded to the Lakers in '08, then slowly dropped during his time there. He had another (smaller) upswing his first year on the Bulls, then dropped, and then another upswing his first year on the Spurs. Spurs fans will hope Pau can buck the trend and keep shooting at a high percentage.
The Aldridge/Gasol front court had mixed results relative to the individual players' previous seasons. As seen in the graph2, Aldridge's numbers dropped across the board, while Gasol's mostly improved.
Those two players only tell a small part of the story. Overall, did the Spurs have offense similar to 2015-16? While the team's points per game increased from 103.5 to 105.3, the league average PPG increased from 106.4 to 108.8. The 2015-16 Spurs were already scoring less than the rest of the league, and they lost even more ground in 2016-17. Their offense dropped down the ranks, from #4 to #9.
We'll compare year over year for offensive win shares, which attempts to quantify the wins a player's offense bought their team. Players who fall on the left of the line decreased, while players on the right of the line increased their OWS. This is limited to just the eight players who played the past two seasons.
Mills and Leonard are the only players who showed noticeable improvement from 2016 to 2017. The rest of the team didn't fare as well (looking at you, LaMarcus).
Bonus content: The Spurs defense also decreased, as they went from allowing 92.9 PPG to allowing 98.1 (again, league PPG went from 106.4 to 108.8). Though they were still the top-rated defensive team.
Let's see how the team's scoring fared against the rest of the league. All areas here are relative to the league average3. So a bright blue hexagon might suggest that the Spurs shot 80% better than the league (for instance 90% vs 10%). That's an extreme case, and I don't want to focus on individual hexagons, which represent a very small, specific location on the court. Instead, study the trends by area - large swaths of similar percentages.
Relative to the rest of the league, the Spurs underperformed in the paint (-1.8%). They got better the further out they shot, beating the league by 3.2% from 16-24 ft 🙄, and 1.1% from 3-point-land.
And so went the regular season. Into the playoffs the Spurs kept scoring at around the same rate. That worked fine against their first two opponents, who SA held to 96.3 and 103.5 PPG. But it didn't cut it when their defense collapsed, as every team's did, when they played the Warriors.
The coming season should be interesting for the Spurs. Young players like Bryn Forbes and Dejounte Murray have shown potential; no one's quite sure how Rudy Gay's signing will effect minutes and positions; and there's still some hope that the team can land Kyrie. But Golden State hasn't gotten worse, and the division rival Rockets added Chris Paul. At the end of the day, the Spurs need to figure out a way to scoar moar.
- All eFG, win share, and team stats via basketball-reference.com. https://www.basketball-reference.com ↩
- All shot location data via NBA Shot Chart API. http://stats.nba.com/stats/shotchartdetail ↩
- Differences in density are not represented in this graph. One hex might represent 400 shots, and the one next to it might represent 40. ↩