The Spurs enter the 2012-13 season with a measure of cautious confidence, as exited the playoffs reeling from a 4 game losing streak to the Oklahoma City Thunder after having won 20 games straight. So, if they wish to continue being serious contenders, they should add dimensions to their game that will help the team be a more complete machine to compensate for the sheer talent of the Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Miami Heat. Here's a look at which statistics should be the priority for Spurs fans to note for each member of the Spurs. (Hat tip to J. Gomez's You Can Do Better series and Jacob McCormick's piece on the Bucks over at Brew Hoops.)
Tony Parker: Corner three attempts per game
Tony Parker is a quick bolt; he can get from the three point line to the restricted area in a flash, and is doubly a danger in the open court. The wee Frenchman has also added a reliable mid-range game to his arsenal of scoring moves, which makes him more dangerous in the pick-and-roll. However, if he has an offensive weakness, it is his lack of a three point shot. Now why am I highlighting the corner three? This is because of its importance in Pop's offensive scheme, as well as it's the easiest downtown shot available. If TP can attempt around 1-2 corner threes and convert them at a reasonable rate (think 33-37 percent), then his offensive firepower becomes more potent.
Manu Ginobili: Games played
We all know just how good Manu Ginobili can be. He converts shots with ease, he's a maestro off the dribble, and he has a potent stroke from downtown. He's also an above-average rebounder and a serviceable defender for a guard, and his amazing passing is a reason why the Spurs' second unit also happens to be good at offense. However, Father Time is catching up to the wily Argentinian, and while it hasn't exactly affected his game, it has affected how much he can stay on the court. Injuries forced him to play only 34 games last season, thus beginning Life Without Manu. While it turned out to be less worrisome than originally thought, as Danny Green emerged as a key contributor and Kawhi Leonard developed fast enough to form a good young wing duo with Green, Manu will need to stay healthy for the Spurs to go from good playoff team to title contender.
Tim Duncan: Per 36 minutes stats
The Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan. While it has seemed that he has declined as he ages, the fact remains that his minutes load has decreased over the past few seasons. If one were to prorate his per game statistics to the typical starter's 36 minutes load, one notices a thing: Timmeh has barely lost a step. Sure, he's not going to put up monster numbers any more, but his per-minute impact on both ends of the court will allow the Spurs to win. If his per 36 minutes stats this season are even better than last season's, I will officially posit that Pop keeps water from the Fountain of Youth in his wine cellar.
Kawhi Leonard: Free throw attempts per game
The emerging star sophomore Kawhi Leonard was a pleasant surprise for Coach Pop, managing not only to slide himself into rotation minutes, but also being good enough to make Richard Jefferson superfluous. Be it spotting up from the corner, thunderous dunks after drives or cuts, or getting his requisite offensive rebound, the young Spur is showing signs of being a future star. If he is to become a tertiary (or is it quaternary?) offensive option behind the Big Three, however, he should further expand his game. Getting to the line more would be a good start, as it would help him establish an offensive presence even when his three pointer isn't falling. He's young, athletic, and has decent handles (though he still needs to develop court vision). Getting easy baskets from the line (he shot 77% last season and 82% in the playoffs, he'll finish well) will allow him to develop a potent scoring game as the Big Three take a back seat.
Danny Green: Two point field goals per game
Danny Green was another surprise last season, as he proceeded to score around 9 points a game while shooting lights-out beyond the arc. While his three-point stroke should be of little question (though he hit his shooting slump at the worst time possible), him scoring within the arc should be another option for the wing from North Carolina. If he increases his shots within the arc, especially at the rim particularly from cuts to the basket, he can provide another wrinkle to the Spurs offense that once again should prevent him from being benched due to shooting bad from three.
Boris Diaw: Field goal attempts per game
The not-so-portly-nowadays Frenchman Boris Diaw is a noted player for his versatility, being a 6'8" frontcourt player who has played everything from a wing to a center in his career. His rebounding, while not exactly impressive, is very good under the Spurs system, and his passing ability takes pressure off Tony Parker to create. However, if there is one thing about his game that needs improvement, it's his scoring aggression. He can score, yes, even out to the three point line, but if he decides to pass on an easy, wide-open trey to risk passing to a cutter, then the entire point of the Spurs offense is blunted.
Stephen Jackson: Points in the paint
The mercurial swingman Stephen Jackson is in his second stint in silver and black after bouncing around the league, and it seems PATFO's decision to bring him in brought dividends, as he provided not only important clutch shots, but also defense and a swagger that inspired Pop's "I want some nasty!" sound bite. While he will make shots from deep at a good rate when he's a supporting cog in an offense (just as he was in the first stint in the Alamo City) as opposed to fire-at-will first option (as he was in... well, everywhere else) at 6'8" he has the size to post up on smaller wings and guards, which thankfully we saw a good chunk of in preseason. If he can use this to score efficiently near the basket, then the Spurs offense becomes less reliant on the long-range shot falling.
Gary Neal: Charges taken
Gary Neal is one of two undrafted rookies to make the All-Rookie First Team, the other being Jorge Garbajosa. We know what he brings in terms of offense: A propensity to light up the scoreboard from all over the court, as well as a serviceable passing game, We also know what he brings (or doesn't bring) in terms of defense: he's simply not quick enough to stay in front of many guards, and he's not big enough to reliably guard wing players. However, what he lacks in individual defense could be compensated by playing better team defense. Blocks and steals are two of the three "defensive plays", with charges being the third. Admittedly, I was inspired by a stretch in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals where Neal took charges against James Harden, and so I think that even if Neal can't reliably stay in front of his man, making him cough the ball up and commit a foul wouldn't be a bad idea.
Tiago Splitter: Free throw percentage
Ah, Tiago Splitter. Probably renowned less for being Tim Duncan's backup and known more for being, as TV Tropes puts it, Estrogen Brigade Bait. The Brazilian center achieved career highs in field goal percentage and free throw percentage last season, and while there is no question as to how good he is finishing at the rim, his free throw shooting remains an issue. His free throw percentage plummeted in the playoffs, and a bone bruise incurred in Game 2 against the Utah Jazz may have contributed, allowing Scott Brooks to attempt to slow the Spurs offense by sending him to the line. However, if he shoots even 60% or more from the line, that will make him less of a liability on offense and give Timmeh a breather.
DeJuan Blair: Defensive rebound percentage
DeJuan Blair was a pleasant surprise for the Spurs in the otherwise forgettable 2009-10 season, where he shared Rookie-Sophomore Game MVP honors with eventual Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans. His ability to rebound the ball despite standing at an undersized for a big 6'7" in shoes allowed him to make All-Rookie Second Team honors. However, his struggles to stay in shape and decreased emphasis on rebounding have put him in Pop's doghouse as the playoffs near. Although he has managed to stay more or less consistent in offensive rebounding, with around 2.5 offensive boards per game, he has declined on the defensive boards, going from 4.3 defensive rebounds per game in 2010-11 to 3.1 defensive rebounds per game. This is important, as the Spurs are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league, allowing them to push the pace and reduce the opponent's chances to score. If Blair returns to a defensive rebound percentage of 20% or more, that can only help, possibly even more than him adding a midrange jumper.
Matt Bonner: Three point percentages - by month
Ah, Matt Bonner. Winter Shoes provides euphoria for Spurs fans in winter and early spring, drilling threes like he was Steve Kerr. However, once the snow fully melts (then again, how much snow is there in San Antonio to begin with?) the Red Rocket changes to his Invisible Man alter ego and the Spurs play four on five when he's on the floor. If Bonbon's three point percentages remain constant throughout the season, Spurs fans may breathe a sign of relief; if they actually get better approaching April, then someone better call Robert Horry.
Patty Mills: Field goal attempts per 36 minutes
The little Australian who managed to lead the 2012 Olympians in points per game, beating out Team USA folk like Kevin Durant, Patrick "Patty" Mills proved to be a mid-season spark plug for the Spurs last season. In place of the deliberately rested Tony Parker, Millsanitty (yes, two Ts, that's on purpose) proceeded to score career highs, with a 27 point effort in Steve Nash's last game as a Phoenix Sun and a 34 point, 12 assist game against the tanking-to-make-sure-they-get-Harrison Barnes Golden State Warriors. While he's a decent passer for a poing guard, he nevertheless has a quick trigger on the ball, as he shoots it after he gets the ball when it has crossed the half-court line. I think the 48 Minutes of Hell folk said it best when they say that "he never met a shot he couldn't turn into a fadeaway". Thus to make him most effective he should see most of his limutes with a half-court playmaker in Manu Ginobili.
Nando de Colo: Assist-turnover ratio
The man they call mini-Manu, Nando de Colo is yet another Spurs import by way of France, where he played with Tony Parker and Boris Diaw before it was cool. The comparisons to Ginobili, while a bit covered in homerism, do have merit: his passes are simply a thing of beauty, a work of art. However, the Spurs are a club that emphasize fundamentals regardless of whether they're the slow-down four-down ball team of old, or the selfless motion ball of today. Should Nando learn to prefer the correct pass to the flashy pass, he could eventually solidify a rotation spot.
Cory Joseph: Assignments to the Toros
Ah, young Cory Joseph. The token Canadian of the Spurs just had his option for 2013-14 picked up by the team, and despite this show of trust in a young prospect some (read: me) compare to another George Hill, at least on defense, he will have a hard time picking up minutes in a crowded backcourt. Thus, the best option for San Antonio may be to send him to Austin unless the injury bug strikes the more established players, where he can continue to hone his game.
Any thoughts, fellow Pounders?