State of the Spurs: It's called Defense- It's in the Dictionary Under D-E-F-E-N-S-E

Welcome to the fifth...or sixth installment of my State of the Spurs series. I'm not good at counting, so I'm not sure what number I'm at, but five or six sounds right (I may be wrong, but I doubt it). Anyway, if you've read the title, and have this annoying feeling in the back of your head, like a song that just won't leave, it's likely because it immediately brought to mind this commercial.

And you know what? Chuck ain't wrong. In a recent podcast, I said the Spurs had to be, if not the favorite, one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference this season. I'm sticking by that, with the qualifier that we play up to the defensive standards of LWM- specifically the first five or six games of the win streak. If we play the defense of the fourth quarter against Detroit and the second half against Toronto, we'll get eliminated in the first round. I don't know if it's fatigue (likely) or reincorporating Manu Ginobili into the lineup (also likely) or just playing a couple teams that happened to get hot (not buying it this time). But with the Los Angeles Clippers on the schedule next, our defense is in for a tough test. They have the fifth most efficient offense in the league. The Spurs currently have the 15th ranked defense, according to hoopdata's efficiency stats. Again, the defense is ranked low partially because we've played some of the toughest offenses in the league, but that was not the case the previous two games. Detroit is the 28th most efficient offense and Toronto is 27th.

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Turrible. Just turrible.
via covers.openlibrary.org

The Rodeo Road Trip, thus far, has been filled with games against less than stellar opposition. Even with the lighter schedule recently, we've still played the fifth toughest schedule, and it's about to get tougher. Starting Saturday, we play four games in six nights against the sixth, eighth, and fourteenth best teams in the league according to John Hollinger's power rankings. Personally, I'd rate Denver higher than fourteenth, but I'm not one of his machines. Point is, if we still have the league's longest active win streak this time next week, it will be time for all the naysayers to jump on the Spurs bandwagon. In fact, I'd argue if we win three of the four, the number of doubts we should have about the Spurs should continue to shrink.

As promised, here's a quick run down of our best five man units, courtesy of 82games.com. Arranged by minutes played together:

#
Unit
Min
Off
Def
+/-
W
L
Win%
1
Parker-Leonard-Jefferson-Blair-Duncan 182.9 0.98 0.97 +5 9 8
52.9
2
Parker-Neal-Jefferson-Blair-Duncan 80.3 1.17 0.95 +34 9 2
81.8
3
Parker-Green-Jefferson-Bonner-Splitter 48.8 1.05 0.87 +20 7 5
58.3
4
Parker-Ginobili-Jefferson-Blair-Duncan 46.6 1.12 1.01 +9 3 3
50.0
5
Parker-Green-Jefferson-Blair-Duncan 44.9 0.98 0.87 +14 4 3
57.1
6
Parker-Neal-Green-Bonner-Splitter 36.6 1.40 1.07 +22 6 4
60.0
7
Neal-Green-Jefferson-Bonner-Splitter 31.7 1.09 1.03 +0 5 4
55.5
8
Joseph-Neal-Green-Bonner-Splitter 26.3 1.13 1.02 +1 4 3
57.1
9
Parker-Green-Leonard-Bonner-Duncan 25.0 0.82 0.93 -5 3 4
42.8
10
Parker-Anderson-Jefferson-Blair-Duncan 23.3 0.98 1.00 -3 1 2
33.3
11
Neal-Anderson-Green-Bonner-Splitter 23.0 1.26 0.85 +19 2 0
100
12
Parker-Neal-Jefferson-Splitter-Duncan 22.4 0.98 1.33 -14 2 3
40.0

As you can see, our most effective lineup to date is Parker-Neal-Jefferson Blair-Duncan. The important numbers to note in this chart are the +/-, win%, and the off/def numbers. This caught me a little bit off guard. I expected the Splitter-Duncan lineup to fare better in the limutes they've played together. While they are better defensively, the Blair/Duncan frontcourt, when grouped with the same Parker-Neal-Jefferson backcourt, is significantly better offensively and has a better off/def differential.

I also expected to see Leonard involved in more of our most efficient lineups. He's done an excellent job in my eyes of covering other players' deficiencies. I think that Splitter/Bonner/Leonard lineups are especially interesting, because of how Leonard crashes the boards so Bonner isn't as heavily relied upon. Lineups like that, like most of the Spurs lineups this season, have lots of complementary pieces. It's one of the reasons I have confidence even though Bonner is averaging 20 minutes a game. Since we now have wings in Green and Leonard who rebound exceptionally well, and who play excellent help defense, and who block shots (Green is barely trailing Splitter in BPG), Bonner can stick to doing what he does best- shooting and hustling.

Next week: Depending on how these games go, I'll take a look at how reintegrating Manu is going, or I'll re-evaluate my optimism for the Spurs this season.

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