How Will The Spurs Counter The Jazz Frontcourt

April 9, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Matt Bonner (15) boxes out Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) during the second half at Energy Solutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Spurs 91-84. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

As we all know, the biggest strength of the Utah Jazz is their big man rotation. They have 4 quality bigs that can rebound, block shots and score around the rim. The Spurs have good bigs but, at least physically, the Jazz seem to have the upper hand.

It will be important for the Spurs to figure out a rotation that counters the strength of the Jazz's bigs. Looking at the four match-ups between the teams this season let's see if we can figure out what that rotation should be.

Before we start, it's important to note that there are a lot of caveats to these numbers. The Spurs played the Jazz for the first time on December 31st, which was before either team had found their groove. San Antonio's rotations have changed a number of times. Richard Jefferson, who's of course no longer with the team, started for the Spurs in the first two contests, The Big Three sat for the final game, and Boris Diaw is starting now. That being said, the Spurs played a lot of combinations against the Jazz (besides the usual DeJuan Blair-Tim Duncan, and Tiago Splitter-Matt Bonner combos) which makes the analysis worthwhile. Bonner and Blair, who were rarely seen on the court together, actually teamed up against Utah, and Tiago logged some time with Diaw, who was also paired with Duncan.

The duos that never shared the court (or did so for very limited minutes) were Bonner-Diaw and Splitter-Blair. With that said, let's dig in.

First let's look at the raw individual numbers for the Spurs' front court players against the Jazz.

Vs. Utah

Games

Minutes

Points

Rebounds

Assists

FG%

Blair

3

26.2

15

7.3

1.3

. 645

Bonner

4

24.2

9

2.2

0.8

.600

Diaw

2

22.2

7

2

1

.667

Splitter

3

21.5

10

5.7

1

.635

Duncan

3

31.8

15

10.7

2.7

.431

At first look, Blair's, Splitter's and Duncan's stats would indicate that they should be the rotation bigs against the Jazz. In reality, the best way to figure out who helps the team when they are on the court is to look at team stats like plus/minus, offensive and defensive rating and in the case of a team like the Jazz who feast on second chance points (second in the league in offensive rebound percentage), defensive rebound percentage.

As most of us would expect, Matt Bonner does great in the plus/minus department against the Jazz. With Bonner on the court, Utah is a whopping -18.8 and with Matty on the bench they are +8.1. The Jazz's 107.2 offensive rating when Bonner is on the court is almost 4 points better than their average of 103.8 but their defensive rating is almost 22 points worse. It's clear that playing Bonner against the Jazz works.

The only other big that has overwhelmingly positive numbers against the Jazz is Tim Duncan. When Tim is playing, the Jazz are -18.2, and when he sits they are +6.9. Their OffRTG is 88.3, almost 15 points less than their season average. Their DefRTG is only 3 points higher than their season average against the Spurs. Basically, when Bonner plays, the Spurs hurt the Jazz with offense, but it's the team's defense that disrupts Utah's game with Tim on the court. Nothing too revealing there, other than the fact that those differentials seem to suggest Duncan and Bonner are Jazz kryptonite.

The problem for the Spurs is that those are the only bigs that seem to thrive against Utah.

DeJuan Blair allows the Jazz plus/minus numbers of +8.5 on the court and -15.3 off the court. Tiago Splitter's numbers are pretty bad too. The Jazz are +2.3 with him on the court and -9.4 with him off. The Jazz score less than their season average with DeJuan in but allow the Spurs a measly 85.8 points per 100 possesions. The Spurs OffRtg against Utah this season is 110.9. That's 25 points less than the Spurs' average and 20 points better than the Jazz's average this season

With Tiago on, the Jazz score a lot better than their average against the Spurs (109.6 OffRtg), but their defense allows pretty much the same amount of points per 100 possessions against San Antonio (103.9). Both numbers are also improvements over their season averages.

Part of why the defense suffers with Tiago in, is the fact that the team fouls a lot more. The Jazz go the line to the tune of 36.8 free throw attempts with Tiago in. Lineups featuring DeJuan limit the amount of fouls (only 22.5 FTA), stifling a Jazz offense that struggles from outside. Tiago himself is not responsible for the fouls rate, since he's never had more than 2 fouls in a game against the Jazz, but the fact remains: Lineups with DeJuan seem to do better defensively against Utah, than the ones with Splitter in.

Boris Diaw has played in two games against the Jazz, and his numbers have been strange. The Spurs allow the Jazz a measly 86.3 points/100 possessions but have only scored 88.2. The plus/minus numbers are not that impressive (+4.4 on, -0.5 off) either but he might be a better option than Blair and Splitter. The lineups with Diaw foul at a similar rate than the ones with Splitter but the defensive rating is similar to the lineups featuring Blair.

As far as rebounding goes, When Tim is in, the Jazz see one of their biggest strengths, offensive rebounding, negated. Their offensive rebound percentage goes to 21.3 from their season average of 30.2, which is second in the NBA. With Splitter in, Utah gets fewer offensive boards then their average (27.9) but the drop off is nowhere near the kind they experience when facing Duncan. With Blair in, the Jazz get about their season average (29.9%), with Bonner, it's similar to Splitter (27.7%). Opposing Diaw improves the Jazz's percentage (34.9%).

While the Spurs would be better served by playing Bonner with Duncan or Splitter, the rebounding numbers seem to suggest that playing whenever Diaw is playing, either Tiago or Tim should be on the court, without exception.

For all the talk about the Jazz's front court depth, they suffer a lot when their young reserve bigs come in. The Spurs have negative plus/minus numbers with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on the court, but against the reserves the Spurs do a lot of damage, taking advantage of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (and the entirety of the Jazz shaky bench) to outscore Utah. Ty Corbin plays his starters a lot (Jefferson 34 MPG, Millsap 32.8 MPG) and that number could even climb higher in the post season.

Conclusion

We can expect the Spurs to play Duncan a good deal more than he did during the regular season, and that will probably be necessary since Millsap and Jefferson clearly pose some problems. Heavy doses of Timmy with either Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw is probably the best way for the Spurs to counter the Jazz potent starters, while Splitter and Blair should feast on the inexperienced Favors and Kanter.

Stats via NBA.com, HoopsStats and PopcornMachine.com game flows

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