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State of the Spurs: The Kindergarten Rules

Kindergarten taught most of us two distinct rules: play well with others and don't run with scissors. Schools don't trust kids with real scissors - they give them "safety" scissors. So unless some teacher has a major mental lapse and gives that crazy kid the shears from Dead Again, Rule #2 really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

So far this season, the Spurs have taken Rule #1 to heart. Although most everyone has been talking about the increased offensive pace this year, what has caught my eye has been the extra passing that results in wide open shots, especially those lovely corner pockets. So have the Spurs been sharing the ball more this year or is this just an illusion?

Just to get an idea of how the offense may (or may not) have changed this season, I decided to compare last year's and this year's teams. Once again, there are a truck load of stats to look at, so I chose the ones that make sense to me: Assists per Game, % Assists (Assisted Field Goals Made/Field Goals Made), and Assist Rate (% of possessions ending in an Assist). Thank goodness for spreadsheets and Hoopdata!

Ast per
Game % Ast Ast Rate
Spurs NBA Avg. Spurs NBA Avg. Spurs NBA Avg.
2009-2010 22.3 21.2 58.06 56.34 21.17 19.92
2010-2011 23.0 21.4 60.15 57.82 21.73 20.14

At first glance, it looks like my eyes haven't deceived me. The Spurs have improved in evary category, ranking in the Top 10 for each. So is this improvement based on only a couple of individuals or has the team improved as a whole (my vote)? Let's take a look see (and to make the comparison fair, these are Per 40 Minutes numbers).

2009 - 2010 Season
2010 - 2011 Season
% Diff.
Player Name APG
% Ast
% Ast
Antonio McDyess 2.1 85.4 13.49 2.5 84.2 15.77 19.05% -1.41% 16.90%
DeJuan Blair 1.7 59.3 8.75 2.1 68.4 11.03 23.53% 15.35% 26.06%
George Hill 4.0 52.4 19.33 3.0 52.9 16.54 -25.00% 0.95% -14.43%
Manu Ginobili 6.9 46.0 23.37 6.2 51.9 21.44 -10.14% 12.83% -8.26%
Matt Bonner 2.3 76.5 13.60 1.5 84.6 12.08 -34.78% 10.59% -11.18%
Richard Jefferson 2.5 70.6 13.58 1.8 84.4 10.92 -28.00% 19.55% -19.59%
Tim Duncan 4.0 55.3 15.07 4.2 58.3 17.07 5.00% 5.42% 13.27%
Tony Parker 7.3 28.7 24.57 8.2 30.1 27.48 12.33% 4.88% 11.84%
Bench Average
2.1 66.3
38.82% 9.92% 15.44%
Team Average 3.7 60.1
3.6 65.3

Color me surprised. Although some players have increased their assists per game, it's not the across the board improvement I expected. The wings' numbers have gone down. But boy howdy, look at what the big guys have done! And can we give some love to Tony? I don't want to hear any more complaints about The Wee Frenchman not passing the ball to Manu.

Tony to Timmeh!

But do these numbers make sense? Yes - if you trust your eyeballs. How often have we commented on Blair's passing this season or Timmeh standing at the high post hitting the cutter? RJ 2.0 is more aggressive, so his assist numbers have gone down, but his dunks have most definitely gone up. Cubits is looking to score more, so his assists are also down (even though I think his passing has improved). And the bench has gotten better mostly because Tiago is not a black hole and Neal and Anderson are such great catch-and-shoot guys. However, as always, Manu perplexes me. With his role this year being one of creating his own shot, it makes sense that his assists are down. But it doesn't make sense that his % Ast has increased, especially considering how many transition threes he's shooting (you could cut back on those, Manu). I guess that's why Ginobili is The Anomaly.

DeJuan may not have ACLs, but he has great hands.

Highlights from January - see the pretty passes?

So what does this mean? The free-flowing Spurs' offense this year is not a fluke - just look at the overall % Ast numbers. Their permanent record should be forever brandished with the words "Shares toys and plays well with others". As for PtR, we should probably just get T-shirts with this: