J Gomez recently wrote a great article on a topic that has been on a lot of people's minds: who should back up
the league MVP Tony Parker? According to the poll at the bottom of his post, as of my writing, a majority of fans (44%) prefer Patty Mills or Nando de Colo (36%) over Gary Neal (18%). It's easy to see why Gary has been disliked this season, and JG's analysis is thorough in its statistical breakdown and insightful in its conclusions. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Despite the fan clamor, Pop has insisted on giving Gary his minutes (I never thought it to be true, but apparently Pop doesn't actually listen to us fans). Gary hasn't been shooting well and he probably couldn't guard Alcatraz from a helicopter on a clear day. But Pop sticks with him nonetheless. One thing I've been considering a possibility is that Pop really values playoff experience. He clearly values it so much that he is willing to continue to let a player who has been one of the biggest statistical letdowns of the season take the court in favor of less experienced but seemingly more capable players.
In addition to the backup PG situation, a lot of us have asked, "What is different this year? How are we gonna win #5? Same lineup, same problems, right?" Well I believe a large part of the difference could be the valuable playoff experience Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard received last year. Subjectively, I see both of these players increasingly embracing responsibility for the success of this team. I find that much less frequently they are caught simply looking at the Big Three and waiting for something to happen. This is apparent in Danny's go-ahead triple in LA, Kawhi's game-winner at Cleveland, or Kawhi's dominant performance against Chicago when the Big-Three
rested sat due to their injuries. Some of this can be attributed to Pop's decisions (e.g. Restgate I & II), but I also think that these two boys grew into playoff men last year.
These two issues got me wondering just how important playoff experience is. How much playoff experience is enough? My gut feeling is in line with Pop's: playoff experience is critical. Still, I wanted more concrete answers to these questions. So, being the engineer that I am, I naturally dove deep into the statistical waters. After much searching, compiling, and Matlab-ing, I decided to keep it relatively simple and chose to look at how a player's Net Rating (ORtg-DRtg) changes from the regular season to the playoffs. That is, how does that famed playoff atmosphere affect a player's ability to reproduce, relative to his regular season numbers?
A small sample of Spurs
What I'll do is track the careers of a handful of Spurs role players who were/are similar to Kawhi, Danny, and Gary to see how their PER numbers over their career changed with increasing playoff experience. Since this is a Spurs blog, I'll focus on our boys in Silver and Black. Here is a list of the Spurs I will include, their rookie seasons, their first playoff season, and the number of playoffs seasons in which they participated. Many of these players played several playoff series for other teams.
|Player||Rookie Season||First Playoff Season||Number of Playoff Seasons**|
What to expect
I fully expect Kawhi and Danny to show up for the playoffs. Each is set to start in his second (significant) playoff series as an NBA player. The perimeter D will give opposing point guards nightmares, and the threes will rain from the corner and beyond. The verdict is still out on Gary, however. Going in to his third playoff year, he has the experience which Nando and Patty don't have, which is certainly a plus, but he has struggled tremendously this year. If he can first get healthy and then climb out of his hole and regain his shooting confidence, I expect him to be good for a couple of clutch, late-game playoff shots. If he doesn't, then his inability to outweigh his defensive lack with shot-making ability could have serious repercussions for the playoff success of this team. One good thing: his P²R² improved from a -8 in 2010-2011 to a +8 in 2012-2013. Let's hope he can get that nagging calf injury healed up and continue the upward trend into his third playoff experience.
I have to gush a bit and say how honored and humbled I was when JRW invited me to write for Pounding the Rock. It was only recently that I discovered how great a community this is, and how knowledgeable, insightful, and respectful all of its members are. I feel like sapling among redwoods, a Muggsy among Yaos. Thanks for reading.