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Are the Spurs using the right lineups?

The Spurs love using a lot of different lineups instead of settling for a couple that work. But which of the Spurs' favorite five-man units are delivering and which are faltering?


The Spurs use a lot of lineups. Gregg Popovich really loves to test what works and what doesn't in actual games. For that reason, the Spurs' starting lineup ranks 41st in total minutes played and their second most used lineup ranks 51st. For comparison, the top four most used lineups belong to the starters from the Wolves, Blazers, Pacers and Warriors with over 450 minutes played together. The Spurs' starters (with Green starting) have spent 137 minutes together and with Marco starting, 102.

Since the Spurs use so many lineups, we can't really compare them to other teams until they log more minutes together. But what we can do is see which lineups have been the most effective.

The Spurs have eight five-man units that have been on the court at least 30 minutes together and have appeared in at least ten games. I took a close look at each and divided them into three groups::

Agh! Kill it with fire!

Parker - Ginobili - Leonard - Duncan - Splitter

Minutes played together: 50

Offensive rating: 90.3

Defensive rating: 102.8

Net rating: -12.5

True shooting percentage: 44.3%

Key opponent stats:: 55% three point shooting percentage

Miscellaneous:  21.7 three point shooting percentage

This lineup is a whole bunch of suck, which is a problem when you realize that this is likely one of the units the Spurs want closing games. They can't shoot the three to save their lives and give up a whopping 55% three point shooting to their opponents. Ginobili just has little value with Parker dominating the ball and they foul too much as well. Under normal circumstances, the Spurs should stay the hell away from this unit. But they will be forced to give this one more reps, so let's hope Manu and Kawhi start getting hot from three.

Parker - Belinelli - Leonard - Diaw - Duncan

Minutes played together: 46

Offensive rating: 113

Defensive rating: 124.2

Net rating: -11.2

True shooting percentage: 65.6%

Key opponent stat: 24.9 free throw attempts per 48 minutes

Miscellaneous:-23.9 differential on points off turnovers

This lineup simply gives up way too many easy points. It's potent on offense but you simply can't give up so many points off turnovers and free throw attempts and expect to be solid on defense. Compounding problems, this lineup has a lot of trouble rebounding the ball and allows a high three point percentage. To put it in simpler terms, they have been a disaster on defense.

Parker - Green - Leonard - Duncan - Splitter

Minutes played together: 137

Offensive rating: 91.4

Defensive rating: 92.2

Net rating: -0.8

True shooting percentage: 48.4%

Key opponent stat: 12.3 personal fouls per 48 minutes

Miscellaneous:  21.9% three point shooting percentage

The defense is stout but the offense struggles creating good looks. This lineup relies on mid-range looks a bit too heavily because they have a lot of trouble getting free throws and three point attempts up (only 11.2 3PA per 48 minutes). For this unit to go back to being elite, the shooters need to step up and Parker needs to create inside looks for the second big.

Not bad but could improve

Parker - Belinelli - Ginobili - Diaw - Duncan

Minutes played together: 51

Offensive rating: 127.8

Defensive rating: 123.9

Net rating: +3.9

True shooting percentage: 65.2%

Key opponent stat: 54.9% field goal percentage

Miscellaneous: 33.6 assist per 48 minutes

This lineup doesn't have any problems scoring the ball. They get a ton of points in the paint and from three and do it efficiently. They create assisted looks and don't turn it over much. Offensively, this lineup is among the best the Spurs use. But that defense is just atrocious. The only thing they do well is prevent corner threes but they allow well above average marks both at the rim and from above the break threes. They simply allow the opponent to create too many assisted looks that result in easy shots

Parker - Belinelli - Leonard - Duncan - Splitter

Minutes played together: 102

Offensive rating: 95.1

Defensive rating: 91

Net rating: +4.1

True shooting percentage: 48.5%

Key opponent stat: 42.9 field goal percentage

Miscellaneous: 9.4 fast break points

The new starting lineup, like the old one, locks down on D. They allow a low field goal percentage, don't foul, control the defensive glass and get back in transition. But the same offensive problems remain. Marco stepping into Green's role has had minimal effect on the unit's three point shooting (30.8%), they still can't get to the line and they very rarely run out in transition. The result predictably is a lot of mid-range jumpers and a bad offensive efficiency.

Parker - Ginobili - Leonard - Diaw - Duncan

Minutes played together: 123

Offensive rating: 116.5

Defensive rating: 108.6

Net rating: +7.9

True shooting percentage: 61%

Key opponent stat: 22.3 free throw attempts per 48 minutes

Miscellaneous:  12.6 turnover rate

This lineup has a lot of potential but needs to fine tune a few things. First, they foul too much, which is detrimental to their otherwise solid-but-not-lockdown defense. They also need to do a better job on the defensive glass. But offensively they are great. They mostly take shots at the rim or from three and convert them at a high rate and get to the line a solid pace. If they can work on the little things, this lineup, which figures to be one of the more used in the playoffs, could work wonderfully.

The great ones

Mills - Belinelli - Ginobili - Diaw - Ayres

Minutes played together: 68

Offensive rating: 118.3

Defensive rating: 97.5

Net rating: +20.8

True shooting percentage: 66.5%

Key opponent stat: four total corner shots

Miscellaneous:  16.5 opponent's assists per 48 minutes

Ah, the bench unit or The Foreign Legion, as some call it. They defend surprisingly well and limit easy points for the opponent. They don't foul while encouraging the other team to take outside shots. On offense, they don't hit as many threes as you would think but are scorching from mid-range and amazingly good at the rim, hitting a ridiculous 86.5% in the restricted area. And the ball movement creates a lot of assisted looks, which means that shooting is probably sustainable.

Parker - Green - Leonard - Diaw - Duncan

Minutes played together: 61

Offensive rating: 109.5

Defensive rating: 76.2 (!)

Net rating: +33.3 (!!)

True shooting percentage: 60%

Key opponent stat: every offensive metric

Miscellaneous:  12.6 blocks per 48 minutes

This is by far the best of the Spurs most-used lineups. Offensively they are not that special. Very few three pointers and free throws and not a lot of assists. But they get by with excellent mid-range shooting and finishing ability at the rim.

Defensively, though, this is one killer lineup. They hold the opponent to greatly below-average marks in field goal percentage (31.4%) and three point shooting percentage (30.3%), free throw attempts per 48 minutes (11.8) and a extremely low 26.5% at the rim. This lineup blocks a ton of shots, controls the defensive glass and doesn't allow transition buckets. That defensive efficiency mark is completely unsustainable, but even if there is some regression this lineup should remain good.

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So there you have it. Not all the Spurs' most used lineups are killers but they do have some that work well and a few that are just fantastic. The sample sizes are not big enough to allow us to make any definitive statements but at least we have a notion of what has worked and what hasn't. Pop has a lot of work to do to find the perfect combinations -- as some of his pet lineups are clearly not working -- but individual improvement could go a long way in turning the tides. We will keep monitoring the units the Spurs use and keep you posted.

All stats courtesy of