The Spurs at the quarter pole: Part 1
The Spurs have hit the quarter pole at 15-5, so I thought it'd be a good time as any to give a status report on their main dudes. Tomorrow I'll write about some big picture team trends.
1. Tony Parker has firmly entered his decline phase.
I had hoped that last season's injury-riddled season was a blip and figured that Parker would be back with a vengeance for at least one final monster season before the inevitable tumble downhill. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case. A part of it is playing for a very deep team and the necessary growing pains of force-feeding Kawhi Leonard the ball, but Parker's numbers are down across the board for the second straight season.
Basically, aside from shooting three-pointers --he's leading the league at 65.4 percent-- he's not doing anything particularly well. The main thing I've noticed is that he hasn't been able to get to the basket the way he used to. Only 24.9 percent of his attempts are layups and only 46.3 percent of his attempts are in the paint, both the lowest rates of his career. He's averaging 3.7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes, the lowest since his rookie year. His mid-range jumper has abandoned him, he's making just 37.9 percent of attempts between 16-22 feet, when he'd been above 45 percent, one of the best in the league, at the long two the past two seasons.
I wish I could tell you it gets better in other areas, but it's simply not the case. Parker's assist rate (30.0) is the lowest since 2003-04. His turnover rate (16.1) is tied for the second-worst of his career. His assist-to-turnover ratio (2.02) is also the lowest. Meanwhile in his own end he's got the worst defensive rating on the team (99.5) of anyone in the rotation besides Marco Belinelli. Box Plus/Minus is an imperfect tool, but his mark of -1.8 Defensive BPM is the worst on the team and the worst of his career and essentially by the BPM metric Parker's done the Spurs more harm than good.
For the second straight season, Parker's backup has a better PER than he does. He's still very good, but at this point it's being charitable to still call him a star.
2. Duncan still getting it done, minus the shooting.
On the other end of the spectrum, the ageless Duncan seems fully capable of cranking out star-quality seasons until we're all dust. Take out the guys who haven't played enough games (Russell Westbrook) and the ones who don't play enough minutes (Marreesse Speights, Brandan Wright) and Duncan's PER ranks 18th in the league at 21.92. He's eighth in the league in rebound rate (19.9) and sixth in defensive win shares (1.32). Only Leonard has a better defensive rating than Duncan on the Spurs (95.2). Duncan's averaging more rebounds per 36 minutes --12.4-- than he ever has and is equaling his best mark in steals per 36 minutes with 0.9. His 2.5 blocks per 36 is his fourth-best ever and the 3.7 assists is tied for second most.
The only thing Duncan hasn't been able to do, really, is score. He's averaging the fewest points per 36 minutes of his career at 16.4 and shooting a career-worst 46.4 percent. He's only shooting 10.9 times a game though he has gotten to the line more frequently than any season since 2008-09, at 5.1 attempts per game. When he does shoot, it's mostly from point-blank range, with 70.4 percent of his attempts coming in the paint and 36.2 percent right at the rim. The latter figure is the second-highest of his career. There's a reason he's junked the jumper, because right now it's plain ugly. Duncan's shooting 21.4 percent from 10-16 feet and 31.0 percent from 16 feet and beyond. Often we see him at the left elbow trying to decide between shooting a banker or a conventional shot while at the apex of his shooting motion, and the result is an unsightly brick. To be fair, Duncan struggled early on last year before finding his form, but we saw this happen the final season of David Robinson's career too. For some physiological reason, just enough creakiness sets in for bigs and they can't shoot jumpers toward the end of their careers.
3. "The Aztec" continues to slump.
Speaking of wonky jumpers, the Spurs are going through some labor pains trying to refine Leonard's game as a high-usage star. He's averaging 2.1 more attempts than last year and double the free throw attempts (3.7, up from 1.9 last season). His usage rate is a career-high 21.8, but it's still fifth on the team behind "The Big Three," and, of course, Austin Daye.
Leonard's shooting percentage is down to 45.6 and while you're used to peaks and valleys from downtown, the really concerning issue is he's making only 50.0 percent of his twos. Last year he made 57.9 percent of those. Only 23.5 percent of his attempts are at the rim, which is way down from last season and continues the tumble downward from his rookie year. 37.2 percent of Leonard's attempts now are two-point jumpers, and 19.5 of those are "long-twos." Leonard was one of the top mid-range shooters in the league last season, making 50.5 percent of those 16-22 footers, but he's canned just 40.9 of them this year, and just 42.5 percent from 10-16 feet.
Even more than his shooting struggles though, what's impossible to miss is that all too often Leonard stops the offense's ball movement cold, mostly by design, but sometimes on his own. He's turning it over 1.6 times a night dribbling into the teeth of the defense and his assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.32, the lowest of his career.
The good news is Leonard isn't letting his offensive struggles impact the other end of the floor. His rebounding is way up, to 7.6 per game, to offset the absence of Tiago Splitter. Leonard's already logged six double-doubles after managing just seven all of last year. He's also 11th in the league in steals at 1.9 per game. While his individual defense hasn't always passed the eye test, Leonard's defensive rating of 95.2 leads the Spurs and his 1.39 defensive win shares ranks third.
4. Ginobili is starting to find his rhythm.
Manu's always been a slow starter, and you figured November would be tough sledding for him after he was practically immobile the whole off-season rehabbing the stress fracture in his leg. He was shooting below 40 percent for most of the season and in the low 30's in three-point percentage. From Nov. 17-Nov. 30, he scored in the single digits in six of seven games. Once the calender hit December though, Ginobili's started to heat up, averaging 15.3 points, 4.3 boards and 5.0 assists in three games, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 60 percent from downtown.
It's eerie how similar Ginobili's numbers are to last year's in terms of where he shoots from and how often, but like Duncan and Leonard, he's gotten to the line more to make up for a worse percentage from the field. He's really struggling to finish at the rim, and that may be a sign his age is catching up with him. One thing about Ginobili though is he knows his game. Whereas many veterans settle for jumpers when their legs go, he refuses to do so because he knows that's just not his shot. If he can't get to the paint, he passes it off. Only a sixth of his shot attempts are two-point jumpers.
As a playmaker Ginobili's 2.45 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best of his career and his assist rate of 28.8 is third among shooting guards behind Dwyane Wade and James Harden. Defensively, Ginobili's peripherals aren't very good, but his defensive rating of 95.3 is third on the team and his net rating of 12.6 leads the Spurs.
5. Is Danny Green the team's secret MVP?
Danny Green doesn't get much recognition, but he's quietly off to the best start of his career. He's averaging career-bests in points (11.5), field goal percentage (46.3), rebounds (4.3), assists (1.8), steals (1.3) and blocks (1.4). He's behind only explosive Sixers rookie K.J. McDaniels for blocked shots among guards. Green's converting 53 percent of his two-point attempts and shooting career-bests at the rim, from the paint and on long twos. Really the only area of the floor he can't score is from 10-16 feet and he doesn't try to often.
The other end of the floor remains his specialty though, and Green is 13th in the league in defensive win shares with 1.18 and is sixth among all shooting guards with 2.07 win shares. The really interesting stat with him though is BPM, where he ranks second on the team to Ginobili offensively (2.1) and second to Duncan defensively (3.1), and his overall BPM of 5.3 easily leads the Spurs. He, Leonard and Cory Joseph are the only Spurs who have been assets so far both offensively and defensively by that metric.
It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up all year and into the playoffs, but the way he's going, Green is earning himself a huge raise. I wonder if other league execs view him as a product of the system or a real player. Right now, an eight figure annual salary doesn't seem that crazy for Green.