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Spurs have transcendent game in Leonard's return

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The Spurs looked like the championship-caliber team they are for the first time in a long time as Kawhi Leonard's return spurred the Spurs on to a quintessentially Spurs-like victory over a top-notch Portland team.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Spurs 110, Trail Blazers 96 - Jan 16, '15

Boy do I feel better about the Spurs this year after witnessing what Kawhi's return did for a sputtering (by Spurs standards) team.  Watching the young stud make plays that he alone of the Spurs possesses the length and athleticism to make underscored just how completely Kawhi transforms the Spurs squad.  Without him, the Spurs rely on being smarter, executing and shooting better than their opponents to win.  They are often left at the mercy of supremely athletic wings who can dominate the Spurs' less athletic defenders on offense without worrying about getting the same treatment on the other end.  But with Kawhi, the Spurs have an athlete of their own, and one of the best in the league at neutralizing athletic offensive players on defense, to boot.

There were several times last night I noticed when a Portland player was trying to drive in transition, but saw Kawhi ahead of them and immediately gave up on the notion and pulled back.  The Spurs have been getting destroyed on fast break points lately, so I've become used to seeing opponents slash through Spurs defenders on their way to the rim, with Danny Green seemingly the only decent threat to stop anyone in transition.  Opponents average 2.0 fewer fast break points per 48 minutes when Kawhi is on the court, and it's not hard to see why when players seem to hesitate to even try to take it at Leonard.

Four Factors (def.)

Spurs Trail Blazers
Shooting (eFG%) 48% 54%
Ball Handling (TO%) 13% 17%
Off Rebounding (OR%) 33% 6%
Shooting FTs (FT Rate) 18% 27%

Team Stats (Definitions at bottom of post)

Spurs Trail Blazers
Pace (No. of Possessions) 98.1
Points Per Possession (PPP) 1.12 0.98
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.17 1.30
2-PT FG% 47.7% 56.4%
3-PT FG% 37.9% 31.6%
FT% 88.2% 80.0%
True Shooting % 54.2% 58.0%
Spurs
Trail Blazers
Offensive Rating 110.6 99.2
Defensive Rating 99.2 110.6
Net Rating 11.4 -11.4
Spurs Trail Blazers
Passes / poss. 3.0 2.6
% of FGA uncontested 44.7% 44.6%
Points in the paint 38 28
Second chance points 20 5
Fast break points 17 6
Spurs Trail Blazers
Assists 34 20
Steals 12 6
Turnovers 12 16
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
3.83 1.63
Spurs Trail Blazers
Expected Offensive Rebounds 11.3 9.0
Offensive Rebounds 15 2
Difference 3.7 -7.0

The Spurs lost the shooting battle pretty badly, didn't get to the line very well... and crushed one of the best teams in the league.  How?  Winning the ball control battle by a comfortable margin and absolutely obliterating Portland on the boards.  Wow, I haven't seen a rebounding margin this drastic all season.  The Spurs had one game against New Orleans in which they grabbed just 1 or 2 offensive rebounds, but they also held the Pelicans to something like -4.0 on expected Offensive rebounds to go with it.  The Spurs were +10.7 on expected offensive rebounds!  

Add in the Spurs +4 advantage in turnovers and the good guys had 14.7 more scoring opportunities than the Blazers.  The Spurs would've had to shoot roughly 15 percentage points worse from the field to lose that advantage.  They lost the shooting battle by a significant 6 points in eFG% and still blew out their opponent.  15 extra scoring opportunities gives you a lot of margin for error.

Spurs Shot Chart

Trail Blazers Shot Chart

You see all that green just inside the 3pt line for the Blazers?  I wonder if LaMarcus Aldridge might have had something to do with that...

LaMarcus Aldridge Shot Chart

Yup.  Aldridge shoots 45.8%, 5.3 better than the league average, from that deep along the left baseline.  Which explains why that is exactly where I always picture him shooting from.  

But enough about Aldridge.

Players (Definitions at bottom of post, columns sortable)

Spurs

Player
Min
AdjGS
GS/Min
Line
Usage%
Floor%
OffRtg
DefRtg
NetRtg
Danny Green 34 21.2 0.63 19 Pts (6-8 FG, 4-5 3PT, 3-3 FT) 5 Reb (0 Off), 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 TO, 1 PF 13% 75% 112.8 100.6 12.2
Tim Duncan 30 19.0 0.63 11 Pts (4-7 FG, 3-3 FT) 12 Reb (3 Off), 6 Ast, 2 Blk, 1 Stl, 1 TO, 2 PF 13% 70% 126.9 107.3 19.6
Kawhi Leonard 31 18.8 0.61 20 Pts (8-18 FG, 1-4 3PT, 3-4 FT) 4 Reb (0 Off), 5 Ast, 3 Stl, 2 PF 27% 56% 125.6 100.8 24.8
Patty Mills 22 14.3 0.64 18 Pts (7-14 FG, 3-7 3PT, 1-1 FT) 4 Reb (2 Off), 27% 53% 93.8 79.2 14.6
Tony Parker 28 13.2 0.47 17 Pts (8-17 FG, 1-2 3PT ) 2 Reb (1 Off), 7 Ast, 2 Stl, 3 TO, 3 PF 30% 47% 127.4 113.3 14.1
Manu Ginobili 22 13.1 0.61 13 Pts (4-12 FG, 1-6 3PT, 4-4 FT) 4 Reb (0 Off), 7 Ast, 3 Stl, 3 TO, 1 PF 32% 48% 110.1 94.3 15.8
Boris Diaw 29 8.2 0.29 5 Pts (2-5 FG, 1-2 3PT ) 6 Reb (1 Off), 4 Ast, 2 Blk, 1 Stl, 1 TO, 3 PF 9% 48% 111.3 96.2 15.2
Aron Baynes 18 3.6 0.21 3 Pts (1-3 FG, 1-2 FT) 6 Reb (5 Off), 1 TO, 1 PF 12% 31% 80.3 88.1 -7.8
Tiago Splitter 17 2.3 0.14 4 Pts (2-4 FG, ) 4 Reb (2 Off), 3 Ast, 2 TO, 5 PF 14% 43% 115.2 98.5 16.7
Kyle Anderson 2 0.3 0.14 0 Pts (0-1 FG, ) 2 Reb (1 Off), 17% 0% 0.0 166.7 -166.7
Cory Joseph 5 -1.5 -0.28 0 Pts (0-2 FG, ) , 17% 0% 0.0 90.0 -90.0
Matt Bonner 3 -2.3 -0.88 0 Pts (0-3 FG, 0-3 3PT ) , 38% 0% 50.0 125.0 -75.0

Show Trail Blazers Players

Lillard and Aldridge each hit about their season averages, chipping in 23 and 24 each, and a number of Portland players made solid contributions, but Wes Matthews and Nic Batum were both just black holes of lost productivity, each scoring negative AdjGS in a combined 59 minutes of play.  I wonder who was guarding those guys...

Kawhi may have been the heart of the Spurs last night, but it was actually Danny Green who took home top AdjGS honors.  The AdjGS formula rewards efficiency above all, and it doesn't get much more efficient than 19 points on 8 shots.  Danny Green had an absurdly high 75% Floor percentage, was absolutely deadly and had only 2 negative stats, a turnover and a foul to count against him.  Danny Green has really been the unsung (or at least infrequently or quietly sung) hero of the first part of the season.  He quietly puts up fantastic, efficient stat lines night after night while playing solid defense, especially as he's been tasked with very difficult assignments in Leonard's absence.  Tip of the hat to Icy Hot, who really deserves a better nickname that's not a left-handed compliment.

Tim Duncan: 11 and 12 on 7 shots, with 6 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal, tying Green with .63 adjGS/minute.  It's not even reasonable to expect a 38-year-old man (just 2 years shy of truly being a man) to produce like that.  Thing is, I don't think anyone's really asking anymore, Timmy just gives it anyway because he's seems incapable of doing anything else.  

Watching Kawhi dominate the game from the start and seeing how much more dangerous the Spurs are with his athleticism and disruptive defense brought me to the verge of tears.  If I'm being honest, I've hardly enjoyed watching the Spurs of late, they've seemed so far from what they were when they marched triumphantly through the playoffs last year.  "Wait til they get healthy" I'd keep telling myself, but until I actually saw the Spurs dismantle a great team, there was always doubt that they ever would look like the team they were last year.  But anyway, enough emotional stuff, this is a stats post!  Quantitative analysis!

Kawhi only gathered 3 steals, but his defense was more disruptive than that stat really could capture.  Kawhi forced the Blazers to completely waste multiple possessions with his pestering perimeter defense.  Unlike most defenders who can pester a guard dribbling at the perimeter, even if you do manage to get by him, you are as likely to get swatted from behind as you are to score.  Taking Kawhi off the dribble (successfully) is just not something you see happen all that often.  Along with that, it's almost impossible to force a switch into a mismatch with Kawhi.  Several times Kawhi switched onto Lamarcus Aldridge.  You wouldn't expect a player capable of defending Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook to be able to handle a skilled big like Aldridge as well, but Kawhi is a unicorn, a four leaf clover, a veritable double rainbow among NBA defenders.  What a luxury to have him on our team.  Stay healthy, Kawhi.

Spurs Index: 111.2 (def.)

Factor Value Score
Passing (AST%) 81.0% 39.1
Shooting (eFG%) 48.4% 18.0
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 94.4% 24.7
Defense (DefRtg) 99.2 20.2
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 44.6% 9.2
Total 111.2

Trail Blazers Spurs Index: 91.2 Show Breakdown

The Spurs sported a rocking 111.2 Spurs Index, which I'm sure Popp was pleased to see when he crunched the numbers after the game.  The Spurs assisted on a ridiculous 81% of their field goals and grabbed 94.4% of available defensive rebounds.  Those numbers are as close to perfect as you will probably see all year.  

What a fun game to watch that was.  Let's hope last night's game becomes the template for the remainder of the year, with the Spurs playing to the top of their potential and rolling even great teams once they find themselves.  Here's to a healthy Kawhi for the rest of the year!

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Definitions

eFG%: Effective Field Goal percentage. (via) Effective Field Goal Percentage; the formula is (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA. This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).

AdjGS: a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game. The "adjustment" in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game's points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

Usage%: This "estimates the % of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor" (via). The usage of those possessions is determined via a formula using field goal and free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers. The higher the number, the more prevalent a player is (good or bad) in a team's offensive outcome.

Floor%: Via Basketball-Reference.com: Floor % answers the question, "when Player X uses a possession, what is the probability that his team scores at least 1 point?". The higher the Floor%, the more frequently the team probably scores when the given player is involved.

Offensive Rating (offRtg): Points per 100 possessions.

Defensive Rating (defRtg): Points allowed per 100 possessions.

Spurs Index: The Spurs Index © is a just-for-fun formula that attempts to quantify just how "Spursy" a particular game is, based off averages for the 2013-2014 regular season. A perfectly average game would have a Spurs Index of 100. The formula consists of four factors which the Spurs are known for and lead or nearly lead the league in: Shooting (effective Field Goal %), Passing (Assist percentage), Defensive Rebounding Rate, and Defensive Rating. These metrics are weighted as follows:

Factor Weight Average
Passing (AST%) 30% 62.1%
Shooting (eFG%) 20% 53.7%
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 20% 76.4%
Defense (DefRtg) 20% 100.1
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 10% 40.8%
The values for each metric are determined based on how a particular game's performance compares to the Spurs 2013-2014 regular season average for that metric. For instance, the average effective Field Goal percentage for 2013-2014 was 53.7%. So if the Spurs shot 60% in a given game, the score for eFG% would be calculated by: (0.6 / 0.537) * 20, which would yield a "score" for that factor of 22.3.

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