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Study Hall: Spurs go small-ball in Duncan's absence

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The Spurs took out their frustration from Monday night's whooping at the hands of the Warriors on the poor Rockets, who had to have known what kind of fate awaited them and played like it.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Spurs 130, Rockets 99 - Jan 27, '16

The Duncan-less Spurs steamrolled an overmatched Rockets squad on Wednesday, taking out their collective frustrations on a Houston squad that never stood much of a chance and seemed like they knew it. Let's take a look at the stats breakdown:

  • 62% - 44% eFG - Two nights removed from enduring a 13 point Golden State eFG advantage, the Spurs dominate Houston from the field, sporting an 18 percentage point advantage which is among the highest this season. Sixty-two percent is just nuts, and it was definitely abetted by Houston's shall we say, passive defensive approach.
  • 71% FT Rate - Houston shot 52 free throws to just 73 field goals, knocking down a terrible 67.3% of them thanks in large part to a woeful 3-10 showing from poor Clint Capella. Capella's visible discomfiture so touched Jeff Van Gundy that he presumably spent the rest of the night producing a black-and-white montage of Capella, Howard and DeAndre Jordan looking sad set to Sarah McLachlan's Angel in a noble effort to shame the NBA into doing something (anything!) to save these poor FT-challenged NBA players.
  • James Harden and Dwight Howard combined to take just 15 shots. Their combined 16/17 effort from the line saw them score 33 points on those 15 shots, so they were efficient, but too passive to put much of a dent in the Spurs huge scoring advantage. Great defensive efforts by Aldridge, Danny and of course Kawhi.
  • 52.2% - 27.6% 3PT - the Spurs almost doubled Houston's 3pt shooting percentage, thanks in no small part to Danny Green's killer 6-8 showing.
  • 18 PT, 6 REB, 3 AST, 1 BLK, 3 STL, 0 TO - Danny Green's line on the night. That's some impressive stat-stuffing from Danny, who scored his 18 points on just 9 FGA. When Danny is getting and hitting from deep, the Spurs offense is just so much better.
  • After bearing the brunt of much criticism following his poor performance on Monday Night, LMA rebounded (ha) with a 25/10/5 showing. I'm going to baselessly speculate that this was 100% due to Aldridge deleting his social media accounts on Tuesday, and project that he will average 25/10 the rest of the way. Woo hoo!

Small-ish Ball?

With Duncan sitting out once more with knee soreness, Pop opted to start Kyle Anderson, moving Aldridge to the 5 despite his (pre-Spurs) statement of preference to not play center. Aldridge was rewarded for the sacrifice with a 25 point, 10 rebound night and the Spurs' offense flowed more freely for the starters than we've seen it most of the season. The Spurs stayed fairly small most of the night, with Diaw and West playing 15 and 19 minutes each, at or slightly below their season averages, despite the Spurs being short a starting big man. It was just one game (and a terrible defense to boot), but you can't argue with the results of the decision to stay small.

At the beginning of the season the Spurs struggled with their offensive spacing as they tried to incorporate Aldridge and play him alongside Duncan. With the Spurs attempting fewer looks from deep, it seemed as if Pop's Twin Towers starting lineup was limiting the Spurs' offensive ceiling. There are some numbers to suggest that the Spurs' might better off staggering Duncan and Aldridge in small ball lineups featuring only one traditional big man at a time.

In perhaps the most Spurs-y of all Spurs Problems, the Spurs were lucky to acquire an outright stockpile of talent at the 4 and 5 positions, and it's possible they feel the need to play bigger to utilize that talent. Meanwhile, most teams around the league are realizing they can get away with playing smaller, speedier, shooting-er lineups. The tradeoffs (worse rebounding and interior defense) tend to be worth it for teams with the personnel to play a spread offense.

When Aldridge and Duncan share the court, the Spurs sport a solid 13.2 Net Rating. However, this is short of the team's overall 14.6 NetRtg. Aldridge's individual NetRtg is just 12.2, suggesting that he gets a small boost from playing with Duncan. On the other hand, Tim sports an impressive 17.3 Net Rating, suggesting he is far less effective when paired with Aldridge. Take a look at this table showing Duncan and Aldridge's pairings:

Player Player Net Rating

Minutes

Aldridge Butler 33.2 51
Duncan Anderson 32.3 94
Duncan Diaw 31.3 77
Duncan West 25.7 132
Aldridge West 16.3 164
Aldridge Anderson 14.6 141
Aldridge Duncan 13.2 706
Aldridge Diaw 12.6 275

Here we see that the Duncan/Aldridge pairing is the second least effective of all 2-man lineups of Spurs bigs. This of course does not prove that the Spurs would be better off splitting the two up. Notice that the Duncan/Aldridge pairing has played more than three times as many minutes as any other lineup. Also the only worse pairing, Diaw/Aldridge, has played the second most minutes. There is clearly a very strong negative correlation between the minutes a lineup plays together and that pairing's Net Rating.

Still when you take into account that the team's overall Net Rating is 14.6, Duncan and Aldridge's 13.2 Net Rating looks a bit suspect. However, that 13.2 looks downright rosy compared to the Net Rating for the Spurs starting lineup, which is currently sitting at a mere 6.8. But the problem may not lie with Duncan and Aldridge so much as some other combination within the starting lineup that has yielded such a low Net Rating.

Of course when discussing Net Ratings, remember that starters always take the other team's best shot, and almost never benefit from playing in garbage time, so it's normal for a starting lineup to have a below average Net Rating. The Golden State Warriors' starting lineup, for example, has a Net Rating of 11.5, lower than their overall average of 14.2. 

It's very difficult to separate signal from noise when looking at lineups, and I'm sure Pop would dub attempts like this superfluous poppycock, but while it can't really be proven, I still can't help but wonder if the Spurs would see (even) more success by splitting Duncan and Aldridge up more often.

It will be interesting to see if Pop sticks with smaller lineups in Duncan's absence, however long that might be. If the Spurs continue to have success in lineups with Aldridge at center, I'd like to see if Aldridge warms to the idea of playing the 5 in today's small ball NBA universe.

The Spurs take on the Cavaliers Saturday night in Cleveland. No word yet on whether Duncan will be available or not. Regardless of how Pop decides to deploy his big men, I'm eager to see Timmy back on the court.

Four Factors (def.)

Spurs Rockets
Shooting (eFG%) 62% 44%
Ball Handling (TO%) 14% 15%
Off Rebounding (OR%) 30% 25%
Shooting FTs (FT Rate) 23% 71%

Team Stats (Definitions at bottom of post)

Spurs Rockets
Pace (No. of Possessions) 100.1
Points Per Possession (PPP) 1.30 0.99
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.44 1.36
2-PT FG% 56.7% 46.5%
3-PT FG% 52.2% 26.7%
FT% 85.7% 67.3%
True Shooting % 65.5% 51.6%
Spurs
Rockets
Offensive Rating 128.4 100.1
Defensive Rating 100.1 128.4
Net Rating 28.3 -28.3
Spurs Rockets
Passes / poss. 3.3 3.1
% of FGA uncontested 41.1% 45.2%
Points in the paint 50 32
Second chance points 18 13
Fast break points 17 12
Spurs Rockets
Assists 34 14
Steals 7 7
Turnovers 13 15
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
3.15 1.40
Spurs Rockets
Expected Offensive Rebounds 10.0 12.3
Offensive Rebounds 12 12
Difference 2.0 -0.3

Spurs Shot Chart

Rockets Shot Chart

Players (Definitions at bottom of post, columns sortable)

Spurs

Player
Min
AdjGS
GS/Min
Line
Usage%
Floor%
OffRtg
DefRtg
NetRtg
LaMarcus Aldridge 30 28.3 0.95 25 Pts (9-13 FG, 7-7 FT) 10 Reb (6 Off), 5 Ast, 2 TO, 4 PF 27% 75% 141.0 98.5 42.5
Danny Green 28 24.3 0.86 18 Pts (6-9 FG, 6-8 3PT ) 6 Reb (1 Off), 3 Ast, 1 Blk, 3 Stl, 2 PF 14% 73% 125.7 109.4 16.2
Tony Parker 23 16.8 0.72 15 Pts (7-13 FG, 1-1 FT) 3 Reb (0 Off), 7 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 PF 26% 68% 145.2 107.0 38.2
Kawhi Leonard 28 15.2 0.54 18 Pts (7-12 FG, 3-4 3PT, 1-2 FT) 1 Reb (0 Off), 1 Ast, 1 Blk, 1 Stl, 1 TO, 1 PF 21% 56% 144.1 101.6 42.6
Boban Marjanovic 17 12.4 0.75 13 Pts (5-9 FG, 3-4 FT) 10 Reb (3 Off), 4 PF 28% 64% 121.4 120.9 0.4
Ray McCallum 10 10.4 1.09 8 Pts (3-5 FG, 2-3 3PT ) 3 Reb (1 Off), 3 Ast, 22% 71% 136.5 116.0 20.5
Patty Mills 15 6.4 0.42 9 Pts (4-9 FG, 1-3 3PT ) 3 Reb (0 Off), 4 Ast, 2 TO, 1 PF 29% 46% 101.7 84.1 17.6
Kyle Anderson 16 4.7 0.30 7 Pts (3-5 FG, 1-2 FT) 3 Reb (0 Off), 1 Ast, 1 TO, 2 PF 18% 54% 145.7 110.3 35.4
Rasual Butler 10 3.9 0.41 2 Pts (1-2 FG, 0-1 3PT ) 1 Reb (0 Off), 2 Ast, 1 Blk, 9% 68% 136.5 116.0 20.5
David West 15 3.4 0.23 4 Pts (2-2 FG, ) 2 Reb (0 Off), 2 Ast, 2 TO, 1 PF 11% 53% 118.9 84.1 34.8
Manu Ginobili 19 3.1 0.16 6 Pts (2-4 FG, 0-1 3PT, 2-2 FT) 4 Reb (0 Off), 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 4 TO, 4 PF 18% 41% 110.3 67.1 43.2
Jonathon Simmons 12 1.7 0.14 5 Pts (1-4 FG, 0-1 3PT, 3-3 FT) 1 Reb (1 Off), 1 TO, 2 PF 23% 45% 121.3 121.5 -0.2
Boris Diaw 19 -0.5 -0.02 0 Pts (0-3 FG, 0-2 3PT ) 2 Reb (0 Off), 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 5 PF 7% 35% 110.1 91.8 18.3

Show Rockets Players

Spurs Index: 104.8 (def.)

Factor Value Score
Passing (AST%) 68.0% 32.9
Shooting (eFG%) 62.2% 23.2
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 75.5% 19.8
Defense (DefRtg) 100.1 20.0
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 45.2% 9.0
Total 104.8

Rockets Spurs Index: 84.3 Show Breakdown

Confused? Show Advanced Stats Glossary