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BBall Index gives Spurs defenders some much deserved love

The Spurs didn’t get much love from voters, but individual, advanced stats suggest they deserve more.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs At Utah Jazz Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs didn’t get any love from the media and voters when it came to the All-NBA and All-Defense teams, where between the two, Dejounte Murray was the only Spur to receive votes of any kind, with a whopping one vote for 1st Team All-Defense and three for 2nd Team All-Defense, placing him at a distant 11th among guards in votes received. As someone who is not afraid to express his feelings, he let us all know what he thought:

While ultimately the players that did make the teams were deserving, and it’s not too uncommon for teams with losing records to get overlooked (unless they have Steph Curry), there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a popularity contest, and sometimes standings and media attention can override stats and individual performance.

With the Spurs suffering injuries all season long, only being scheduled for one game on national TV all season (plus an extra as a filler for another postponed game), and their overall team stats not being overly impressive, it’s not too surprising that many voters were unaware of some individual performances — particularly Murray and Jakob Poeltl as defenders. That’s where BBall Index comes in.

Using their defensive impact metric known as D-LEBRON — which uses box score impact, advanced on/off impact, and adjusts for luck in three-point and free throw shooting — BBall Index came up with All-Defense teams of its own, and wouldn’t you know, when focusing more on individual performance than than team or popularity, the Spurs’ two best defenders make an appearance, with Poeltl coming in on 3rd Team and Murray 2nd.

(You can learn more about BBall Index’s LEBRON stat here, and you can click here to mess around with their interactive data page for the 2020-21 season here. It’s actually pretty cool!)

Although the Spurs’ season didn’t end ideally after a promising start — derailed by injury and a brutal second half schedule in part due to having to cram five extra games in after an early COVID-19 outbreak — they had plenty of good individual performers.

One of them on both sides of the court was Derrick White, who missed half of the games this season due to injury, including the crucial final stretch, when coincidently or not the Spurs went from a winning record to losing 11 of the final 13 games after he was lost for the season with an ankle sprain. Before that, he appeared to be rounding into form at just the right time.

As a result, when J.R. Wilco and I were texting about these stats last night, his response was, “Imagine if White had played all season!” And I expressed my belief that had he been healthy down the stretch (or for more of the season to pad on wins early when the schedule was easier), the Spurs would have made the second round of the playin at worst, if not the playoffs.

Is that true or just wishful thinking? There’s no telling for sure considering how unpredictable this club was, but the point is if they can turn all these good individual performances into a cohesive, team-wide effort every night going forward, the improvements will start showing in the results and not just the individual stats.