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Three surprising stats that have led to early success for the upstart Spurs

Will San Antonio regress to the mean after shooting the lights out from beyond the arc to begin the season?

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs seemed poised for the first year of a rebuild after dealing their lone All-Star across conferences this summer. Instead, they have shocked the league with a 5-2 record and a handful of victories over what several national pundits labeled surefire postseason contenders.

Head Coach Gregg Popovich has his battalion of youngsters pushing the pace and sharing the ball, and most fans likely know the Silver and Black lead the NBA in assists per game (31.1 APG). But three intriguing statistics have helped them burst out of the gates, so let’s dip into the numbers.

Statistics Worth Monitoring

  • The Spurs have lit up the scoreboard with some surprisingly stellar three-point shooting early this season, and their efficiency from beyond the arc is primarily thanks to them nailing their looks from the corners at league-best 52.6% clip. San Antonio has been exceptionally potent from the left pocket, knocking down an unthinkable 69.7% of their long-range attempts from that side of the court. These numbers are great, but they’re probably unsustainable. Only two teams in NBA history have ever made better than 50% of their corner triples, the 1996-1997 Charlotte Hornets (61.7%) and the 1998-1999 Utah Jazz (50.7%). The former holds the record for single-season three-point percentage, and the latter attempted merely 67 shots from that zone in a lockout-shortened season. Who owns the next-best mark from the corners? That would be none other than the 2000-2001 rendition of the Silver and Black (48.2%). Regression is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean they can’t hover around the top of the leaderboard for the rest of the year.
  • As discussed earlier, the Spurs have been lights out from beyond the arc through seven games. That success is connected directly to their insane production from the corners, but another more mind-blowing number has bolstered their marksmanship. The good guys have drained 47.6% of their contested threes this season, which is ridiculous when you consider they have “only” shot 38.9% on open trifectas. Can this efficiency survive the 75 games left on their schedule? Possibly. After all, San Antonio recorded the all-time watermark for contested three-point percentage (46.6%) in 2016. If you look at the year-over-year leaders from the last half-decade, the 2022 Kings (37.2%), 2021 Bucks (41%), 2020 Trail Blazers (40%), 2019 Spurs (36.8%), and 2018 Mavericks (41.8%), that 2016 team stands out as a statistical outlier. However, with the way Keldon Johnson has rattled off triples with a hand in his face, San Antonio might have a chance at setting a new NBA record.
  • While the Silver and Black have been automatic in the corners, the same isn’t true for their opponents. Teams are making a measly 33.3% of their attempts from that zone, which is somewhat shocking given San Antonio has allowed 13.6 uncontested threes per game. A corner three is the best bang for your buck since you’re scoring the most points from the shortest distance possible, which is why teams love to create looks from that spot. League average efficiency from the corners has been around 38% since the NBA started tracking those shots in 1996. The 2013 Pacers possess the worst single-season percentage (32.4%) from the corners since the pace-and-space era began roughly a decade ago. San Antonio is due for their competition to progress to the mean, and when they do, the Spurs must find another way to get a leg up on their opposition.