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Analyzing the Spurs’ shooting through their first three games

It’s still early, but we’re starting to see where each player is most comfortable shooting.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Note: the following data was collected before last night’s win over the Phoenix Suns.

With three games logged, I wanted to see what we could gather in the strategy behind the Spurs’ scoring methods so far. Some more advanced stats won’t be available from the NBA until players have more than 10 shots from a variety of scenarios (i.e. isolation, P&R handler, spot up, catch & shoot, etc.), so for now, we can dive into basic location and usage in each area.

A quick caveat again, most teams have only played three games at this point in time, which makes it difficult to assess a general strategy for teams as their opponent set is not too diverse. While some data points may seem extreme, we will see these stats even out closer to their true values as the season progresses. I also limited the data set to players who have played at least ten minutes and appeared in at least two games.

Below is a table showcasing how San Antonio has performed in the paint. The x-axis measures the percentage of total points that player scored in the paint, and the y-axis shows their field goal percentage in the paint. I have also included dotted for the 20th (red), 50th0(blue), and 80th (green) percentiles for both measures to provide context on how these players are performing relative to the league.

Charles Bassey has scored all of his points in the paint so far, and he has also made all five of his attempts. Eyeing the players higher in the rotation, Zach Collins and Victor Wembanyama are being utilized decently high and scoring at an above average rate in the region. Cedi Osman and Doug McDermott are also shooting well inside, but they don’t attempt more than one shot a game on average there. Devin Vassell attacks the paint more frequently than the other guards on the team (3.3 attempts per game) and has been pretty successful so far making 82% of his shots.

Jeremy Sochan and Keldon Johnson are in the paint the most (5 and 7.3 attempts per game, respectively) but rank just below average in efficiency. A frustrating measure is that Wemby only has 3.7 attempts in the paint per game. The Spurs can easily use screens to create the mismatch, but they seem reluctant to feed him the ball in the post.

Below is the same graph constructed for mid-range scoring. Yes, the current 20th percentile for shooting and usage in the area are both at zero simply because it is the least utilized region and least efficient region in today’s NBA.

Vassell leads the team in attempts in the mid-range at 4.7 attempts a game and makes an astounding 64.3% of them at the moment. Malaki Branham along with Wemby each shoot 2.3 shots from this region with both being highly efficient as well. Collins and Johnson’s 100% rate is based off a very small number of field goals attempted in the region. I anticipate seeing Vassell and Wemby separate themselves amongst the rest of the group in terms of the frequency of this shot. For Vassell, the middy pull up is a huge weapon in his arsenal. Wemby can hit this shot as a pull up or spot up (and looks like KD doing while he does it too), but he might also need to learn how to easily hit these in the post over undersized defenders. A similar graph is constructed below for three point shooting.

Osman and Vassell each shoot the most from this region (5.3 attempts) followed by Collins (5). For Osman and McDermott, this is their primary way of contributing to the offense as they are 3-and-D players. Jones, Branham, Johnson, and Vassell all score at a slightly above average rate from the three, and as mentioned last week, this is a crucial area of improvement for this young team from last year. Collins hasn’t used the three ball to score many of his points, but a key reason Pop slotted him at center with Wemby was his ability to play to space the floor on offense. If he can’t be a deep threat, opposing defenses will play the risk of rotating another big man into the paint to help against Wemby.

As play continues, we will also get be able to decipher and tribute the assisted three-ball attempts to ball handlers. It will be exciting to see whether it is Wemby passing out of doubles, Johnson or Sochan crashing and popping, Tre Jones facilitating pick and fade with the big man, or extra swing passes along the perimeter.