We are just over 30 games into the Spurs’ season, a sweet spot in which some stats start to normalize and can provide insights or at least a form of entertainment. Everyone knows the basics, like how the Silver and Black are terrible on offense and pretty bad on defense, so let’s focus on some more esoteric or specific numbers that might not be common knowledge. Here are three things the stats tell us about the Spurs that are surprising or meaningful.
The Spurs' best interior finisher is... Cedi Osman?
Cedi Osman carved out a spot for himself in the rotation mainly thanks to his outside shooting and boundless energy, but he does something else at an elite level: scoring at the rim. The forward connects on 76.1 percent of his shots at point-blank range, the best mark on the team aside from the now-injured Charles Bassey. Granted, Osman has made only 35 shots at the rim so far, a low number, but 37 percent of those buckets have been unassisted, which is huge. Bassey, for comparison, was assisted on over 70 percent of his makes at the rim and Devin Vassell, who directly trails Osman in field goal percentage at the rim, has been assisted on over 80 percent of his makes. Cedi is not only finishing at a high rate but creating a decent amount of his own shots.
A look at his makes reveals that Osman doesn’t do anything complicated. A lot of his buckets inside come on the break or early offense before the defense is settled. He pushes the pace or runs the floor well and then attacks the rim with purpose. He is good at attacking closeouts, as opponents are worried about his shot and try to run him off the arc. The biggest factor seems to be that he can finish with both hands and doesn’t hesitate when he drives. One final fun fact: Osman has only one dunk this season, so almost all of his makes have been layups.
You are not imagining it, teams are actually shooting extra well against the Spurs
Sometimes it feels like opponents can’t miss on jumpers against the Spurs. The defense is bad, so giving up a lot of points is not surprising, but the way the other team hits shot after shot can seem almost anomalous. The good news is, it is.
Opponents are hitting 38.4 percent on non-corner threes against the Spurs, the fourth-highest mark in the league. They are hitting 43 percent on corner threes, the fifth-highest mark in the league. The only team that is in the top five in both categories is San Antonio. Gregg Popovich’s teams have always encouraged the other team to take mid-range jumpers, and this iteration is no exception, as opponents take the eleventh-highest amount of mid-range shots per game against the Silver and Black. They are making the eleventh-highest field goal percentage on those shots in the league. According to Synergy Sports, San Antonio is allowing the highest field goal percentage on jump shots in the league by a mile despite ranking highly on the quality of shots they allow. If it feels like the Spurs get killed by jumpers at a disproportionate level, it is because they are.
Defense plays a part in why opponents have so much success scoring against the Spurs, especially inside, and a lot of the mid-range shots San Antonio allows are open by design. But in three-pointers in particular it seems like they just are unlucky. The advanced stats community has been discussing the topic of whether three-point defense actually exists in terms of affecting opponent field goal percentage and so far the consensus is that variance plays a bigger part than anything else. A team can prevent threes, and the Spurs definitely should do a better job of that, but it has no way of affecting whether an open attempt goes in or rims out. You could say San Antonio may be leaving the wrong guys open, which can be confirmed anecdotally, but even the best shooters have off nights. Also, the Silver and Black rank second on Synergy Sports’ points per shot above expectation allowed on contested catch-and-shoot jumpers.
Two things seem to be true. The Spurs are not a good defensive team but they are also getting a little unlucky on the amount of jumpers their opponents make.
For a high-paced team, the Spurs are not great in transition
A big part of the Spurs’ offensive identity is pace. The Silver and Black want to run whenever possible and are not afraid to pull the trigger early in the clock. Whoever gets a rebound is encouraged to dribble upcourt to find opportunities on the break. But despite their intentions, San Antonio is not good at making hay in transition.
The Spurs rank third in the league in pace, behind only the Wizards and the Pacers, but 11th in fastbreak points. It’s not because they don’t get transition opportunities, as they have had the fourth most in the league, according to Synergy Sports. They are just terrible at finishing them, shooting a shade under 52 percent from the field on those opportunities, turning the ball over on almost 13 percent of their possessions and rarely getting to the line. The Spurs are running a lot but not doing it well.
One of the reasons why San Antonio is not great on the break is the type of possession they run off. The Spurs rank 20th in steals per game, so they are not getting to run off live ball turnovers as often as others. When they do, however, they are terrible at capitalizing, ranking 23rd in the league in points per possession coming off live ball turnovers, according to Inpredictable. Even in the most advantageous situations, San Antonio struggles to score on the break, which will not come as a shock to anyone who has seen them squander opportunities on the break with bad execution and spacing.
The Spurs’ offense has been terrible this year. A good way to improve would be to get better at finishing in transition, especially off live ball turnovers.