Grading the First Half of the Season for the San Antonio Spurs: Part 1 The Core

Posted: February 14, 2014 in NBA

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game OneHaving completed their 53rd game of the 82 game NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs have managed to bounce back nicely from their finals letdown against the Miami Heat.  Posting a 38-15 record, they rank three and a half games behind Oklahoma City for the best record in the Western Conference, and barring a catastrophic collapse, they will finish a 15th straight season with at least 50 wins. Positives aside, it’s difficult to feel overly upbeat about the Spurs’ current state due to a recent injury bug that has knocked out 3 starters and season long struggles against other elite squads. Ultimately any team is only as good as its roster, therefore it’s time to give some first half report cards to the men in Silver and Black. When grading a player’s production, previous track record and expectations for this season must be taken into account.

Tim Duncan – 29.6 MPG 15.6 PPG 10.0 RPG 2.9 APG 2.1 BPG 0.5 SPG .495 FG% .707 FT% 22.08 PER 106 ORtg 98 DRtg .161 WS/48

Timmy has continued to be the Spurs most consistent 2-way player and leads the team in PER (player efficiency rating) at the spry age of 37. He struggled a bit in November, shooting and rebounding at poor rates, but has been grabbing boards at an impressive rate ever since. His outside shot has been the main weakness in his game, especially on long 2 pointers, causing a ripple effect on the Spurs offense as a whole, since teams no longer worry as much about closing out to Duncan on the P&R (Pick and Roll) and means extra attention on Tony Parker and the corner 3 point shooters. He has managed to remain effective offensively nevertheless by improving his post efficiency and remains an excellent passer, but the recent improvement in his jump shot has been a godsend to the teams’ struggling starters output. Defensively he is still very solid and a capable rim protector. He struggles a bit in matchups that can expose his waning mobility, but is still a top 10 player in Defensive Rating.

Fun Stats – Became the oldest player to record a 20/20 game (20 points and 20 rebounds) in NBA history. Leads the league in Blk/PF rate at 1.22. A category he has led in 3 of the past 4 seasons.

Conclusion: has overcome a slow start to once again be among the best bigs in the game. First Half Grade A-

Kawhi Leonard – 28.6 MPG 11.6 PPG 6.1 RPG 1.8 APG 1.7 SPG 0.5 BPG .517 FG% .327 3P% .738 FT% 17.59 PER 112 ORtg 99 DRtg .162 WS/48

After his stellar showing in the NBA finals, many expected an all-star type 3rd season from Leonard, and in some eyes he has been seen as a slight disappointment. However, for those who have been paying attention, he has made several subtle strides forward to his game. After flashing an occasional post game last season, he has continued his growth and is capable of exploiting any size mismatch in the post. His 54% shooting percentage on shots between 3 and 9 feet, compares favorably to the game’s biggest stars, and only his low usage rate prevents him from being recognized as an elite midrange player. A slow start from 3 point range sabotaged his percentage, but he had been steadily improving it before breaking his finger against the Thunder.  He has also noticeably improved his floor vision this year and has been assisting at a career high ratio.  Still, just as before, his calling card remains his ever solid defense and outstanding rebounding. His ability to play the passing lanes without over committing, is second to none and there is an entire highlight video devoted to his pickpocket fast breaks. He appeared to be hitting his stride when the injury happened and hopefully won’t lose his shooting touch during the time off. With a solid midrange game, and excellent finishing ability at the rim, it would appear that the only thing holding him back from stardom is a more demonstrative attitude and the skill to get to the free throw line with consistency.

Fun Stats – Leads the team with 35 dunks. Has shot above the average rate from every zone area on the floor, besides 3 point range. Leads the NBA non-guards in steals per 48 minutes.

Conclusion: having his best season, but a little more offensive aggression is necessary to make the leap to all-star status. First Half Grade B

Tony Parker – 30.9 MPG 17.7 PPG 2.3 RPG 6.2 APG 0.5 SPG .501 FG% .375 3P% .800 FT% 20.25 PER 111 ORtg 108 DRtg .148 WS/48

Coming off a busy summer where he won the EuroBasket MVP after leading France to the Gold medal victory over Lithuania, Tony Parker was expected to get off to a slow start this season. A historically sluggish beginner, Parker managed to put up decent numbers early, but was plagued by a sub 70% free throw percentage in November. He improved his outside shooting during December and was outstanding in January hitting  56% from the floor and 90% from the line. He has appeared to be picking his spots a bit defensively and is posting the worst rebound and steal rates since his injury plagued ’09-’10 season. His assist rates have also taken a puzzling tumble, although upon further inspection, the drop can be attributed to poor shooting seasons for Duncan and Danny Green and a slow start from 3 point range for Kawhi Leonard. Recent nagging injuries have kept him out of the lineup frequently and sapped his production, making the all-star break’s arrival very timely.

Fun Stats – Has hit 35-69 (51%) shots between 10-16 feet. Shoots a sparkling 59% in the 4th quarter, including 9-14 from behind the arc (64%!): clutch.

Conclusion: still a top 5 point guard, needs to consistently produce against the other elite teams. First Half Grade B-

Manu Ginobili – 23.7 MPG 12.1 PPG 3.3 RPG 4.5 APG 1.0 SPG .450 FG% .353 3P% .865 FT% 19.38 PER 111 ORtg 103 DRtg .163 WS/48

The last memory people had of Ginobili last season was of a player who looked to be finished as a difference maker in the NBA. A ballooning turnover rate and poor shooting marred the worst postseason production since his rookie year. Manu was brought back on a 2 year deal despite some outside skepticism and he spent the off-season rebuilding his body. The return on that investment of time has paid off and he has had a surprising bounce back season that defies his 36-year-old frame. A tweak in his form has helped lift his shooting back to career norms and his playmaking on the second unit continues to be the driving force behind the league’s most productive bench.  No longer a great one-on-one defender, he still wreaks all kinds of havoc in the passing lanes and excels as a help defender. He had a throwback game against Portland, where he scored 18 in the 4th and temporarily took over the game, but can’t be counted on to carry the load every night. He suffered yet another hamstring injury on a nice dunk against Houston, and will be out a couple more weeks.

Fun Stats – May not get to the rim like he used to, but when he does he’s finishing better than any other guard at 74%. Ranks 13th all time in win shares per 48 minutes, number 12? Tim Duncan.

Conclusion: was outplaying the rest of the core before slumping and getting injured. First Half Grade B+

Tiago Splitter – 21.5 MPG 8.1 PPG 6.3 RPG 1.1 APG 0.4 SPG 0.5 BPG .544 FG% .691 FT% 16.68 PER 114 ORtg 102 DRtg .161 WS/48

Though not typically included in the discussion when referring to the Spurs top players, Splitter is being paid like a core member and if he could just stay healthy he might start playing like it too. One of the few players who did not struggle offensively early in the season, he was a key fixture in helping the Spurs to their hot start until suffering a calf injury that forced him to miss parts of 5 games. He struggled initially upon his return, but had started finding his way before going down again, this time with a shoulder injury. Most of his numbers are down slightly this season due to the nagging injuries, however he has shown a new-found love for the dirty work and is rebounding much better than in previous seasons. He continues to be an excellent defender, and can anchor the defense even when Duncan isn’t on the floor. Although he is limited as ever offensively, he finishes effectively and is always getting to the line. Would like to see him come off the pine when he returns from injury, which would allow him to anchor the bench units while still being available to finish games against bigger teams.

Fun Stat – Has improved his shooting percentage on shots between 3-9 feet by 14 points from last season’s 30%.

Conclusion: absences due to injury have exposed the importance of his contributions to the teams defensive output. First Half Grade B-

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