May 06, 2013 4:29 PM EDT
After a challenging and triumphant series against the Denver Nuggets, what makes the Golden State Warriors' series against the San Antonio Spurs so interesting is that so many of the advantages they exploited in the first round will turn into weaknesses against Gregg Popovich and company.
Golden State’s defense gives up tons of threes and San Antonio has no problem with that- Over the course of the regular season, Warriors’ opponents shot 23.8 three-pointers per game which was the most in the league. That worked out fine against Denver because they were 24th in the league at making them and that included Danilo Gallinari who did not play in the series. The Spurs finished third in three-point shooting percentage and tied for second in proportion of attempted threes that were assisted, showing off the ball movement that generated those looks. While some may think of pace as a major difference here that would shade the results since it affects the number of possessions played per game, the Warriors and Spurs ended up playing at nearly identical paces this season (96.8 to 96.4). Golden State has yielded pretty much the same shots all year: the variance has come on whether the opponents could actually hit the looks the Warriors gave them.
The real battle when the Spurs have the ball could be in the paint- the reason Golden State gives up so many three-point attempts is that they limited opponents to the fourth-fewest shots at the rim for the season, which is a remarkable improvement considering Andrew Bogut missed so much time. The Spurs were ninth in attempts at the rim, but the Warriors are coming off a series with the No. 1 team in the entire league in this category. Considering how excellently Tim Duncan has played over the last few months, keeping him off the score sheet as much as possible should be a major undertaking. As was the case last series, fastbreak opportunities will likely dictate the winner in this phase of the game since that generates a large sum of these good looks. That said, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can generate quality looks in the halfcourt like Ty Lawson did last series.
The Spurs are a much better defensive team than the Nuggets, especially with the lineups Denver put on the floor against the Warriors. While there are many different ways to evaluate the quality of a team’s defense, San Antonio outclasses Denver in just about all of them. From how well opponents shoot to free throw rates to D Rating, the Spurs have the hallmarks of a better squad even as they battled health issues all season. Fortunately, the one way they have been worse than Denver is generating turnovers, though the difference is not all that stark. Beyond the statistics of it all, the other challenge for the Warriors is that the Spurs have players like Danny Green who can do a good job on Stephen Curry without a ton of Andre Millers gobbling up rotation minutes without playing defense. San Antonio also has the benefit of a more cohesive system and less gaps that help facilitate open looks for their opponents. The other factor here is coaching, which I will get to a minute.
San Antonio has trouble on the offensive boards, which could be a big help to the Warriors’ chances. While the loss of David Lee could (and should) affect how the Warriors do on the defensive glass, this series marks a big shift in terms of offensive rebounding prowess. Denver’s group of aggressive and athletic big men topped the entire league in Offensive Rebounding Rate while San Antonio finished next to last, grabbing nearly 10 percent less of available boards on that end. Interestingly, that flips when we talk about defensive rebounds since the Nuggets were 27th and the Spurs were third. Since the Nuggets extending possessions hurt the Warriors on the defensive end, this trade-off should help Golden State as long as the smaller lineups do not shift the dynamic too much.
The biggest advantage the Spurs have in this series has to be in coaching. Simply put, Popovich has been a masterful coach and tactician for the majority of his career. There have been dark points (like the Memphis series a few years back) but those largely came when the opponents had an advantage the Spurs would have trouble negating. In the first round, George Karl made a series of blunders including trying to out-small the Warriors, playing JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos together, and putting Andre Miller on Stephen Curry for extended periods of time. Each of these gaffes created an opening for Mark Jackson and the team to exploit and these mistakes acting in concert may have swung the entire series. Even the lack of freebies like that will mark a major change but having someone who can and will exploit Golden State’s faults will make it even harder.
All of this makes the series sound pretty desolate for the Warriors. After all, the Spurs have been excellent for years and possess legitimate ownage in San Antonio having not lost a home game to Golden State during Tim Duncan’s 16-year tenure with the team. Even with all that, fans should hold out hope because this is a Golden State team with a major homecourt advantage and one who can become a nearly unstoppable force when their shots are falling. San Antonio did not win any games in OKC’s Thunderdome last year and lost both times in Oracle this season, so stranger things have happened. I see the Spurs taking both games at home, getting a split at Oracle and then finishing it off at home in Game 5, but it would be awfully fun to be wrong this time.
Feb 21, 2013 10:58 AM EST
We pulled our Team Transactions Data over the previous 10 Trade Deadline periods to examine the levels of activity in period leading up to the deadline.
The below is an annual average of the number of players acquired by each team (click on any of the below links to see a year-by-year infographic).
Sacramento Kings: 2.7
New York Knicks: 2.3
Houston Rockets: 2.2
Oklahoma City Thunder: 1.8
Cleveland Cavaliers: 1.7
New Orleans Hornets: 1.7
Denver Nuggets: 1.6
Memphis Grizzlies: 1.6
Charlotte Bobcats: 1.6
Atlanta Hawks: 1.5
Brooklyn Nets: 1.5
Milwaukee Bucks: 1.5
Portland Trail Blazers: 1.5
Chicago Bulls: 1.4
Golden State Warriors: 1.3
Boston Celtics: 1.2
Orlando Magic: 1.2
Los Angeles Clippers: 1.1
Phoenix Suns: 1.1
Washington Wizards: 1.1
Dallas Mavericks: 1.0
Minnesota Timberwolves: 1.0
Toronto Raptors: 0.9
Philadelphia 76ers: 0.8
Utah Jazz: 0.7
Indiana Pacers: 0.6
Los Angeles Lakers: 0.6
Miami Heat: 0.6
Detroit Pistons: 0.5
San Antonio Spurs: 0.5
The following are the collective breakdowns by year:
Feb 12, 2013 6:18 PM EST
Over the last few years, there have been some interesting discussions about the value of point guards in the NBA. A group of people look to the generally poor quality of point guards on championship teams and opine that this means the position is overvalued.
While this argument holds some inherent logic and some pretty clear results in recent seasons, I think this observation muddies the water concerning the importance of lead guards in a way that proves counterproductive. Teams that win championships do so overwhelmingly on the backs of the best of the best, which is why the last non-Pistons team to win a title without a player who had already won an MVP award was the 1981 Boston Celtics. Since so few PG’s win the Most Valuable Player award, it would follow that titles would be hard to come by for the elites.
The problem with all of these points is that they focus too heavily on the big brass ring (or gold ring, in this case) instead of the overall picture. My vision of the value of elite point guards is that they do more to ensure regular season success than any other position, but end up losing out to the game-changing bigs and swingmen in the playoffs. Considering the general paucity of MVP players in the league and the even smaller group of them that are accessible through trades and free agency to most teams, high-level point guards make sense as a logical step to making sure your team stays relevant as they work to acquire these super elite talents. Interestingly, we have seen a wide variety of top end point guard talent get traded in the last few years (Chris Paul and Deron Williams most recently).
On Sunday, I had the privilege to watch two of the absolute best in the business right now show why they are so important to their teams, particularly in the regular season.
Chris Paul has been the maestro for the Los Angeles Clippers since he hit town after that whirlwind of trade nonsense before the start of the 2011-12 season. He has operated in numerous functions during that year-plus, including seemingly player-coach and lead free agent recruiter. This season, Paul has already missed 12 games and the Clippers are an even 6-6 in those tilts. They have been 31-11 with him on the court, meaning a difference of .238 in winning percentage. When considering that the team has not exactly had it easy in terms of injuries to other players, that kind of discrepancy stands out. In the game against the Knicks, Paul did an incredible job of punishing the Knicks for their defensive lapses either by his own buckets or by hitting the open man for makeable looks. In fact, the Clippers are seventh in offensive efficiency despite missing their star for one-fifth of the season and possessing a bottom five free throw shooting squad thus far.
Heck, the Clippers’ success thus far seems even more impressive given the ineptitude of their head coach. For example, before Sunday’s game Vinny Del Negro expressed an understanding that having a fully healthy roster would limit the minutes and opportunities for a variety of players. This makes sense. However, it stood out as befuddling when one of the most pivotal players in the second half of that game, Grant Hill, ended up with 15 impactful minutes because he did not play one second in the first half of the game. Despite a mounting series of strange decisions by his head coach, Paul gives the Clippers the ability to rise above and host at least one playoff series.
In the second Sunday game I covered, Tony Parker simply eviscerated the Brooklyn Nets in one of the most astonishing performances I have ever seen in person. Gregg Popovic talked before and after the game about how remarkably well his point guard had been performing and acknowledged that having Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili out helped give Parker the spotlight he more regularly deserves. Even without starters that can create their own offense, Parker managed to keep everyone involved while also forcing the defense to handle his scoring with 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting. What’s more, he assisted on 11 baskets without a single turnover. In total, Parker managed to have a hand in more than half of the team’s baskets despite playing less than five minutes in the fourth quarter. While some may try to give credit to the excellent system, what Parker has been able to do without a full complement of players has been nothing less than awe-inspiring so far this season. After the game, Popovic talked about how Parker should be in the group of players talked about for the MVP and while I would not go so far as to include him in that echelon since his defense stands out as a flaw, his remarkable season deserves plenty of note and adulation.
While some may talk about how point guards cannot be the best player on title teams, that narrow-mindedness could cause them to miss out on some of the most impactful performances the league sees on both a game-by-game and season-by-season basis. Those concepts may not see themselves represented any more vividly than by Chris Paul and Tony Parker.
Feb 12, 2013
Tony Parker has played 'beyond an All-Star level' this season in leading the Spurs to one of the best records in the NBA.
Jan 31, 2013
Win-win trades that also make sense financially will become even more rare in the NBA's post-lockout era. Here are trades for the Lakers, Mavericks, Hawks, Blazers, Celtics, Nuggets and Spurs that make sense for all parties.
Nov 01, 2012
While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.
Oct 29, 2012
The Spurs will gladly put their continuity up against the flashy additions that other teams have made in the offseason. They believe in each other, their culture and they have no doubt they'll have a shot to compete for a title.
Oct 03, 2012
Thomas’ NBA aspirations are still upbeat, but it’s unmistakable that he is excited about the opportunity to play overseas. This will provide another challenge for him to meet, and he’ll have immense support.
Aug 19, 2012
The Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Nets were amongst the teams with great offseasons, while the Bucks, Magic, Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bulls were in the bad column. Here's how all 30 teams have fared in the 2012 offseason.
Aug 13, 2012
The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?
Jun 28, 2012
Center represents the position of greatest need for nearly half the NBA, while power forward isn't the top priority for a single team.
Jun 27, 2012
Polling the Green Room candidates to determine who they think will be the second best player of the class, the rise of skinny guys, a new Harrison Barnes and which team workout was the toughest.
Jun 10, 2012
In an alternate universe where Boston's Big Three ended their careers in relative anonymity on fringe playoff teams, the last four years of NBA history would have to be completely rewritten. Now, after barely surviving a lockout, the league is poised to enter the dawn of what could be a spectacular era of basketball.
Jun 05, 2012
The Spurs won the first post-lockout title around a 22-year-old Tim Duncan. While San Antonio has done their best to adapt to a new era, Oklahoma City has a chance to define it as they did 13 years ago.
May 26, 2012
If Tim Duncan continues his quest for a fifth ring, he will need to earn it. With Parker/Westbrook and Harden/Ginobili likely a draw, San Antonio’s best chance of winning the series is Duncan, who will need to outplay Ibaka in the low post.
May 18, 2012
While the Spurs used to win with suffocating defense, age has forced them to become a jump-shooting team that depends on ball movement and superior offensive execution to win.
May 14, 2012
The second round is where we begin to fully see how wide the gap is between 'good' and 'great' teams. This year's second round shouldn't be any different, with all four favorites predicted here to win in five games.
Apr 27, 2012
The first round begins this weekend, when eight best-of-seven series featuring sixteen teams commence. There’s no way to watch all of the games, so here’s a viewer’s guide for the ones to watch and the ones to skip:
Apr 17, 2012
How a team performs against the other 29 teams can only tell us so much about how they will perform against the personnel of another team in a seven-game series. The name of the game is matchups, which is why the Grizzlies and Lakers should scare both the Spurs and Thunder.
Apr 10, 2012
Above a certain baseline of necessary competence, a.k.a. “The Del Negro Line”, there are diminishing returns on how much value a coach brings. A bad one may not deploy his players properly or feature the wrong ones offensively, but a good one can’t fix a fundamentally broken roster.
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