One Team, One Stat: San Antonio Spurs making case for defense

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Oct 5, 2016 7:22 PM ET

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NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2016-17 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the San Antonio Spurs, who are moving on without their anchor.

THE STAT

The San Antonio Spurs have been an above-average defensive team for the last 19 seasons, a streak that coincides with the drafting of Tim Duncan and is the longest such streak of the last 30 years.

THE CONTEXT

Duncan is one of the best two-way players in NBA history. He ranks 14th on the all-time scoring list, but also anchored a top-5 defense in 15 of his 19 seasons.

Six franchises -- the Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz -- never ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency over the course of Duncan's career. The Spurs did it 15 times, more than twice as many as any other team.

After the four years in which San Antonio didn't rank in the top five -- sixth in 2008-09, ninth in '09-10, and 11th in both '10-11 and '11-12 -- it was a return to the top-5 in defensive efficiency four years ago that made the Spurs championship contenders again. And last season was the Spurs' best defensive season in the last 10 years.

Spurs_2015-2016_Shooting

The Spurs allowed 7.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, the eighth best mark since the league started counting turnovers in 1977 (39 seasons). They ranked third in defensive efficiency in 2014-15 and were the most improved defensive team last season, allowing 3.0 fewer points per 100 possessions.

Their defensive success started with forcing the right kinds of shots. Their opponents took only 55.7 percent of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range, the second lowest opponent rate in the league. Preventing the most efficient shots helped them rank first in opponent effective field goal percentage, but they were also a top-10 team in each of the other four factors on defense.

Spurs Four Factors 2015-2016

Duncan continued to make an impact in season No. 19, at the age of 39. Last season, he ranked as the 13th best rim protector among 58 players who defended at least 5 shots at the rim in at least 50 games. The Spurs were 4.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor than they were with him on the bench and they allowed 93.1 points per 100 possessions with Duncan and Kawhi Leonard on the floor together, the best mark among two-man combinations that played at least 1,000 minutes.

Leonard, of course, is the two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year. Pau Gasol ranked as the league's ninth-best rim protector last season, and the the 10.7 shots he defended at the rim per game were the most in the league.

With Leonard and Danny Green on the perimeter, Gasol on the inside, and coach Gregg Popovich on the bench, the Spurs should have a top-5 defense for the fifth straight year. But that doesn't diminish the 19-year impact of No. 21.

Spurs_Pace_Efficiency_Last_5_Seasons

10 MORE SPURS NOTES

  1. The Spurs allowed just 91.5 points per 100 possessions in the first half of games, 11.8 fewer than the first-half league average and 10.4 fewer than they allowed in the second half of games. They ranked fourth in defensive efficiency in the second half, but had the league’s best second-half offense.
  2. Only 30 of their games, fewest in the league, were within five points in the last five minutes.
  3. San Antonio's players off the bench had an aggregate on-court NetRtg of plus-10.9, the best mark in the league by a wide margin.
  4. The Spurs went 34-0 when they shot 50 percent or better.
  5. San Antonio took only 51.4 percent of its shots from the restricted area or 3-point range, the lowest rate in the league and down from 57.9 percent in 2014-15.
  6. Tony Parker's usage rate of 21.4 percent last season was his lowest mark since his rookie year.
  7. LaMarcus Aldridge ranked fourth in the league with 523 mid-range field goal attempts. But that was 265 fewer than he attempted the season prior and 376 fewer than he attempted in 2013-14.
  8. Danny Green had an effective field goal percentage of 48.0 percent last season, down from 56.6 percent in 2014-15. That was the second biggest drop-off among players with at least 500 FGA both seasons. He also had the lowest free throw rate (only eight free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field) among players with at least 500 field goal attempts last season.
  9. But Green ranked fourth in effective field goal percentage among players that took at least 50 shots in the playoffs. He was one one of two players to shoot 50 percent on at least 25 postseason 3-point attempts in the playoffs.
  10. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions with Manu Ginobili on the floor over the course of his career. That's the highest on-court NetRtg among players who have logged at least 10,000 minutes over the last 20 years.

NBA TV's Spurs preview premieres at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 6.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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