Tag Archives: Spurs

NBA Playoff Predictions

Round 1

Cleveland over Detroit (5 games)

Toronto over Indiana (7)

Charlotte over Miami (6)

Boston over Atlanta (6)

Golden State over Houston (4)

San Antonio over Memphis (4)

Oklahoma City over Dallas (4)

Los Angeles over Portland (5)

Round 2

Cleveland over Boston (7)

Charlotte over Toronto (6)

Golden State over Los Angeles (4)

San Antonio over Oklahoma City (7)

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Charlotte (5)

Golden State over San Antonio (7)

NBA Finals

Golden State over Cleveland (5)

Advertisements

Notes From Spurs-Warriors

Last night in San Antonio, the Spurs turned in a stifling defensive performance, holding the explosive Warriors to a mere seventy-nine points, over thirty-five below their season average.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a spectacular game, scoring twenty-six points while grabbing thirteen rebounds, and there was nothing Golden State could do to stop him. That’s what happens when Andrew Bogut is out. Draymond Green is a great player, but he never got a break from defending San Antonio’s big men. Furthermore, while Green’s low center of gravity allows him to capably guard much bigger players, it does nothing to stop them from shooting fadeaways over him, as Aldridge did repeatedly last night.

Still, that clearly wasn’t the problem last night, as the Spurs were able to score only eighty-seven points. The Warriors’ problem was that they were unable to score. More importantly, Stephen Curry was shut down and held to fourteen points on eighteen shots, an abysmal 34.7% true shooting percentage. For context, Curry’s TS% on the season is a league leading 67.5%, while players not noted for their sharpshooting, such as Rajon Rondo (49.8%), Kobe Bryant (46.3%), and Emmanuel Mudiay (42.7%, the worst mark in the league), have shot better over the course of the season than Curry did last night.

Now, the Warriors had lost six times before last night, but how repeatable are those losses? The Blazers beat the Warriors by shooting 17-30 from three and the Lakers beat them when they shot 4-30 from three. The Mavericks beat the Warriors when they were without Curry and Harrison Barnes and the Nuggets beat them by two when they were without Green. The Bucks beat the Warriors when they were coming off a double-overtime game the night before and the Pistons beat them by eighteen in the only game that there wasn’t a clear reason for why they lost.

None of these games, other than the one against Detroit, provide any valuable insight into how to beat Golden State. At first glance, last night’s game looks very similar to the Lakers game: the Warriors shot 25% from three, with Curry and Klay Thompson combining to go 2-19 from deep. Is that really something the Spurs can count on in the playoffs?

Here’s where the eye test comes in handy. Last night, Curry and Thompson weren’t missing wide-open shots; the Spurs didn’t give them any space. San Antonio hounded the Splash Brothers both on and off the ball, not giving them any room to operate. Helped by Kawhi Leonard and their league-best defense, the Spurs only allowed twenty-nine combined points from Thompson and Curry.

As always, the important question is whether or not this game provides a blueprint for how to beat the Warriors. To me, it’s somewhere in the middle.

On one hand, playing close and physical with Curry and Thompson is a recipe for success. However, not every team has the reigning DPOY on it.

I think it’s fair to say that last night’s game provided a way to beat the Warriors, but one that only the Spurs can follow. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not San Antonio will be able to maintain its defensive success in its next meeting with Golden State, on April 7th in Oracle Arena.

OKC’s Big Problem

Last month, the Thunder traveled to Oracle Arena to face the Warriors. After coming back from a huge deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Thunder ended up losing 116-108.

Oklahoma City’s starting lineup, consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters, and Steven Adams, had a point differential of +4 over the 20.6 minutes it played together.

The lineup containing Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Cameron Payne, Kyle Singler, and Dion Waiters wasn’t able to convert a field goal across the 2.6 minutes it played together. Even when Durant was switched in for Waiters, the lineup was only able to make a single shot over the 2.2 minutes it played together. Across the 4.7 (due to rounding) minutes that the Kanter/Adams combo played, it managed to score only four points on eight shots, and had a point differential of -5.

Why is this combo so awful?

Adams is a center in the mold of Tyson Chandler. He has little offensive skill and often scores off of lobs. Kanter is a post-up behemoth, ranking in the top sixth of the NBA in post-up attempts (among qualified players) with 139 despite playing only 20.6 minutes per game off the bench.

Having a pair of centers who operate best close to the basket isn’t conducive to good spacing and without proper spacing, it’s nearly impossible to create an adequate offense. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at a couple of plays from their time together during the game.

Here, we see Dion Waiters drive down the middle of the floor, looking for a layup. He’s unable to get a shot off, so he passes it to Cameron Payne. The rookie point guard then drives down the right side of the court. In a properly functioning offense, Payne would have space to drive to the basket for a shot at the rim. However, in this muddled mess, Payne has to stop short and let loose an awful floater that hits the side of the backboard.

Here, Waiters drives down the middle of the court. He’s met with a wall of bodies, and wildly chucks the ball out to Payne. The rookie immediately drives towards the rim, but yet again, he has to release an ugly floater in traffic.

Kanter is an offensive rebounding monster (he’s tied for 17th in offensive rebounds per game among players who have played in at least twenty games with an average of 2.8, overcoming his disadvantage in minutes) and he manages to corral the ball after Payne’s miss. However, he’s swamped by four or five Warriors at once. At one point, seven of the ten players on the floor are all in that tangled jumble of arms and legs. Kanter tries a couple of times to get a shot off, but the ball is ripped away, and the Warriors immediately launch a fast-break.

You might be wondering why this combination is a problem worth worrying about. After all, it’s impactful for only a few minutes every game.

In the regular season, the Adams/Kanter combo +0.3 per 3.5 minutes per game over 19 games.. However, what happens when the Thunder make the playoffs and need to beat both the Spurs and the Warriors, two historically great teams, to make the Finals? How’s that gonna work out?

In the playoffs, defenses are amped up and specific players are game-planned for. If Adams and Kanter are still playing together for a few minutes a game, then that’s time that the Thunder’s opponent will have a big advantage. In the regular season, against average teams, it’s often not a problem. However, against the Spurs and Warriors the deficit might be insurmountable.

I wrote most of this article before February 27th, when the Warriors overcame the Thunder in overtime to win the most exciting game of the season. I paid close attention to when Kanter and Adams played together, but they didn’t share the court for a single second. Similarly, last week, when the two teams faced off again, Kanter and Adams were never on the court at the same time. Perhaps Billy Donovan hacked into my account and read my draft of this article, or, more probably, finally decided to use common sense.

Not only did Donovan scrap the Kanter-Adams pairing against the Warriors, but he’s also done well to excise them from the rotation. Since the All-Star break, Kanter and Adams have played a mere 6.4 minutes together over two games. Amusingly enough, over those minutes, the Thunder were -5 and made only two shots on eleven attempts.

Now that Kanter and Adams are no longer playing together, Oklahoma City is poised to pose a serious threat to San Antonio and Golden State in the playoffs.

A Critical Review of ESPN’s Virtual Three-Point Line

Just before January 30th’s Cavs-Spurs game, Heather Cox, an ESPN sideline reporter, had an exciting announcement: ESPN would now be using a “new technology”, a virtual three-point line.

Cox later mentioned that the supposedly “new technology” was based off of the 1st and 10 technology in football, a blatant contradiction.

Anyways, Cox explained that the virtual-three point line would light up after every three-point attempt and remain lit up until the next possession if the shot was made.

To further explain this innovative technology, here’s a GIF so you can see it in action:

ESPN Virtual-Three Point Line GIF

This “cool technology” (as Cox put it) is such low-hanging fruit that I almost feel guilty for making fun of it. Almost.

I’ve gotta wonder whose brainchild this one was. Perhaps some random executive’s seven-year old kid pressed a few random buttons during “take-your-child-to-work day”; after all, what other explanation could there be?

Perhaps I’m judging a little hastily. Maybe I’m wrong about this technology. Let’s talk about why it’s useful.

One of the best things about it is that it caters directly to one specific subset of the population: the people who can’t see a player taking a jump shot but who can see a red line lighting up right next to the shooter. That demographic is obviously a huge part of the sports-watching population and ESPN did well to creatively cater to its needs.

Another demographic that this technology helps is the one consisting of people who can’t see the basketball going through the net or hear the announcers telling the audience what just occurred but who somehow are able to see the three-point line up. Yet another wise business decision by ESPN.

For those of us who don’t belong to either of those groups, this technology is still useful. After a three-pointer, the line lights up for a few seconds. In the meantime, many teams try to get fast-break points against opponents who have fallen asleep. They’ll quickly inbound the ball and push up the floor as fast as possible. For much of the time the three-point line is lit up, the viewer can’t see it as action occurs on the other side of the court. I, for one, still think that the technology is useful because, somehow, I find it reassuring to know that the three-point line is lit up, even though I can’t see it.

I know that this technology is based off of the 1st-and-10 technology, but I wonder how ESPN implements it during the game. My best guess: Some poor intern at a computer has to press control-b every time a three-pointer is attempted.

Cox added at the end of her explanation: “I certainly hope you enjoy this new toy as much as we do.” Yeah, Heather, I’m definitely enjoying this “new toy”, but probably not for the reasons you intended.

How Did the Warriors Beat the Spurs?

I don’t think anyone was expecting the utter devastation the Warriors wrought upon the Spurs. I don’t think anyone was expecting Stephen Curry to explode for thirty-seven points in only twenty-eight minutes. I don’t think anyone was expecting San Antonio’s point differential to go down a full point. I don’t think anyone was expecting any of this.

The important question is: How did this happen?

The answer, simply, is that rather than running their usual motion offense, the Spurs decided to try their hands at running a bakery. The problem is that the only pastries they knew how to cook were turnovers (mostly apple ones). All (bad) jokes aside, the Spurs continually hemorrhaged possessions last night, giving the ball to the Warriors in a variety of ways.

Naturally, the multitudinous turnovers were a problem for San Antonio, but the fact that it’s bad to turn the ball over isn’t enough to explain the blowout. After all, it’s not like Golden State took particularly good care of the ball; it had twenty-one turnovers to San Antonio’s twenty-six (which is eighth-most out of 1348 team games played so far this season!).

In fact, just turning the ball over alone doesn’t matter all that much. Take a look at a graph:

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 6.22.05 PM

In this scatter plot, the x-axis is turnovers per game while the y-axis is winning percentage. As you can tell from the relatively even scatter of the graph, there’s only a very weak negative correlation (the r is -.36) between turnovers and winning percentage.

If turnovers don’t inherently affect winning, then why did they hurt the Spurs so significantly against the Warriors?

When a team turns the ball over, that often leads directly to a fast break, a facet of the game in which the Warriors excel. In fact, Golden State leads the league in fast break points with 20.7 per game, an impressive 2.76 standard deviations above the mean. To illustrate that number, take a look at a scatter plot of NBA teams and how many fast break points they have per game:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 7.56.57 PM

Look how far the Warriors (the star in the upper right corner) are away from everyone else. In fact, they gap between them and sixth place is larger than the gap between sixth place and thirtieth!

Golden State is so aberrant in this regard, that, as shown by the following box plot, it qualifies as an outlier:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.03.08 PM

As we can tell, Golden State’s offense relies a lot on fast breaks, and we’ve already covered how turnovers often lead to fast breaks. Now let’s take a look at San Antonio’s defense.

The Spurs allow 11.2 fast break points per game, ranking sixth in that category.  As seems to be customary between these teams, two strengths are in direct conflict.

In this case, the Warriors’ strength won out. They scored nineteen fast break points, about two points under their average, but roughly eight points more than the Spurs’ average.

Now, one important aspect of a fast-break is the “fast” part. The Warriors rank first in the NBA in pace, while the Spurs are the eighth slowest team in the league. Since Golden State was able to take control of the pace of the game, San Antonio was out of its element. It didn’t help matters that the Spurs’ average age is 30.5, the oldest in the league by over a year. In fact, that’s likely a significant part of why they play so slowly.

Anyways, to sum it up, the main reason the Warriors were able to dismantle the Spurs on Monday night was because they were able to take control of the pace of the game through forcing turnovers. Those turnovers allowed them to score plenty of fast break points, erasing one of San Antonio’s biggest strengths.

Here’s a bonus question: Did this game provide a blueprint for how to beat the Spurs?

I’ll put it simply: Do many teams have a guy who can do things in transition like this?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

And aside from the otherworldly talents of Curry, the Warriors, as we’ve discussed, have a lot more going for them that other teams simply don’t have.

But even the Warriors haven’t figured out the formula to beating the Spurs.  San Antonio had nearly double its usual turnovers and Tim Duncan was sitting out. There were plenty of other factors that contributed to the blowout that are unlikely to recur all at once.

Although this clearly is not a death knell for the Spurs, it could be a chink in their formerly unbroken armor, and perhaps particularly skilled teams will now be able to exploit it.

 

Warriors vs. Spurs: Who’s Better?

Tonight, the Spurs and Warriors will meet for the first time this season, in Oracle Arena. Not only are these teams the two best in the NBA this season, they’re also two of the best in NBA history. In fact, here’s a list of every single team that has ever posted a point differential above plus-12 like the Spurs and Warriors have so far this season:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 3.18.12 PM

So yeah, that’s ridiculous. Even better, the three other teams on that list all went on to win the championship. The problem is that the Spurs and Warriors can’t both win the championship. In fact, as both teams play in the Western Conference, only one team can even make it to the Finals. Accordingly, the Western Conference Finals (assuming both the Spurs and Warriors make it) will be the de facto NBA Finals, as the winner of that series will go on to the real NBA Finals to demolish whichever flawed team emerges from the East.

Tonight’s game is truly a clash of titans, one that is quite possibly the greatest regular season matchup in the history of the NBA.

In honor of tonight’s game, it’s time to figure out which team is better and should be considered the favorite to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

Offense

The Warriors lead the NBA significantly in points per game. They score 114.7 points per game, 6.2 more than the second place Thunder. The gap between the Warriors and the Thunder is the same as the gap between the Thunder and the ninth place Pelicans. To illustrate this point, here’s a graph of the points per game totals among NBA teams:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.38.14 PM

That star in the upper right hand corner is the Warriors. Look at how far they are away from everyone else. In fact, they’re 3.27 standard deviations above the mean, meaning that, assuming a normal distribution, one would expect an offense to score as many points per game as them .05% of the time. That’s about once every sixty-seven seasons. Wow.

However, that point total is skewed somewhat by Golden State’s pace. They play at the second fastest pace in the league, averaging 101.75 possessions per game, behind only Sacramento. Meanwhile, the Spurs play far slower, at the sixth slowest pace in the league, averaging 95.91 possessions per game. That’s a difference of nearly six possessions per game, allowing the Warriors to average more points than the Spurs.

If, instead of points per game, we use points per hundred possessions, the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the league shrinks significantly:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.37.41 PM

Here, the Warriors still lead the pack at 112.7 points per hundred possessions, but the Thunder (second at 109.2) and the Spurs (third at 108.8) follow close behind them.

Although Golden State’s offense is clearly the best in the game, the San Antonio’s isn’t all that far behind.

Edge: Warriors

Defense

The Spurs, similarly to the Warriors on offense, lead the NBA in points allowed per game by a significant margin, allowing a stingy 89.8 points per game. In fact, San Antonio’s defense (the star in the lower left corner) is nearly as far away from the rest of the league as Golden State’s offense:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.38.03 PM

Golden State, on the other hand, ranks a mere eighteenth in points allowed per game, giving up 102.6 points per contest.

However, in addition to offensive numbers being skewed by pace, defensive numbers are skewed too. After all, it’s a lot easier to give up fewer points when you don’t have to face as many shot attempts.

To combat this, like we did with offense, let’s use points per hundred possessions:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.37.24 PM

This change actually doesn’t affect the Spurs at all; in fact, it might even increase the gap between them and the rest of the league. However, the Warriors vault from eighteenth all the way up to third, a sizable jump.

Similarly to offense, while San Antonio’s defense is clearly the best in the NBA, Golden State’s isn’t too far behind.

Edge: Spurs

Chemistry

Golden State leads the NBA in assist percentage, as 68.5% of its field goals are assisted. San Antonio isn’t far behind, sitting in sixth place with an assist percentage of 61.7%. In addition, the Warriors are the proud owners of six of the eleven games this season in which a team accumulated thirty-five or more assists.

There are plenty of stats that I can use to show how great the Warriors’ chemistry is, but they can’t compete with the Spurs. No one can. A couple of years ago, San Antonio had this video made about them:

Sure, plenty of other teams pass, but have any of them had videos like this one made about them? I actually looked; there are none.

If you want something more recent, here are the Spurs earlier this season, destroying the Timberwolves:

I mean, just look at how disconsolate the Timberwolves are after the Spurs finally decided to score:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 6.11.00 PM

That’s what the Spurs’ passing can do to a team.

Last of all, and best of all, who can forget the famous Spursgasm from a couple of years ago?

Good lord.

Big Edge: Spurs

Coaching

This might be the tightest category yet. Steve Kerr took over a Warriors team and, with largely the same roster, turned a 51-31 sixth seed into a 67-15 juggernaut. This season, with Kerr sidelined, Luke Walton has led the Warriors to a 39-4 start.

The Spurs have Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the league hands-down, and one of the best coaches of all-time.

No matter how good Kerr and Walton have been while helming Golden State, no one can equal Pop, but at least they’ve been able to come close.

Slight Edge: Spurs

Star Power

You’d think that this category would be an easy Warriors victory, but it’s a lot closer than you’d think. Each team has a superduperstar, Stephen Curry for the Warriors and Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs. Each team has a superstar, Draymond Green for the Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge for the Spurs. The intrigue comes in the various supporting players.

San Antonio has so many good, solid players, from Tony Parker to Manu Ginobili to Tim Duncan to Boris Diaw to Danny Green. Even players buried a little deeper on the bench are still capable, like David West and Patty Mills.

On the other hand, Golden State has a far top-heavier rotation. Andrew Bogut is a solid center, Shaun Livingston is a good back-up point guard, and Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala are very good small forwards. Deeper on the bench are players such as Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, and Marreese Speights, three players who are all decent, if unspectacular.

In the end, the Spurs’ superior depth doesn’t matter as the Warriors have a third star in Klay Thompson, giving Golden State the advantage in the final category.

Edge: Warriors

Verdict

No matter which team is better, the Warriors should be expected to win tonight due to their immense home court advantage, but, in the end, by the tiniest of margins, the Spurs are the superior team.

Final Edge: Spurs 

Which Games Should You Watch on Christmas?

On Christmas Day, us fans of the NBA have a serious conundrum. There’s basketball for thirteen hours straight, which is great, but we also have familial obligations and the like. For those of you who can only escape your family for a game or two, here’s a guide to determining which games you should watch and which ones you shouldn’t.

Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Watch if you like: Freakishly long arms, all-lefty lineups, aging stars,  unibrows, imagining what Young Kristaps will be like in three years, having a quick snooze before the good games start.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Chicago Bulls

Watch if you like: Teams still finding their identities, power struggles, Enes Kanter’s bushy eyebrows, discontented players, Steven Adam’s fake-looking mustache, ex-college coaches in their first season in the NBA, Bobby Portis sitting on the bench, Dion Waiters hoisting up awful shots that miss by a mile.

Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Watch if you like: Games with history behind them, unstoppable pick-and-rolls, superduperstars, injured players returning, going small, raucous home crowds, great basketball, ridiculous displays of shooting from Steph Curry, ridiculous displays of athleticism from LeBron James, Iman Shumpert’s hair, JR Smith hoisting up awful shots that somehow go in.

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

Watch if you like: Spectacular wing defense, Hack-a-Howard, intra-state rivalries, Spursgasms, foreign players, beards, dazzling sequences of passing, free throws, lefty shooting guards with Eurosteps.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Watch if you like: Kobe Bryant missing shots, thunderous dunks, Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan alley-oops, young studs against in-their-prime superstars, brutal blowouts, watching the last quarter and a half played by scrubs.