Before the season started, the San Antonio Spurs were left out of the playoff picture by many media outlets. After week one, Gregg Popovich’s group has won three of their first four games with a chance to go 4-1 Friday night against the free-falling Golden State Warriors.
Granted, the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards aren’t exactly in the running for the NBA Finals. Still, the Spurs have established some good habits early, demonstrating an improved offense highlighted by impressive offensive rebounding.
An early victory over last season’s surprise Western Conference Finalists, the Portland Trail Blazers, is an encouraging sign as San Antonio prepares for tougher upcoming matchups like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
After the first week of the season, the numbers show some surprising and some expected trends surrounding the Silver and Black, which are worth a dive into as November rolls around.
47.5% Field Goal Shooting
The Spurs are frequently toward the top of the league in overall shooting percentage, so the hot start early is no surprise. Last season, San Antonio entered the playoffs having shot 47.8% in the regular season, which was second in the league.
So far, San Antonio is shooting 47.5%, which has them sitting in fourth behind the Los Angeles Clippers, Wizards and Detroit Pistons. Derrick White is leading the pack with 61.8% shooting, while Patty Mills (39.3%) and Marco Belinelli (30%) have struggled so far.
Spurs fans have been wondering what Belinelli is bringing to the table that’s earning him so many minutes over someone like Lonnie Walker IV. Looking at the numbers, the answer is not much. While Popovich recently ripped Walker’s lack of effort against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, I wouldn’t take that too seriously as a sign Lonnie is now in the dog house.
While the Spurs are shooting well overall, the fact that Mills and Belinelli mainly play for their shooting abilities and are both under 40% early on is something to keep an eye on when it comes to possible rotation adjustments.
23 Three-point Attempts Per Game
Another unsurprising stat from week one is San Antonio’s continued resistance to letting it fly from downtown. Last season, the Spurs were last in the league in three-point shots attempted at 25.3 per game. Heading into November, the Silver and Black are shooting even less often from beyond the arc at 23 per game.
Gregg Popovich is famously not a fan of the three-point shot, so the lack of outside shooting is hardly a shock. The fact that the Spurs have the top two mid-range shooters in the game also points to this figure probably not increasing very much going forward.
The Houston Rockets are currently shooting more than twice as many threes per game as San Antonio, with 47.8 attempts per game. With both teams currently sitting at 3-1, the Southwest Division race between the two should be an interesting study in what will work best in the loaded Western Conference.
Contesting 45% of Two-Point Field Goals
Last season, the Spurs contested 42% of all two-point field goals, finishing fifth in the league. After four games, San Antonio has upped that number to 45%, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks. Much of this can be attributed to the return of Dejounte Murray and the length he provides.
Murray has shown his defense is worth the hype so far, contesting shots of not only his own man but others through help-defense as well. His 5.5 deflections per game are also tied for first in the league with four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.
San Antonio has been less committed to contesting the three-point shots. Last season, they finished 19th in the league with a 24.5% rate of contesting threes. This season the Spurs are sitting at 22nd in the league with a 22% rate.
With matchups against the Warriors and Lakers looming, some early statistics are bound to fluctuate as this season’s Spurs figure out their identity. With any luck, the numbers will trend in favor of some better defense and sustained offense.