On Tap: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  November 29, 2005

Looking for the advantages in this match up as a Laker fan is not easy.

But here’s one — the best place to attack the Spurs offensively is from the midrange. San Antonio is good at defending inside and at the arc, but their middle is softer. Dean Oliver of Seattle talks about noticing that statistically last season in a Sports Illustrated article (in this season’s basketball preview issue), and that info was good enough to get the overmatched Sonics two wins against the Spurs in the playoffs. Detroit, on top of playing good defense, also has one of the league’s better three point shooting teams, and they pushed the Spurs to seven games in the finals.

The triangle should get the Lakers good midrange looks — it did the first few games of the season. If they can do anything with them is another question all together. These Lakers should not be confused with last year’s Sonics on offense, maybe not even last season’s Pistons.

So far this season, only two Lakers who play regular large chunks of minutes can talk proudly of their Roland Rating (a +/- number for how a team does with a player on or off the court per 48 minutes): Kobe Bryant (+11.3) and Brian Cook (+12.9). Odom is at -3.1.

The Spurs on the other hand the Spurs have guys like Tony Parker (+19.1) and Tim Duncan (+14.6) looking strong. Even Manu Ginobili, who has been “off” this season, is +4.9.

The Spurs remain a defensive force, allowing just 100.4 points per 100 opponent possessions this season (second best in the league). Teams are only shooting 45.9% (eFG%) against them, which is low but would be a step up from what the Lakers did Sunday against New Jersey. The advantage San Antonio has is they can sick Bruce Bowen on Kobe with the occasional double team, maybe slowing Kobe some but shutting down everyone else (insert your own “how hard is that?” joke here). This is a simple but fundamentally sound defense played by San Antonio.

Offensively they are sixth in the league with a rating of 108.7. Of course there is Duncan (25 points per 40 minutes, shooting 53.6% eFG%). Tony Parker has stepped up his scoring this season, scoring 23.6 per 40 minutes and shooting 56.6%. As I said there was some early talk about Ginobili having taken a step back, but he is still averaging 19.7 per 40 while shooting 48.9% (down from 21.3 and 53.3% last season). He started slow with a couple injuries but now is healthy and back to form.

That said, the Chicago Bulls had some success the other night by collapsing the defense in and daring the Spurs in general (and Tony Parker in particular) to beat them with jump shots (according to Pounding the Rock, the Spurs blog). Chris Mihm is not Tyson Chandler, but this strategy might have some success.

Mihm and Odom need to hit the boards hard because the Spurs will. Duncan remains a rebounding force, but so are Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed, and those two are each playing about 25 minutes per game.

The Spurs are the best team in the league, but they can lose on any given night. The Lakers, and Kobe, have a way of rising up to challenges. Whether that will be enough, well, um, we can hope. That’s what being a fan is about.