Advanced Scouting: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets – Reaction to Duncan’s injury


San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets 9:30 CST March 23, 2011

If nothing else, Tim Duncan’s injury puts the Spurs final push before the playoffs in a different light. Sure, it would be irrational to sit all the Spurs key players for the remainder of the season; but the prospect of losing home court advantage pales in comparison to the thought of losing someone as vital to the team as Tim Duncan. Even many lesser pieces are more valuable than an easier potential 7th game.

Think about it like this: If we assume that around 25% of all series go to a game 7 (according to and home court is worth 4 points per game, then home court advantage will be worth about 0.14 PPG in the playoffs (0.14=4 points/7 games * 25% frequency). According to John Hollinger’s “Value Added”, McDyess is the 10th most valuable Spur at nearly 0.3 points added per game (Hollinger would be the first to admit that McDyess’ defensive contributions are not adequately measured by PER). The math does shift moderately when we translate points added to wins added, series added and championships added; but the conclusion is the same. Contributing players are more important than the prospect of having home court advantage for a game 7.

Obviously, that’s not the end of the story. Conventional wisdom suggests that players will become rusty with too much rest and if you sit them now, they will “lose their rhythm” and may never be able to regain it. Much of this seems reasonable to me, but I have no idea if this is a crucial factor or a negligible one. There isn’t enough data to properly analyze this situation, especially considering that injury probability is practically immeasurable from player to player. It’s something that, for now, must be evaluated largely upon intuition. Thankfully, the Spurs have a coach who is as qualified as any to make this evaluation. Additionally, Coach Pop has managed the big 3 for several years and should know their limits better than anyone.

How will the Spurs handle Duncan’s absence

Based on Saturday’s starting lineup against Charlotte, I suspect that the Spurs will simply start Splitter in Duncan’s place. This could also be an opportunity for the Spurs to play more small ball. On the season, George Hill has spent nearly half his time at shooting guard and Manu Ginobili has played a similar amount of minutes at small forward (according to Richard Jefferson’s time at power forward has been reduced from 16% last season to 7% this year. However, James Anderson is back in the fold and Steve Novak’s contributions have recently increased, meaning Jefferson could have more availability to shift to the 4 spot.

The Spurs are very deep at guard and Jefferson is still well suited to run the break. DeJuan Blair is decent in the transition game for a big man and Bonner and Splitter are utilized on the fast break nearly twice as frequently per minute as Duncan. The ability to run the break is not only something nice for the Spurs to have in their back pocket, it could become essential if Duncan’s injury turns out to be a larger hindrance than suspected. The Spurs have a ton of offensive weapons at guard and would present serious matchup problems for many teams.

How dangerous are the post-Melo Nuggets

Denver is 10-4 since sending Carmelo Anthony to New York (along with the under-appreciated Chauncey Billups). An article by Justin Kubatko just under a week ago spelling out some of the reasons for Denver’s success. To highlight, the Nuggets offensive rating remains at around 110 while their defensive rating has improved from 108 before the trade to 97 after the deal.

Although the Nuggets are a formidable opponent as constructed, the defensive improvement of 11 points is clearly not maintainable, in my opinion. Carmelo Anthony appears to cost his team a couple points a game defensively and Wilson Chandler has a solid defensive reputation, but no one is getting Kevin Garnett here. It is interesting, however, that Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen have played significantly better without Anthony this season and these are arguably the Nuggets two best defenders.

Ty Lawson has assumed a much greater role in the offense with Billups out of the equation. Lawson’s MPG have increased from 24 before the all-star break to 33 after the break. His assists per game have more than doubled over that span. Much of Lawson’s value lies in his efficiency and his ability to get to the rim. More often than not, he opts for the safe play. Lawson averages nearly as many isolations as pick and rolls and is very effective in these plays, averaging nearly 1 point per possession (PPP). He is not a threat to score off the dribble from beyond the arc as 96% of his threes are assisted, a very high rate for a point guard (league average is 73%). Raymond Felton takes more chances and favors the pick and roll. Felton is questionable for tonight’s game. (Raymond Felton and Lawson have been very successful when paired together thus far.)

JR Smith is Denver’s top isolation option without Anthony. He is credited with isolations on 29% of his possessions and averages 0.89 PPP on these plays. Danilo Gallinari is also much more effective getting to the rim than one might expect. He averages a team high 6.6 FTA per 36 minutes (11.1 with Denver) and scores an outstanding 1.09 PPP when isolated.

Additionally, Nene is arguably Denver’s most valuable player and could have a big game without Duncan there to keep him in check. The Nuggets also have a lot of options on the fast break.

Of course, the improved Nuggets defense could also present their fair share of problems for the Spurs.

It will be interesting to see how Coach Popovich will manage tonight’s game. Will he be more conservative now that Duncan is out? Will he work favorable matchups to improve his chances to win? Tonight’s game could be an omen for the remainder of the regular season.

Key Statistics

SRS ranks:

Denver: 4.45 (7th)
San Antonio: 6.31 (3rd)

Player summary statistics from and

Denver Nuggets Player Ratings 3-22

PlayerGMPGUSG%OrtgDRtgWS/482 Yr APM
Nene Hilario6530.6191251050.2088.86
Arron Afflalo6734.114.71221110.125-1.29
Chauncey Billups5132.321.51201100.169-5.82
Ty Lawson6925.719.51171100.146-1.76
Carmelo Anthony5035.532.61071070.1264.22
J.R. Smith6824.722.21081060.1171.88
Chris Andersen391613.41241040.1764.74
Kenyon Martin3825.215.11071050.104-0.62
Al Harrington6323.321.71001080.053-1.87
Gary Forbes5711.620.41021090.055N/A
Danilo Gallinari529.8221221070.1961.39
Raymond Felton1131.118.21041080.072-1.69
Wilson Chandler1331.322.1981070.0442.85
Renaldo Balkman58.810.91351040.18N/A
Timofey Mozgov75.722.41041070.084N/A

San Antonio Spurs Player Ratings 3-22

PlayerGMPGUSG%OrtgDRtgWS/482 Yr APM
Tony Parker6832.425.21141070.167-0.37
Manu Ginobili7030.726.41161040.2064.95
Richard Jefferson6930.615.51151080.117-0.93
Tim Duncan6928.322.9109990.1686.52
George Hill6428.217.61141070.131-1.84
DeJuan Blair6921.720.2106990.139-0.55
Matt Bonner5421.6131281070.1543.83
Gary Neal6820.620.41091080.099-2.2
Antonio McDyess6418.314.71051020.1062.97
James Anderson2110.815.61121090.094N/A
Tiago Splitter4911.617.41111020.145N/A
Steve Novak158.216.71531080.265N/A
Chris Quinn396.616.4961090.027N/A

Player trends, based on Efficiency per 48 minutes:

Denver Nuggets Player Trends 3-22

PlayerSeasonLast 10Increase
Ty Lawson23.931.17.2
Chris Andersen25.831.86
Nene Hilario31.334.93.6
Gary Forbes17.821.43.6
Al Harrington20.418.9-1.5
Arron Afflalo19.217.6-1.6
J.R. Smith28.426.8-1.6
Kenyon Martin27.325.5-1.8

San Antonio Spurs Player Trends 3-22

PlayerSeasonLast 10Increase
Tiago Splitter23.127.44.3
Steve Novak28.431.73.3
DeJuan Blair28.2312.8
Manu Ginobili28.7312.3
Tim Duncan32.733.91.2
Tony Parker27.328.10.8
Gary Neal18.419.10.7
Antonio McDyess23.123.30.2
James Anderson14.614.70.1
Matt Bonner19.819.6-0.2
Richard Jefferson17.613.5-4.1
George Hill21.915.8-6.1

As players get more playing time, they usually experience improvement in their per minute production. Splitter seems to be following suit. He should get more chances in the coming weeks.

Lineup Data

Most valuable/utilized lineups:

Billups, Afflalo, Anthony, Martin, Hilario +47 in 310 minutes (+7.2 per 100 possessions)
Lawson, Afflalo, Chandler, Martin, Hilario +9 in 98 minutes (+6.5 per 100)
Lawson, Felton, Chandler, Martin, Hilario +39 in 50 minutes (+33.4 per 100)
No lineup with Gallinari has played more than 21 minutes.

Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, Blair, Duncan +147 in 669 minutes (+10.4 per 100)
Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, McDyess, Duncan +29 in 147 minutes (+10.2 per 100)
Hill, Neal, Ginobili, Bonner, McDyess +67 in 105 minutes (+35.3 per 100)

The Pick


At this point, there are too many question marks for the Spurs and Duncan’s injury highlights the importance of being healthy for the playoffs. The Spurs still have enough firepower to win tonight, even without Duncan and even if some other players rest, but the Nuggets have proven themselves to be too good to take for granted, especially in Denver.

  • Carlos Martin

    GO SPURS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Beat the new Nuggets, they are a bunch of underachievers anyway.

  • ITGuy

    I agree that the nuggets should win this game but I also think the Spurs will give it their all and come away with a win.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Mark B

    Hopefully Bonner will get some open looks and shoot himself out of his current mini-slump. Hopefully he can get his stroke right by the playoffs … if not, Novak is going to be taking his minutes.

    Splitter should improve a lot with playing time, so this is going to be a chance for him to improve how comfortable he is on the court. IMO, he has looked nervous on the court in the few game moments he has gotten so far. As his minutes increase, his comfort level improves.

    Unfortunately, I noticed he was tiring more quickly than he should, probably because all of his injuries kept him from being as fit as he could be. These 3 weeks should get him into peak game shape, so long as he doesn’t get himsef out of games early with foul trouble. I think the fouling is partly caused by him trying to do too much too quickly since he knows he’s only going to be in a short time. We’ll see … even though there’s no Duncan, I’m sure Pop won’t hesitate to pull him off the floor if he’s not doing what Pop wants him to do.

    I’d like to see him develop. This three week stretch is going to let us see how much he can contribute to this year’s playoff run. If he doesn’t do well, then it’s back to the end of the bench until next year. He’s the center of the future for the Spurs, the biggest question of how soon that future begins.

    Get well, Tim. I almost got sick when they kept replaying the injury on TV. Ankles aren’t supposed to bend that way. Hopefully he can be right by the playoffs. In the west, there are a lot of good teams, and even the first round is going to be tough. It’s too bad we can’t play one of the East’s #7 or #8 cupcakes.

  • Alix Babaie

    This next couple of weeks will truly test the mettle of this team.

    Duncan going down is going to either galvanize or fracture the psyche of this team but based on everything we know about this team, I would go with the former rather than the latter.

    Splitter is going to get a ton of time on the court, Blair will get to spot Dyess, I also feel like Novak is going to be huge for this team coming down the stretch and into the playoffs.

    This team has it in them to go 2-1 on this road trip.

  • The Dude

    The Nuggets are a rejuvenated franchise and looking to stick it to the naysayers. They are discovering depth and allowing their young talent to develop, and with Gallinari healthy again there is more reason to be concerned. Lookout for JR, Gary!

  • Tim in Surrey

    Thanks for the essay, as usual, Scott. However, I hate to say it, but I think that you might have a false correlation. League history alone amply demonstrates the value of HCA–particularly the cumulative effect over more than one series (not that it’s an issue for us, thankfully). When that’s backed up by several generations’ worth of first-hand comments from players and coaches, it suggests that you might want to be certain that this isn’t an overly facile conclusion.

    Rather than running a projection based upon the assumption that HCA in a Game 7 is worth its conventional value of 4ppg, why not look at the relatively rich history of NBA Game 7 results to see how much it’s worth in those particular circumstances? In other words, just throw out the data for regular season games and games 1 through 6 entirely. Perhaps look at Game 7s round-by-round, because I suspect that the value of the home court increases with each round in the playoffs.

    Why am I so suspicious? First, the playoffs are fundamentally different than the regular season because you’re locked into games with a single opponent. When a series goes passed five games, it means that the teams are matched evenly enough that each has demonstrated the ability to beat the other, more than once. Therefore ANY edge will be magnified because the teams are so comparable. Additionally, rest is more important in the playoffs because of the wear and tear of the long season, which means the home team has an advantage. And the chaos and heightened attention of the playoffs (especially a climactic Game 7) are more easily escaped at home than at an NBA hotel where the media are camped out. Finally, it’s important to remember that benches tend to shrink in the playoffs and can become almost non-existent in a Game 7. As a result, bench players will have far fewer chances to contribute to a victory.

    Anyway, just my thoughts. Thanks for the preview.

  • Titletown99030507d

    This Nugget team by far is better without Carmelo. They seem to have better team chemistry and not have to focus on a superstar to score all their points.
    It will be close and the spurs may lose only because its at Denver and because they don’t know what to expect now that the team has realized its without Duncan for a while. But like 2/3 of the core are still active this may be enough for the young guns to have enough confidence to not even care about Duncan’s situation once they hit the floor. These guys are gamers from 1 – 13. They’ll be ready. GSG!

  • Mark B

    The two organizations that feel good about the Melo trade now are the Nuggets and the Nets. By leveraging the Nets offer to get the Knicks to give up the store, the Nets are set for years with talent and also got some salary cap room.

    The Knicks got a player who doesn’t play defense and they destroyed their bench and messed up their salary structure to the extent that they won’t be able to improve their team next year. They got played. And if they had just waited until Melo’s contract ran out, they could have signed him and gave up a whole lot less. They did get Billups, who is a really good player, but he’s not going to be that effective when neither Anthony or Stoudamire play a lick of defense.

  • Mark B

    second sentence, first paragraph … should be Nuggets. The Nets were also improved since the Melo trade set them up to get Williams, who is a much better fit for them than Anthony would have been.

  • Peter

    Interesting point about the value of home court advantage vs. player value. It’d sure be nice to have both.

  • Czernobog

    Hey, how do you stat wizards measure the value of having to play either the Lakers or the Mavericks, as opposed to both of them?

    Just wondering, since you seem to place so little value on HCA.

  • DorieStreet

    Forget the advanced basketball stats, the first half-season “Melodrama: He will/won’t sign” &” the top 10 Melo-trade rumors & preposals”, along with the post-Melo team record.

    The Nuggets have been very hard to defeat at home, PERIOD –all season long.

    28 Ws, 7 Ls- 4th best in the ENTIRE league.

    1 loss in Nov; 2 losses each in Dec, Jan & Feb.
    None of those defeats are to sub .500 teams.

    Their road record is what drags them down-it’s the thick air @ sea level-“hard to breath in it.” :)
    A very difficult task for the Spurs to go back there and get another victory without our #1 post player.
    But__if it’s gets accomplished….

  • Ruel

    Give the Denver Nuggets 48 minutes of Team Hell Defense!!! Go Spurs Go!!!

  • Scott Sereday

    @Tim in Surrey and

    There may be subtle effects for the cumulative advantage of home court and, yes, the home team does win around 72% in do or die games according to the following article (home teams win 60% of regular season games), but this should be expected since the home team is usually better anyways.

    The sample is very small at times, but home teams actually win more than 75% of non-clinching home games (game 1, 2 and 5). This could be by chance or it could be caused by the fact that road teams that reach game 7 tend to be better than those that don’t.

    A couple factors that I didn’t mention:
    As Czernobog indicates, seeding can be important. How important depends on the year and situation. Obviously, the road for an 8th seed will be much tougher than a 1st seed, but it might not be much different between a 1st seed and a 2nd seed.

    How much more likely is the 7th seed to beat you than the 8th and how much more likely is the 2nd seed to beat you rather than the 3rd (given the probabilities that they advance)? At this point, I don’t know if the West’s 8th seed will be more dangerous than the 7th seed or not. Comparing the likely 2nd and 3rd seeds, both Dallas and OKC could be very tough matchups. OKC is already playing better with Perkins (in limited minutes) than they played with Green. Dallas, meanwhile, has yet to put it together after their acquisitions. Seeding is important enough to play the regular season, but not important enough to risk injury in the Spurs unique situation.

    Additionally, home court advantage could very well be modestly stronger during the playoffs. As my research indicates, a larger attendance figure correlates with home winning percentage, even after accounting for team strength. Others have found this to be stronger in the game’s more crucial moments. (Referee bias seems to be the primary catalyst.)

    Finally, the Spurs have an excellent chance at sealing home court even if they don’t focus on it. The Spurs are highly unlikely to rest everybody for the remainder of the season, which is reasonable, and even an average team would have greater than a 90% chance of clinching HCA in the Spurs situation.

  • TD = Best EVER

    If we don’t start running something for RJ I’m going to PASS OUT and start convulsing……………

    He is getting 9 mil to basically float around and take 4-6 shots a game….. grab a couple boards, and that about it……

  • hassan

    Carlos Martin
    March 23rd, 2011 at 3:38 am GO SPURS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Beat the new Nuggets, they are a bunch of underachievers anyway

    Denver is 10-4 since the trade man.. if anything they are overacheiving my friend…..

    It could be a scary game as they can run the spurs out of the building…

    ..addition: SA/DEN score at 1/2 time: 69/64

  • hassan

    Agree TD=best ever, RJ needs to be getting like
    8-10 shot/game with 4 at the rim as it helps his defense too; he & Neal have not closed out on
    3-point shooter in 1st half…

    Splitter has been ahhh..ok

  • hassan

    wow.. Denver trapping TP hard..nice strategy..
    now Popovich must counter..we’ll see how…

  • hassan

    Blair needs to be more accurate & precise on plays and to do that he needs to be patient…that will only come with a good shot and he just can’t shoot…

    The trapping of TP continues and POP put in Blair and that worked some but Duncan would have solved that in the middle of the trap…

    Bonner can not guard Harrington…

  • hassan

    POP was yelling at Neal for going under screen on J.swish… we need better defense..

    DEN scores 90 by 3rd quarter… wow.. hope u r back soon Duncan….

    POP needs to have a better way in coming games about how to deal with the TP/Manu Trapping…

  • DorieStreet

    Manu’s Grade: F

    Veteran let his moxie overcome leadership
    Did not trust his teammates– 7/18 4/12 on 3s

    Bonner: C- His 3s still not falling–but he did not let it affect his overall play –went to basket to try & get points; put forth an effort on D.

    Lost this game defending Al Harrington–dude has been in the league forever–can only hurt you if you don’t guard him (Spurs should remember that from MLK Day game 3-4 seasons ago: 3

  • DorieStreet

    31 points in 1st half;.

    Gary Neal—from here on his name is GUTS–came up big tonight; team wasted his effort not getting the win.

    Pop brought Tony back in too late====
    Spurs had this one—

  • DorieStreet

    Blair needs to get his vacation out of the way earlier after post season————–then come back and work on his offense 8 hrs/day, 6 days/week.
    I only see Silver & Black on national telecasts–he hurts this team every time out by missing 4-5 gimmes-bunnies-putbacks–then compounds it by missing D assignment or fouling unnecessarily!!!!!

  • Chipp

    Man, tough loss. Game tied with less than a minute left and we have the ball, and Tony misses, then Ginobli misses yet another 3 (he was 4 for 12), all the time Gary Neal is having a career game and doesn’t get a sniff.

    And Novak doesn’t log a single minute, even though Bonner can’t throw it in the ocean.

    I’m blaming this one on Pop. My guess is LA overtakes us now that Tim is hurt.

  • ribanez1

    Not surprised by the loss, game came down to the last seconds. Manu should have set up Neal for the last shot given the way he shot the rock tonight. Splitter played Nene pretty well, rebounded well. Splitter will be more effective, if he plays, during the playoffs. During the telecast it was mentioned TD has a grade 1 sprain so he should not be out that long! This game proves how much he is needed despite his advanced age of 34. He can set up his shooters from the low block better than any of our other bigs. He certainly would have adjusted to denver’s second half defensive strategy and found the open man alleviating the pressure on manu and tp who just wore down.

  • DorieStreet

    @ ribanez1

    With all due respects–you got this wrong. DEN is 28-7 at home–losing 1 time in Nov & twice each in Dec-Jan-Feb; You could expect a loss.

    But===we had this game ===led it nearly all the way from 10:46 in the FIRST QTR – 4-3 – to 7:24 in the FOURTH QTR – 98-97; then this sequence:
    Manu misses 3ptr, misses jump shot, Blair misses layup.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Dorie

    I agree about the Blair needs to work on his D alot……. But all and all he still out played Splitter…… And was better than Bonner as well, who seemed to have picked up a fouling problem…… this game is one that really hurts to loose because of how well we shot the ball…… it’s really hard to loose games where you are basically on fire for 36 min….. Manu did rely way too much on the 3 ball and where on the hell was Novak today……. He could have played Harrington(not a very physical PF) and may have actually made a shot…..

    I said before the game that we needed to get a few players back on board the Offense express wagon and if we did we would be fine…… Hill, Bonner, RJ are all still missing in action and its starting to get really frustrating…… I think POP is on some of that Phil Jackson BS…… where he doesn’t coach enough during the games….. like telling Manu to stop chucking up 3’s. Of just changing things up….. it was pretty clear that Bonner, Hill, and RJ didn’t have it going tonight. So why no try Novak, Green, or Anderson…… it’s not like anyone was playing Defense anyway and Offensively all of our DNP-CD’s could have stepped in and produced……

  • rob

    George Hill is NOT a PG. DeJuan Blair IS too small. Ginobili is NOT Dale Ellis. RJ NEEDS to attack. Mentally repeat 500 times.

    By the way….Matt Bonner…his annual migration away from playing well seems to be as dependable as Canadian Geese flocking north this time of year. I’d give Novak some of his minutes.

    Accept this instead of forcing what never will be and the Spurs could win these types of games with Duncan out.

    Pop didn’t do a very good job managing his players this game.

    But it was the Nuggets with a really good home record and the Spurs without Duncan. The outcome shouldn’t have been a suprise, but the game was in hand if the facts above would have been addressed.

    They’ll have several games to try and adjust without Duncan. Hope they do a better job than like this one that was allowed to slip away. Would have been a great win during this rough stretch of road games.

    Next. Go Spurs Go!!!

  • ribanez1


    Respectfully, but without Duncan in a location where the altitude is a factor and your biggest player, Splitter, tires to the point that he can not play in the last minutes where his size and rebounding could have been a factor, the loss is not a surprise. Moreover, the Nuggets had lost 3 games to us including the game where Manu took Melo’s charge to seal the game. Their motivation to avenge some of those losses was a factor. They kept running and just wore us down as planned. Still, the Spurs were in the game to the last minute but the loss is not a surprise. Denver without Melo or with Melo is always tough at home. I am encouraged by Splitter’s performance, defense and rebounding.

  • Dogmer

    Scott, Czernobog, and Tim in Surrey have each pointed out good points about the HCA. Even then, if there is value in calculating a HCA metric, it seems one should consider the structure of the playoff series. There is no home court advantage after a series that ends with an even number of games. In series with an odd number of games, one team will have a cumulative total advantage of 4 points. In a 2:2:1:1:1 format, the team with HCA will actually have the advantage twice (games 5 and 7). With this in mind, shouldn’t the correct statistic representing HCA be:

    (fraction of 5 game series * 4 pts) + (fraction of 7 game series * 4 pts)

    Things are different in a 2:3:2 format. The team with HCA will actually have a disadvantage in a five game series but will have only have the advantage in seven game series.

  • Scott Sereday


    I think you’re right, kind of… The expected advantage would be similar to your formula. However, if you relate it to HCA for winning the series, only the last game matters.

    If the home or road team wins in 5 games, then although home court was an advantage, it wasn’t a deciding advantage. The winning team would have won even if they didn’t have the benefit of HCA. That’s why I didn’t include it.