The right five

by

As a fan, I approach the game today with a high level of uncertainty I cannot shake off – despite the have-been-theres, the memories of victories past, my purblind faith in my team. Game 3 will be pivotal in such an even series, and a win by the Spurs would put the pressure back on Memphis’s shoulders. Just like all of my fellow bloggers, I have been looking back at the last two matches, trying to find the whys and the hows: why did we lose Game 1? Was Manu the only reason we won Game 2? What changed? What should change?

In predictable fashion, I turned to whatever statistics I could find, and opened a spreadsheet. (My own version of the Batman utility belt scene, where Batman makes sure that all of his gadgets are in place, clips his Batbelt, then puts on his cape and rushes off to fight crime. That’s me with a spreadsheet, only sadder.) Instead of looking at the individual stats, which have been thoroughly analyzed by the Spurs blogging community, I decided to look at the performance of the Spurs’ 5-man units against the Grizzlies, both in the last two games and in the regular season. A wonderful site for this sort of data is Basketball Value, where stats gurus study the impact of players and teams using advanced statistics.

I put together a small table that summarizes the monsoon of data in Basketball Value’s. To understand it, you should basically know two things. The “1 year plus-minus” is an adjusted version of the classic plus-minus which also takes into account the unit’s performance during the regular season, albeit giving more weight to the playoffs results. The “unadjusted rating”, on the other hand, simply consider the points scored by the unit and its opponents, and the possessions used by each to score them. In simpler terms the first parameter tries to calculate how the 5-man unit should perform, whereas the second one shows how it has performed so far. Easy, right?

The following table shows all of the 5-man units that have seen minutes during the first two games of this series. Let’s look at it.

The first thing that comes to my mind while looking at these numbers is that our starting unit has been clearly superior to the Grizzlies’, against whom they have seen the lion’s share of their minutes. This highlights the importance of Manu for the Spurs, since replacing him in the lineup for Neal has proven disastrous for the team, and while ultimately positive, Game 1’s starting unit featuring Hill was much less efficient (and shows a negative value in adjusted plus-minus). It is also encouraging that this is likely to be our closing unit, unless we are in a desperate need for a triple, and will be matched up against the Memphis’s starters – give or take a Shane Battier.

Tim and Manu are the stars of the adjusted +/- estimates, a testament to the Spurs’ dependency on their leadership and their steady hand against the suffocating Memphis defense. Furthermore, the values confirm both the opinions of the experts and the clamor of the crowd: the Blair-Bonner combo is a recipe for disaster, and while it hasn’t hurt us as much as you would think, it should be avoided at all costs. The Grizzlies’ height demands that we fight fire with fire, not with gargantuan sandwiches and extraneous exclamation marks.

The obvious is patent: small ball has hurt us, especially in the form of a Parker-Hill-Neal backcourt. For all of Neal’s fearlessness, and despite my belief that his quick release is better suited to Memphis’s in-your-face defense than Bonner’s, he has failed so far to positively impact the series, as evidenced by his combined -18 plus-minus after two games. Neal has been acting for a while as Jefferson’s virtual backup, often paired with Hill in the backcourt, but despite Neal’s shooting prowess masking some of the second unit’s issues, the lack of a real shooting forward on the bench is one of the Spurs’ most glaring holes.

It’s important to note that two games is a small sample for accurate statistical analysis, and you are thus welcome to take my words with a grain of salt the size of Texas. To examine our conclusions, we can look at the most common 5-man units used by the Spurs versus the Grizzlies in the regular season, which I have once again summarized in the table below.

Jefferson, Ginobili and Duncan all appear once more as equivalents for success against our ursine opponents. It is interesting to see how much success Blair has had in the past against the Randolph-Gasol dynamic duo, especially when Tim is guarding his back. A few ugly mistakes in Game 1 (a spin move that should have never been, forever etched in my memory; a humbling block born of stubbornness and an allergy to kickouts) have moved many Spurs fans to believe that Blair’s ACL-less, mundane height rendered him useless against the imposing presence of the lesser Gasol’s rugged self and Zach Randolph’s rough attentions, but the truth is that Blair has been a spark for the second unit in a few key sequences despite his unimpressive shooting percentages – maybe the only real spark, too, since his +9 combined plus-minus is by far the best among bench players.

(Before anyone calls me out regarding the Bonner-Blair combo’s apparent excellence in this second table, know that that particular unit never had to face Randolph. Bonner is part of many disastrous, less popular units. …Hmm. Who’s that in the 5th more efficient unit? “Splitter”? Hm… Nope, never heard of him!)

Ginobili is back in the active roster, and Coach Popovich will have an easier time moving his chess pieces for it. The rational Spurs fan should request more minutes for Blair, especially if paired with Tim, and for McDyess to finish the game with the other starters. He should request the minimization of the minutes for any of the small-ball units, and for Neal to see more minutes at the 2 position with Ginobili than at the 3 with Parker and Hill. He should hope that neither Manu nor Jefferson nor Duncan fall into foul trouble.

And if he sees Bonner and Blair on the low post, he should cross his fingers, grab a beer, and pray hard to the Gods of the 3-pointer.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I don’t so I can!

  • Titletown99030507d

    It doesn’t take a fuckin genius what’s going on with this team and the coach. Pop lover.
    This series is over sad to say.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Were you on acid when you were watching the game?

  • Sam

    Honestly I hope Tiago gets minutes to show what he can do but not in the way that one of our players gets injured. The reason we were even in that game was because of outrebounding Memphis and Mcdyess contributed greatly to that.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good point then why doesn’t this genius coach know this? I’m really pissed. I don’t want to hear anything out of anybody how Blair hustles and hoe Bonner spreads the floor. Bunch of crap and your seeing it on TV.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good point then why doesn’t this genius coach know this? I’m really pissed. I don’t want to hear anything out of anybody how Blair hustles and hoe Bonner spreads the floor. Bunch of crap and your seeing it on TV.

  • TD = BestEver

    I agree about sometime not liking Dice, but he has a place on this team……. just probably off the bench….Bonner has no place in the NBA,…….. Nobody but us wanted him and he is paying us back with 2 knives in the back…….. he plays 22 min and still only gets off 4 shots…… what a waste of minutes…… all the while who ever he is guarding is shooting like 4 shots every 6 possessions or something……. just killing him……

    And this is why trading TP made sense and still does………….he like Bonner really only hep you in the scoring department……… And when he can’t do that, he basically gives you nothing

  • TD = BestEver

    I agree about sometime not liking Dice, but he has a place on this team……. just probably off the bench….Bonner has no place in the NBA,…….. Nobody but us wanted him and he is paying us back with 2 knives in the back…….. he plays 22 min and still only gets off 4 shots…… what a waste of minutes…… all the while who ever he is guarding is shooting like 4 shots every 6 possessions or something……. just killing him……

    And this is why trading TP made sense and still does………….he like Bonner really only hep you in the scoring department……… And when he can’t do that, he basically gives you nothing

  • Bob

    Pop could have played Splitter from the start. Could have avoided the injury to Dice. You hope it’s not severe though. He’s been over relying on Duncan/Dice for defense because of Bonner/Blair.

    Physical gritty defense just isn’t Bonner’s DNA. He’s trying to do the best he can but why put him in a position he can fail. It’s hard to believe Splitter couldn’t provide 5 and 5 along with drawing charges, fouls, clogging the paint, and making it difficult to shoot over.

    If Bonner is run of the 3 pt line and forced into a low percentage midrange one hand floater it defeats the purpose of keeping him out there. They’re not staying out on him because he doesn’t have a fast release. They know they can cheat and run him of the line or into a bad shot. Mugsy Bogues could be running at Bonner and he still wouldn’t shoot.

  • Bob

    Pop could have played Splitter from the start. Could have avoided the injury to Dice. You hope it’s not severe though. He’s been over relying on Duncan/Dice for defense because of Bonner/Blair.

    Physical gritty defense just isn’t Bonner’s DNA. He’s trying to do the best he can but why put him in a position he can fail. It’s hard to believe Splitter couldn’t provide 5 and 5 along with drawing charges, fouls, clogging the paint, and making it difficult to shoot over.

    If Bonner is run of the 3 pt line and forced into a low percentage midrange one hand floater it defeats the purpose of keeping him out there. They’re not staying out on him because he doesn’t have a fast release. They know they can cheat and run him of the line or into a bad shot. Mugsy Bogues could be running at Bonner and he still wouldn’t shoot.

  • Dr. Who

    100% on point.

  • Bruno

    Lol. 1st=Manu, 2nd = Timmy, 3rd = Dice, 4th = Hill

  • Sam

    very true finally a Spurs fan who isn’t bashing everyone on our team. Lets face it: Memphis played a great game and their fans helped. Lots of luck was also involved and I fell out of my chair when Randolph made that three

  • Dr. Who

    I saw warm ups and he looked like he had his game together! TradeTP has been antiMcDyess for quite some time. I’d rather see Dyess and Tiago. Bonner only in spot duty to see if his 3 is dropping. Dyess played well tonight and last game. Horrible in game 1. Not someone to hope his career is over. Team first play and total class act, much more that can be said about the OP.

  • Mark B

    I really hope McDyess is OK. I’m confident that if he misses some time that Tiago can do, but McDyess has put in so many years he deserves a title shot. Hopefully he won’t be out long. He’s a guy who was amazingly athletic when he came out of college and has been able to extend his career by playing really smart.

  • Bruno

    Dice is fine. x-rays negative, he will play next game

  • Anonymous

    The saddest truth is that we have just had a lot of players go cold at the same time. What did we shoot like 41%?? For all anyone wants to say about defense, they shot 42%, we outrebounded them by 12, personally I think this game was lost on poor execution on offense. We aren’t moving the ball the way we did in the regular season.
    You hear it so much on broadcasts about how the Grizz constantly go back to ‘their’ style of basketball, well I want us to go back to our style of basketball. We just have to win the next game and then we’re back on track. Let’s go Spurs

  • TD BestEVER

    I really hope Dice plays and Bonner is hidden away in BASEMENT…….. locked up for impersonating an NBA player……… Between POP, TP, and Bonner we are lucky that this game was even this close……. How can you suck this bad…….

  • Mark B

    Most of the reason the Spurs look so disorganized on offense is that the Grizzlies are really hassling thm and grabbing and slapping at the ball and anything that gets near the ball. You gotta give them credit, if the refs aren’t going to call it, you might as well hack away at the ball anytime it’s withing range. The Spurs also aren’t hitting when they DO get open, but the turnovers are a bigger issue, IMO.

  • TD BestEVER

    People please if you can stop replying on other people posts…….it make it so much harder to keep up with the latest comment and conversation………….Just do it the way we used to and we would have more Comments on each and every thread…………..

  • treypops

    what games have you been watching? “We should be killing this team”? The Grizzlies are a good team, and they are a matchup nightmare for the Spurs, especially if McDyess is done. Basketball is a game of matchups. Those of you calling for Splitter to get on the court may get what you ask for, and he will get abused, just like he did when he got the start against the Grizz in one of the regular season matchups.

  • hoopsman

    Ginobili is disrespectful to the game of basketball the way he flops every time down the floor. It’s not just Grizz fans that feel that way….it’s the rest of the entire league. This series has been a parade to the free throw line for the Spurs, so it’s comical to see a Spurs fan cry about the officiating, just like it’s comical to see Duncan and Ginobili crying to the refs everytime they get called for something.

  • hoopsman

    Ginobili is disrespectful to the game of basketball the way he flops every time down the floor. It’s not just Grizz fans that feel that way….it’s the rest of the entire league. This series has been a parade to the free throw line for the Spurs, so it’s comical to see a Spurs fan cry about the officiating, just like it’s comical to see Duncan and Ginobili crying to the refs everytime they get called for something.

  • ribanez1

    To all concerned, the Spurs front line needs Splitter. Bonner can make 3’s only when he has time and is not rushed. He has never performed well in pressure moments. He has slow feet so he can’t play defense. He is a liability! Pop’s decision not to play Splitter like last year’s decision not to start Parker against the Suns is killing the Spurs.

  • ribanez1

    One more thought, the old adage live by the 3 and die by the 3 is evident in this series. No one seems to be able to hit 3’s. I expected more production out of our 3 pt. shooters. It seems the malady is affecting everyone of our 3 pt. shooters.

  • Dbaguy

    Pop is an idiot and this stupid spurs offense is ridiculous, we can’t draw up plays for anyone, all players look scared. Parker has been a little girl this series, as we all knew Bonner is MIA, Blair just plain sucks. Neal has been a turnover machine. Amazing how we have all these 3 point shooters and can’t spread the floor, that means we are not sharing. RJ has played well, but damn he turns the ball over too
    Much. Timmy is ancient. I can’t believe we can’t draw up anything offensively, how can pop not figure anything out in his extensive plays book. Hill has sucked as well, only Manu has had some balls in these series and he’s hurt. What a waste of a season. We were the SA Suns for a while, now we are the SA Mavs losing to the 8th seed.

    Fire pop please!!!! And let’s get damn athletic guys that can get their own shots. We can’t freaking throw in the ocean.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah hope he’s ok. He’s one of my favorite Spurs right behind Manu. Had to happen to a great person and gentleman.

  • http://twitter.com/PolterChrist Manu Ginobili

    Blair might hustle, but he doesn’t do the things a PF needs to do well. He has terrible shot selection (as evidenced by how many of his shots get blocked), he can’t defend in the paint, and he doesn’t rebound well against bigger guys (plus his rate’s inflated by tip-rebounds he gets on offense).

    He doesn’t know when not to shoot, and he doesn’t know when not to dribble. Manu’s right arm has outplayed him this whole series, including game 1.

  • http://twitter.com/PolterChrist Manu Ginobili

    If Manu were Kobe, Tony Allen would’ve been teched out of the last two games.

  • Titletown99030507d

    At one time all I saw was a lot hands and arms flying when Dyess got hurt. This is a rough series for our guys down low. My only question why isn’t Splitter in there drawing fouls on either Gasol or Randolph. Even if he hits half of them at least it changes the complexion of the game somewhat. Why is Pop afraid of playing Splitter with Timmy and then letting Blair and Dyess come of the bench? I just don’t get it.

  • http://twitter.com/PolterChrist Manu Ginobili

    Does anyone know why Splitter hasn’t been played?

    At this point it doesn’t make sense.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Blair didn’t fair ant better. 1 board, 4 points in 10 minutes. And why is Bonner playing that many minutes? Ok TD here’s my solution:
    Let Splitter start with Timmy and let Blair come of the bench like he does but with Dyess. And Bonner can stay on the bench and talk to Quinn. Fair enough?

  • Titletown99030507d

    I know I get a little confused trying to see what the latest post is and who to reply to. Ah it just takes a little more time to analyze all the posts that’s all. Cool site though.

  • TD BestEVER

    sorry but those tip rebounds count as shots that hurt your FG% so yeah they count and are not inflated……….. Also saying he doesn’t rebound against bigger/stronger players is just WRONG…….. look at what he did last game VS the same players…….. He rebounds the ball BETTER than anyone on our team not named TD…….. so please get it right………And yes Manu plays harder….he is a STAR on the team and Blair is a bench guy who had his ups and downs……..Blair does play very hard and makes as many hustle plays as Manu does when he gets the minutes………being as small as he is to be able to get ANY rebounds and shots off down low tell you how good he is………..

  • Titletown99030507d

    Deja vu.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I was going to type everything you just said. You pretty much hit the nail on the head. And yeah for the life of me I don’t know why Splitter is on the bench collecting cow webs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    To add to the last post Pop is probably going to play Splitter when we’re down 3-1 in game 5 with 3 minutes left. Just so that he gets some playoff experience. Hey Pop. I got your playoff experience. (That’s what’s probably going through Tiago’s head )

  • Titletown99030507d

    The truth of the matter for this series is that Timmy is old and Pop has lost his mind.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good post, and in regards to Splitter he probably would and could contribute more but I think Pop has lost his mind for not playing him. I’ll look back at this season and that will be the one thing I’ll always remember from these playoffs. I know wine can do a number on your liver if you indulge in it for years but I’m starting to wonder if the brain is just as vulnerable. Anyone for a box of Franzia?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Go away Laker fan.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah brings back the nightmarish memory of Barkley shooting a 3 over Robinson in the Portland series way way back. Still hurting over that one.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Splitter has more right to be in before Blair or Bonner period. Blair 1 rebound 4 points again. And your excited about that? Shit Splitter can do that with his eyes closed in 3 minutes. Not 10 minutes like your favorite player Blair. There’s no place for Blair on this team. He sucks nuff said.

  • Titletown99030507d

    No he didn’t he had 1 rebound and 4 points in 10 minutes. That sucks.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Shit if I could I would.

  • Titletown99030507d

    All you Pop lovers the man has lost it. He nothing. I don’t care about the past what has he done for me lately? As Janet would say.

  • TD BestEVER

    At least Blair can shoot it past 4ft and has a decent one on one game….unlike Splitter, who can only score if 1 of the guards sets him up for a bunny…… what a joke, best big in Europe can’t do anything in the NBA……….Can’t shoot FT’s, and his defense is WAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY over blown……just look at his rebounds, steals, and blocks……. they are not there…………. Splitter should have never been drafted, we should have gotten Gasol instead and we would already have number 5

  • TD BestEVER

    Sounds like a plan, As long as Bonner never gets in another game……..Also Blair had a bad game but only played 10 minutes, and no Splitter will not do much better in short stinks like that……….And as you know has done worse in longer stints…………

  • Titletown99030507d

    Crap I forgot love letters, love letters. Sorry my bad.

  • Bruno

    Lmaoooooooooooooooo,
    if they could screw with Splitter,
    imagine Gasol. kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

  • http://profiles.google.com/dmenendez David Menéndez

    What do you mean, you can’t post? I certainly hope you’re not talking about the post where you said you hoped that McDyess’s career was over, because then you would be able to see Splitter.