NBA Summer League: The best of the Spurs’ roster

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The Spurs play their first game of the NBA Summer League this afternoon. (The game is available through NBA Broadband, 3:30 6:30 EST, for those who are inclined to watch.)

The Spurs’ roster is notable for who isn’t playing as much as it is for those who are.  James Anderson, Ryan Richards, and Malik Hairston will not play for the Spurs. Anderson is nursing an injury; Richards is out-of-pocket for undisclosed reasons, and Hairston, according to Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer, already has fans in San Antonio. In other words, Hairston is a known quantity. His time is better spent refining his game in private workouts between now and training camp.

So, who is playing?

Alonzo Gee

For most fans, the development of DeJuan Blair is the central focus of summer league. Blair will get the ball early and often. But, in my opinion, the most intriguing player this summer is Alonzo Gee.

Gee played for the Toros last season and won D-League Rookie of the Year honors. And he was impressive in a couple of 10-day contracts with the Washington Wizards. He started two games for the Wizards and put up good numbers on didn’t-see-that-coming but accurate perimeter shooting.

Gee is uber-athletic and can score. The thing he has to prove to the Spurs this summer is the ability to play strong defense and knock-down perimeter shots. If he can do those two things, the Spurs will have minutes for him next season.

Oddly enough, Gee’s game reminds me a little of Richard Jefferson, back before the mention of Jefferson’s name turned my stomach. I don’t think Gee is nearly the talent that Jefferson was, but he has that game-changing athleticism which once made Jefferson a dangerous wing. If Gee can develop a reliable perimeter game, it’s not inconceivable that he pry a significant number of minutes off of Jefferson’s per game averages next season. The test of both players (assuming the Spurs resign Jefferson) is that they play defense and not destroy the Spurs’ offensive spacing.

DeJuan Blair

DeJuan Blair’s summer league work is similar to Gee, just at a different position: spacing and defense. In order to help propel the Spurs through the postseason, Blair needs a pick-and-pop game and to convincingly escape the “defensive liability” tag. Blair’s height is forever problematic against taller players such as Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh. But if he can master the Spurs’ defensive schemes and learn to use his feet on defense, he could become one of the NBA’s better bench players.

Blair is a fine player, but his rookie campaign left me with the impression that his ceiling is somewhere between 6 and 8 within a good team’s rotation. Assuming the Spurs sign Tiago Splitter, the Spurs are still one legitimate 7 footer short of a good postseason frontcourt. Whatever Blair becomes, he can never be that.

Garrett Temple

Garrett Temple is 6’6”. He can play multiple positions, but appears most comfortable at point guard. His three point shooting is increasingly reliable, and he has the makings of an above-average defender. What’s not to like? Last season Temple split time between Houston, Sacramento and San Antonio, starting 4 games for the Spurs while Tony Parker was injured.

Temple’s seemingly immediate comfort level within the Spurs’ offense was unusual for a player of his age and pedigree. If he can continue to provide the Spurs with good minutes, he’ll earn a spot as their third point guard and give the team a reliable option as they seek to manage the minutes of their core players. Temple’s size and defensive ability are especially welcome against the league’s better point guards. Temple still has to prove he can stick, but if he does, the Spurs will have solid depth at the guard position.

Temple, Gee, and Hairston

Every year is a reminder that the most important thing to have in the playoffs is health, and this especially for a team whose core is older and injury-prone, such as the Spurs. The Spurs have three interesting players in Gee, Temple, and Hairston. If two or more of these players can break, the Spurs will have good depth at 1, 2, and 3. The inability of Roger Mason Jr. and Keith Bogans to provide the Spurs with consistently productive minutes last season was a major detriment to their 2009-10 campaign.

On paper, Gee, Hairston and Temple are not imposing bench cogs like Bogans and Mason Jr. But I’m cautiously optimistic that these three players will provide unexpectedly productive minutes for the Spurs this season. The Spurs’ system will occasionally shine a light on an unheralded gem. Gee, Hairston and Temple might possess a surprising amount of luster.

  • Jim Henderson

    bduran
    July 14th, 2010 at 5:33 am

    “Not so for the last 30 years….”

    I’ve already told you that it doesn’t make sense to dip into previous generations of players/teams.

    “Of course there’s a correlation between a #1 D ranking and differential. It’d be crazy if there wasn’t. However, differential is more highly correlated with winning so if anything you got the relationship backwards.”

    No, there appears to be a significantly STRONGER correlation between top-three defense & top-three differential than there is between top-three offense & top-three differential. And that’s the point. I’m not talking about “winning” in the general sense; I’m not interested in that. In terms of “winning championships” during the current generation of players/teams (last 12 years), there appears to be a STRONGER correlation between having a high ranked “defense” than having a high ranked “differential”, otherwise how does one explain that one of the two components that creates differential, offense, was higher ranked than defense on only one out of the six times that a team won the title with a top-ranked differential (the other 5 times, the title winner had a higher ranked defense)?

    “Great, now go show it.”

    There’s no way to “prove” or “disprove” it on this blog ….. unless you have any ideas! I’m just providing data, and trying to come up with a reasonable explanation, and a “preliminary” conclusion. I’m not going to conduct a scientific study here, and neither are you.

    “Plenty of teams win without being ranked #1 in either. It’s not about #1 rankings, it’s about relative rankings. Did a team have a better offensive relative to the league, or defense? Who cares if Charlotte was #1 in Drtg this year.”

    We don’t care about Charlotte because they didn’t win a title, not because their #1 defensive ranking is trivial (and by the way, Orlando was tied for 1st in defense this past year, and were a EC finalist). And that’s one of the key reasons that I put Orlando as a favorite to get over the hump this year, unless LA continues to tighten their “D” even more (4th). All I know is that based on the last 12 years, if a team ended up ranked #1 defensively, 42% of the time they ended up winning the title. If they ranked in the top three defensively, they ended up winning the title 58% of the time. If ranked worse than 7th, 17% of the time.

    “No, it’s top quarter and top fifth on average.”

    First of all, I said “GENERALLY needs AT LEAST” a top-third & top-sixth, not “on average”.

    Second, the “average” is not top quarter & top fifth. Where are you getting that from. You can’t use “mean” averages with a small data set with significant outliers. That would not provide an accurate representation of what the data suggests. Using the median is more appropriate.

    Median average ranking for “defense” over the past 12 years = 2.5

    That puts the average in the top 12th.

    Median average ranking for “offense” over the past 12 years = 7.0

    That puts the average at just more than the top 4th.

    Top-four defense wins the title 67% of the time (that’s about the top eighth).

    Median ranking of top eighth = 1st

    Top-six defense wins the title 75% of the time (that’s top fifth).

    Median ranking of the top fifth = 1st

    Top-eight offense wins the title 67% of the time (that’s about top fourth).

    Median ranking of the top fourth = 5th

    Top-ten offense wins the title 75% of the time (that’s the top third).

    Median ranking of the top third = 6th

    Anyway you look at it, a significantly higher defensive ranking compared to offensive ranking is on average much more common in title winners over the past 12 years.

  • Jim Henderson

    pb
    July 14th, 2010 at 5:23 am

    “It is thus unsurprising that championship teams display great defense. There is almost certainly something to “defense wins titles”, but it is more cloudy then your elementary statistics.”

    Fair points, overall. Obviously, the cliche, “defense wins titles” was not meant to be a scientific conclusion. That said, the data I presented here does not present a “cloudy” picture as it relates to defense. After all, the top-rated defense was the title winner in FIVE out of the last 12 years, and there has been ZERO top-ranked offenses that have won the title in the past 12 years. That data point alone gives a hint at the superior influence of defense compared to offense in terms of winning titles. It’s only “cloudy” in the sense of lacking a scientific study, but the preliminary data presented herein does suggest the makings of a pretty strong hypothesis.

  • bduran

    “No, there appears to be a significantly STRONGER correlation between top-three defense & top-three differential than there is between top-three offense & top-three differential”

    This was not what I was saying. I was talking about correlation between D and wins and differential and wins.

    “In terms of “winning championships” during the current generation of players/teams (last 12 years), there appears to be a STRONGER correlation between having a high ranked “defense” than having a high ranked “differential”

    I don’t think this is true, but I’ll exam it. I’m going to look at various rankings of pythag, Hollinger efficiency Differential, Drtg, and Def Eff since ’02-’03.

    So here’s what I have. The average champion pythag is 2.5, Drtg 2.75, Efficiency Dif, 3.5, and Def efficiency 4.5.

    The median’s are 2.5, 2.5, 3.5, 2.5. Eff. Dif gets screwed because the numbers go 1,1,1,3,4. That’s the problem with median.

    Everything’s pretty close. Look’s like the basketball reference data is better than Hollingers although it’s a small sample size.

    Let’s go a step further and compare Pythag to Drtg for the last 12 years which is the cut off you like to use.

    Average Pythag is 2.83, average Drtg is 4.83. The medians are 2 and 3 respectively. If you go back 20 years you get Pythag avrg 3 med 1.5, Drtg average 4.9 median 3.5

    If you’re wondering why I’m using Pythagorean win loss it’s because it’s based on point differential. Really it’s based on points for/points against but it’s close and rankings of this should match up very well with rankings of straight point differential. I would like to use Ortg, Drtg differential, but I’m not sure how to get a ranking for this without going to basketball reference and calculating every teams differential and then ranking them for every year.

    Anyway, it appears looking at Hollingers numbers, you may have a point although the small sample size means you have to throw in more teams. At least this data is easy to get and it wouldn’t be too hard look at something like every team who made the conference finals. This would gives us 32 teams instead of 8.

    However, given the limited data it appears that Drtg is better than Hollingers Def E.

    Looking at Ortg vs Off Eff tells a similar tale so it appears that using the basketball reference data would be better. Maybe if I get motivated one day I’ll redo this with Ortg, Drtg and more teams. Maybe you said this before, but why did you chose 12 years? If we’re looking at “modern” teams we have to decide a cut off.

    I’m tired and don’t want to look over my post. Hopefully there’s not too many errors.

  • Jim Henderson

    bduran
    July 14th, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    “Dif gets screwed because the numbers go 1,1,1,3,4. That’s the problem with median.”

    Well, it would help to have a larger data set, like in the next 5-10 years. But it really doesn’t make sense to go back further than 1995, or use teams that aren’t “real” contenders (many semi-finalists & some losing finalists).

    “I would like to use Ortg, Drtg differential, but I’m not sure how to get a ranking for this without going to basketball reference and calculating every teams differential and then ranking them for every year.”

    Yeah, actually, that’s what I did. It’s a bit time consuming, but that’s how I calculated my “medians” for ORtg. & DRtg. In fact, I reported earlier all the differential rankings for the 12 title teams. Here’s the table again:

    E = efficiency differential ; DR = defensive ranking; OR = offensive ranking (*using nba-reference).

    98-99 – Spurs – OR – 11th; DR – 1st; E – 1st
    99-00 – LA – OR – 5th; DR – 1st; E – 1st
    00-01 – LA – OR – 2nd; DR – 21st; E – 8th
    01-02 – LA – OR – 2nd; DR – 7th; E – 2nd
    02-03 – Spurs – OR – 7th; DR – 3rd; E – 4th
    03-04 – Pistons – OR – 18th; DR – 2nd; E – 5th
    04-05 – Spurs – OR – 8th; DR – 1st; E – 1st
    05-06 – Heat – OR – 7th; DR – 9th; E – 6th
    06-07 – Spurs – OR – 5th; DR – 1st; E – 1st
    07-08 – Celtics – OR – 10th; DR – 1st; E – 1st
    08-09 – LA – OR – 3rd; DR – 6th; E – 5th
    09-10 – LA – OR – 11th; DR – 4th; E – 7th

    So I can provide the median “differential” for the 12 title winners now, from 1998-1999 up to present, from left to right.

    1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 8 = 3.0

    For “defense”:

    1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 21 = 2.5

    For “offense”:

    2, 2, 3, 5, 5, 7, 7, 8, 10, 11, 11, 18 = 7.0

    When looking at the table above, and all three patterns here, you can see that the median defensive rankings appear on the surface to be in effect pulling the differential rankings down.

    Just for example, we’ll delve in a little deeper to the most striking pattern:

    “All five of the number one rankings for defense & differential occurred during the same season.”

    Okay, so during those years, what was the ORtg. of those title winners?

    1998-1999 – 11th
    1999-2000 – 5th
    2004-2005 – 8th
    2006-2007 – 5th
    2007-2008 – 10th

    Clearly, during those five years, “defensive” ranking carried the “differential” to it’s number one rankings. The rest of the years show a bit more mixed effect on differential in terms of offense and defense, but still, overall, the effect on a differential appears to be “slightly” more for defense.

    2000-2001 – greater effect – offense
    2002-2003 – greater effect – D
    2003-2004 – greater effect – D
    2005-2006 – greater effect – O
    2008-2009 – greater effect – O
    2009-2010 – greater effect – D

    Now, I do admit that the Spurs team’s do tend provide a relatively large effect on the data. Their teams during this generation/era appear to give “defense” a consistent edge during this 12 year period. I’m just saying, the Spurs were really THE team, under Pop, that ushered in this new era of defense in the NBA. And I just don’t really see that era ending anytime soon. Although, I do see the dreaded Heat attempting to create a sort of “modern” version of Riley’s show-time Lakers of the 1980’s. However, I think it will ultimately fail, and I know for the Spurs to be the ones to officially thwart that effort, we’re going to have to get back to Spurs-type “D”, while maintaining our top-ten ranking in offense. A tough task, but doable. We MUST however focus on assembling “defenders” at practically every position, or demand from the people we have more effort & focus. I hope Pop’s not getting too soft as he ages!

    “At least this data is easy to get and it wouldn’t be too hard look at something like every team who made the conference finals. This would gives us 32 teams instead of 8.”

    I know sample size is an issue with this amateur study, but we really can’t look as far back as semi-finalists. Many of them are not really that close championship level (e.g., the 2009-2010, Suns). Finalists “might” be worth looking at, particularly during years where the finals went at least SIX games.

    “Maybe you said this before, but why did you chose 12 years? If we’re looking at “modern” teams we have to decide a cut off.”

    The main reason is that I wasn’t able to locate “user-friendly” data sets for the information that we needed, or the data didn’t go back far enough (i.e., Hollinger’s). Additionally, the “defensive era” of the modern NBA, in my view, was ushered in during the mid-to-late 1990’s. It probably started with the second three-peat of the Bulls teams (though they had the greatest offensive player on the planet, Jordan, and also Pippen & Co., and then with the addition of Rodman they began to emphasize “D” even more – in their 2nd three-peat more than their first), and then the Spurs really solidified the notion that great defense was critical to winning it all once Duncan came aboard in 1997, Pop’s first FULL season.

  • bduran

    “But it really doesn’t make sense to go back further than 1995″

    Why? Is there a specific reason for this year? If we add enough more teams we can probably just say last 10 years.

    “or use teams that aren’t “real” contenders (many semi-finalists & some losing finalists).”

    True, but I don’t like to add subjective bias to the sample. If there’s another way to pick the teams that doesn’t have us deciding for each team who was a contender and who wasn’t I’m all for it.

    “or use teams that aren’t “real” contenders (many semi-finalists & some losing finalists).”

    “Finalists “might” be worth looking at, particularly during years where the finals went at least SIX games.”

    Could chose everyone who played the champ to six, and maybe everyone who played those teams to six.

    “Additionally, the “defensive era” of the modern NBA, in my view, was ushered in during the mid-to-late 1990′s. ”

    Looking at the Bulls, the were Ort rankings go 1,1,2,1,1,9. Drtg 7,4,7,1,4,3. So only the last team had better Defense than Offense. To me the Bulls were always a fantastic offensive team that played solid D, sort of the opposite of the TD Spurs. If there is a difference in the game now, I think just looking at the last 10 years will be fine, just need to figure out a way to add more teams.

  • Jim Henderson

    bduran
    July 15th, 2010 at 5:38 am

    “True, but I don’t like to add subjective bias to the sample. If there’s another way to pick the teams that doesn’t have us deciding for each team who was a contender and who wasn’t I’m all for it.”

    I understand your issue with subjective bias, but in my view, the only way to limit this problem is to stick to looking at NBA champions (at the most, include finalists). But there’s no way to avoid selecting a cut-off year, whether it’s 1950 0r 1995. And there is a problem with using teams other than the NBA champions in the sample. The NBA champion is often noticeably better than the final’s loser, and particularly the semifinalists. Thus, I think it’s important to keep the focus on the following question: what are those factors that seem to set the champion apart from the rest of the challengers? There’s a lot of really “good” teams, but the champion is often a distinct step above, and we don’t want our results to actually represent the conflation of two similar, but ultimately disparate things; that is, “very good teams that win a lot of games”, and the “NBA champions”.

    “…..and maybe everyone who played those teams to six.”

    That would clearly dilute our results to the point where we actually end up not measuring the very thing we set out to measure: that is, what are those factors that set apart the VERY best from the rest?

    “Looking at the Bulls, the were Ort rankings go 1,1,2,1,1,9. Drtg 7,4,7,1,4,3. So only the last team had better Defense than Offense.”

    Yes, but you can see the trend developing toward “improving” their emphasis on defense: an average DRtg. of 2.7 in the three years between 1995 & 1998, versus an average DRtg. of 6.0 between 1990 & 1993. With Michael Jordan on the team, it’s hard for the offense to not be in good shape throughout most of their title years. That guy was simply a scoring machine. But as they added Rodman in 1995, and as Jordan started to move beyond his offensive “peak”, they began to emphasize team defense more, and this simply became more apparent by the 1997 season.

    “To me the Bulls were always a fantastic offensive team that played solid D, sort of the opposite of the TD Spurs.”

    Opposites within a very circumscribed range perhaps, but certainly not polar opposites. In reality, the Bulls were the “bridge” team between the shift from more offense (1980’s Lakers) to more defense (the Spurs).

    “If there is a difference in the game now, I think just looking at the last 10 years will be fine, just need to figure out a way to add more teams.”

    I’d be okay with trying 15 years, and adding only finalists that took the champion to at least six games, but that’s about as far as I think makes sense, or we’ll end up measuring something that we did not intend to measure: and that is, what are those factors (defense, offense, differential) that seem to most differentiate the very top teams from the rest of the challengers during this current generation of players?

  • bduran

    Jim,

    “http://arturogalletti.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/win-regression-for-the-nba-2/”

    I tried to post this earlier, but must have not hit submit.

    I thought this was really interesting although OT. The author says that it’s offensive stats vs. defensive stats but it’s really team stats (or traditional box score really) vs. opposing team stats. It would be cool if he redid with offensive stats vs defensive stats.

    I like it because it shows that the majority of variation in wins can be explained by what’s in the traditional box score (dave berri has done this before as well). It shows that the defense that the box score doesn’t capture isn’t that important in explaining wins. I suspect this is because good defense is highly correlated with blocks, steals,and def rebounds.

  • Jim Henderson

    bduran
    July 15th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Well, the guy made an interesting attempt to use more sophisticated statistics & methodology to try and establish the relative importance certain aspects of the game have on winning games. That said, it’s obviously a work in progress, and of course it says nothing directly about what it takes to win championships, which I suspect often depends on a combination of intangibles in addition to strong box score performance (perhaps some of the 6% variability that he admits is unexplained by box score variables).

    “It would be cool if he redid with offensive stats vs defensive stats.”

    Yeah, that could be interesting.

    “It shows that the defense that the box score doesn’t capture isn’t that important in explaining wins. I suspect this is because good defense is highly correlated with blocks, steals,and def rebounds.”

    I agree that it’s generally not that important, but I suspect that some defensive & miscellaneous intangibles may play enough of a role to matter in a tight NBA Final’s series (e.g., “forced” turnovers by the defense [not unforced turnovers or steals], or the tenacity required to get more than your share of “50/50″ balls).

    Also, the author made this assertion:

    “Improving your shooting efficiency is the best thing you can do to win more in the NBA.”

    But then admitted in the comment section that he may have jumped the gun here, and would need to revisit this project in the future.

    From the comments section on the blog:

    * Guy
    * July 15th, 2010

    * REPLY
    * QUOTE

    Interesting analysis. However, you’ve mistakenly included three defensive variables as “offense”: DRB, blocks, and steals. If you count those as defense, you will find that offense and defense are of approximately equal importance.

    In fact we know this must be true, because the variance of points scored and points allowed at the team level is about the same. Teams vary in offensive and defensive quality by the same amount. So by definition, defense explains as many wins and losses as offense does.

    o arturogalletti
    o July 15th, 2010
    o REPLY
    o QUOTE

    Guy,

    You’re totally right. I’ll probably revisit this at some point in the Future.

  • bduran

    “However, you’ve mistakenly included three defensive variables as “offense”: DRB, blocks, and steals

    Yeah, he posted the link on wages of wins and I made the same comment. That’s why I made sure to point out it was team stats vs opposing team stats.

    WP48 is essentially the same thing except he uses efficiency differential instead in place of actual wins.

    Like I said this is OT. Since these analyses are based on wins and efficiency differential, then it doesn’t do any better than that to rate a team so it doesn’t add anything to our discussion that efficiency differential doesn’t.

    It does help to rate players and help tell you the relative value of a rebound vs block vs steal etc.

  • Jim Henderson

    Agreed.

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