Notes from Wayne Winston, part 2

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Recently, 48MoH has discussed the struggles of San Antonio’s interior defense.  Please see The Roots of Defensive Decline and The Root of All Defensive Evil for discussion of these points.  But a struggling interior defense is often an indication of a prior breakdown on the perimeter, which seems to be the case with San Antonio this season, Manu Ginobili’s Manu-ness not withstanding. (He’s gone all ice cold clutch lately.) This post will look at the bigger picture, and my timing couldn’t be worse.

One point of interest from my recent conversation with Wayne Winston is whether George Karl is correct in his assessment that,

Defensively, they [the Spurs] are not a dominant defensive team as they once were. They used to be incredible around the basket. You now can score around the basket on them more than ever before. But they’re still solid. They’re still sound, conceptually. (Pop) has tricks, he can mess with you. But they were so good for so many years.

We chart our baskets within five feet of the basket every night. Halftime, I’d go in there against SA and we’d be 2 for 15. They just wouldn’t let you score around the basket. That’s different now.

They used to play two bigs. Now you can take Duncan away from the basket. You can take their bigs away and attack their smalls a little more. You take Duncan in the pick and roll, you’ve got Bonner, or McDyess or Blair covering the basket. That’s just not as good as it was when it was David Robinson, or Nesterovic or Mohammed or someone like that.

Winston provided these numbers, which may support Karl.

Player Defensive Rating
Tim Duncan -13
Antonio McDyess -8
Matt Bonner -8
DeJuan Blair -6
Richard Jefferson +1
George Hill +5
Tony Parker +5
Keith Bogans +6
Manu Ginobili +9
Michael Finley +12

First, what do the numbers mean? In short, when Tim Duncan is on the court, the Spurs hold the opposition to 13 fewer points on average per 48 minutes. The ratings are adjusted with respect to whom a player is on the court with, so it’s not a intended to rate man-to-man defense. It rates Player X’s contribution to team defense.

In the big picture, Winston’s numbers suggest that San Antonio’s bigs are holding their own. The perimeter players, on the other hand, are being exploited. This is where the Karl quote might help. Winston tells me it’s fair to assume the perimeter players’ ratings are lower than expected because they’re sometimes exploited during small-ball sets. Richard Jefferson tends to break even, or thereabout, which might help us to understand why he’s Popovich’s go-to small-ball four, although the Spurs may have put that experiment to bed.

But the Spurs’ defense is overwhelmingly better with two bigs on the floor, even if one of them is the oft-criticized Matt Bonner. I asked Winston how he accounted for Bonner’s stong defensive rating when most of us would characterize his man defense as mediocre. His response makes good basketball sense:

With Bonner in Spurs have Eff. FG % age of 55% with him out only 51%. I think this means when Bonner is in Spurs spread floor and get good shots. So less transition baskets for opponents. Our defensive rating is based on team points given up; it’s not based on 1 on 1 defense. So if you cut your team’s turnovers and cut transition baskets you can have good rating even if your one on one defense is so so.

But let’s take a moment to consider Ginobili’s poor defensive rating, and, more importantly, what it means for the Spurs.

Earlier this year, I spoke with statistician Steve Ilardi concerning Bruce Bowen’s defense. Here is part of what Ilardi told me:

I  just went back and looked at Bowen’s Defensive APM in a six-year average model (all seasons evenly weighted from 2003-2009).  His Defensive APM number of +2.95 was 4th best among perimeter (non-big) starters/high-minute guys over that span.  He only trailed [Ron] Artest (+5.09), [Shane] Battier (+3.92), and (ironically enough) [Manu] Ginobili (+3.24).

[In Ilardi's scheme, a positive defensive APM is good; Winston ranks in accord with the opposing teams points totals, and so a negative number is associated with good defense. So, I concede, this is not exactly apples to apples, but the numbers are largely consistent, despite the difference in presentation, in what they indicate.]

In other words, prior to this season, Ginobili’s defense was good, perhaps great. He was under-appreciated in that regard. But he can no longer be categorized as an elite defender–except when the game is on the line, and then he’s an elite everything.  Put this together with the loss of Bruce Bowen to old age, and the Spurs are, functionally speaking, two perimeter defenders short of where they were last season.

Winston associates Ginobili’s falling defensive ranking with his ankle injury. This could mean that Ginobili’s defense is still recovering, as the highlight reel moments of last night would suggest. Or it could mean that Manu is not the same. I suspect we’ll get an answer for this question in the postseason.

It’s a fixable problem, so long as it’s recognized as a problem to fix. In the short term, the Spurs’ options are limited. Winston thinks their best chance of improving this season involves shortening the rotation–or, more precisely, 5-man units–to their best 10 lineups and giving them heavier minutes. The current team does not have many successful combinations beyond that.

  • Trade TP

    you have to give young guys a chance. there is no way that they couldnt put up as good of numbers as our old guys

    jim henderson, did you name all your kids greg?

  • td4life

    @Jim Henderson
    My comments are based on the fact that Manu is one of the top ten guards in the league, and that Holt is obviously willing to spend IF he feels it truly makes us contenders in the Duncan era (after which the odds are extremely long)… if you look at what Thomas and Camby (along with the other moves the Clippers made) were acquired for, it is easy to believe that the Spurs could have put together a competitive package… Even if they would have lost out like a few other teams that really wanted a deal (Phoenix, Miami, Denver), it would have been reassuring to hear such detailed reports that the Spurs were committed to changing it up. Big men like McDyess are always sought after by somebody (look at his career, and that of Juwan Howard, and others… I am sure he would hold some appeal to the Clips, as D Gooden did, or to Chicago, as Brad Miller did in prior midseason trade). I think we all know that we’d part with most of our expirings, who lose their value as such going forward. Given all of that, I think Pop and RC could afford to be bold, and audition some new guys: if it works, they are more likely to want to stay on board, and we will know their value to us; if it doesn’t, we haven’t necessarily lost that much, since it isn’t working too well anyway.

    Regarding RJ and TP, I think that taken together, they might hold some interest to teams– “untradable” players/contracts do get moved, and sometimes are a better fit afterward. It happens. I could see plenty of teams taking a gamble on TP for the future, despite his down year, if they felt like they were net positive on the trade, or b/c it allowed them to move a player they didn’t think fit, or they didn’t think they could keep. But, again, just to know that management was strongly committed to defensive Bigs, even if the offer fell through, would be encouraging for many of us fans, and send a message to the players (think of Ray Allen’s improved play, post deadline).

    All that said, some trades (as WE have seen) though well intentioned, can absolutely ruin a team (look at Phoenix). I think your Foye/Haywood trade would be a catastrophic move. I like what Haywood brings, but I don’t think this, even added to Butler, gets you back what trading Manu costs. Foye certainly doesn’t. And, meanwhile, further hogtying us financially.
    All champions need at least 2 of the best players in the league. LeBron may buck this trend, but he has very solid talent around him, and is possibly the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen. But, overall, there are very few exceptions to this except when sleepers (who nonetheless have dominant players and coaching) sneak up while the league’s favorites are in transition. This year, and the next 3 years at least (following this summer’s deals), have VERY tough, superstar-studded teams that the Spurs would have to better.

    Tim is a top 5 bigman, Gino is a top 10 guard. If you wanna break that up, you better get back a hell of a lot more than a brenden haywood, and randy frickin Foye. Randy Foye? No deal on Randy Foye. We are not contending with the Lakers, Mavs, or Denver by adding Foye, losing the heart and will of the team, and taking a serious hit to our already playmaker-challenged roster.
    Camby is a good piece next year, and serviceable during the Duncan window. Thomas was an expiring contract, and worth an audition… watch him finish this season, and get back to me.

    You and I agree on two things: change is necessary if we want to win, and getting solid centers has to be part of that change.

  • td4life

    BTW, Jim Henderson…
    Camby is easily top 15 at either PF or C in the league. And TT is easily a top 20 PF this season, even as a bad fit in Chicago, and could be verging on major growth. Both Hollinger and Efficiency rankings (“EFF48M” for TT, b/c of his shared minutes) verify these assessments.
    Haywood is nice too, top 13 -20, but no better.
    None of these guys can currently be thought of as star talent.
    Would you take 2 top twenty additions to our front court rotation, or just one [that you can't afford for several reasons]?

    ps… I spelled out a couple of trade proposals along these lines on this site, prior to the deadline, with the possible key additions being Thomas, Camby, Collison, and Peja. Mostly just to gauge interest in moving Parker, beefing up our middle, and the importance of Manu.

  • Tyler

    When Bowen was at his height, even he had a terrible PER if I remember correctly. Yet, he was always included in our best 5-man rotations. You have to keep in mind the role of the player when your’re analyzing some guys. For example, Bogans PER might not be great, but I think he’s a little more valuable to our team than PER would lead you to believe.

    Offensive stats are light years more advanced than defensive stats at this point.

  • Big J

    My comments are tempered with the reality the team could easily slip out of the playoff hunt as it could figure things out. I contend the Spurs remain the overall “unknown” quantity of the league. As such they could still play their proto-typical role as the underdog when (if, for them) the playoff’s arrive. Underdog’s not really the term to describe their past successes, but it suffices.

    There is so much which has not gone well that for the team to demonstrate some end of the season success would in itself be an unknown quantity. Add to this that the league appears to have written them off to an extent as an experiment gone wrong.

    If Manu is returning to form, and if, he can provide the kind of fire he normally does, we could still see the team pull itself up from their knees. Does this fix their interior defense? Probably not. But, if we could presume the team has not been playing with the type of passion they normally do, well, there is room for improvement. If the chemistry needs a spark to bring the team together? Then I can think of no one better to provide it.

    I know there are a lot more questions than this but I also know sports has a heavy dose of passion with in the mix as well. I’ve seen from past experiences what this has done to many a sports teams.

  • Kevin

    Ian won’t make a difference. I trust the guy that watches him every single day, not the fans.

    Big Z is going back to the Cavs. 100%. Won’t stop certain posters from chiming in how our front office let us down on this one.

    @Trade TP: Gregg has 2 “g”s. C’mon man! Everyone knows that.

  • H.man

    This season is lost but the small-market spurs still need even 2 games of Post season to recoup some money so they will not play Harriston & IAN to try and see what they have on the expense of not making the playoffs.

    For next season we should really consider a trade with the Hawks as they stand to loose Joe Johnson to free agency and if he doesn’t sign with New York he would be great for the spurs as a sign&trade with atlanta.

    Consider this: JJ(11 million on 1st year for 6 yr contract) + marvin williams (8 million)+ bibby(7 million on 2nd yr of 3 yr contract)..all great 3 point shooters in spurs system for RJ+ tony parker + Ian + 1st rounder to Atlanta who get their PG, move Jamal crawford to starting SG and get a nice big man to audition as they need bigs to fill their rotation and IAN just needs a new team. The Spurs then sign Camby for most of Mid-level money(4.3 mill) and add Tiago splitter on a 1st round contract(??1.2 million- if he will come) and add some vets with minimal contracts to the rotation & even bring back Bonner. This would be great. Starting Unit: Hill(very capable PG +JJ +Marvin Williams + TD + Camby. 6th Man: Resigned Manu, bench: Dice, Splitter, Bonner, ?? Harriston and others like Anthony Johnson(back up PG for 1.2 mill -remainder of mid-level exception), Flip Murray(SG)- for biannual exception. Total spurs Payroll 74.7 Million -just over the luxury tax line not too bad for small market team and if too difficult to accomplish may not need to sign Bonner and maybe ask TD to cut 2 million of sallary to help out-sure he would do it.

    GO Spurs, do this trade.

  • Trade TP

    Tyler- Great point about Bowens rating. I find it amusing that people on here go with these ratings and seem to have no concept of the eye test or growth.

    Kevin- We will never know if Ian can make a difference or not. Just like Pops Mensu, or Gooden. They play decent and then dont get minutes. See above. Just because PMB or Gooden didnt put up star numbers didnt mean they didnt improve the team.

    H.Man- Sounds like a great trade. I would be for it, though Bibby blows.

    I read something on here, maybe it was from MySa, about Ian not playing because he fouls too much and that doesnt fit in our system? I did not understand that thinking at all. When you give up the rim as easily as we do you need someone to commit fouls and give a fear to the defense. But if we want to keep on letting people drive right around Bonner and McDyess, so be it.

    Kevin- I will work on the spelling.

  • greyberger

    “Ian won’t make a difference. I trust the guy that watches him every single day, not the fans.”

    That’s a great way to sum it up. Of all the people in the universe Pop has to be one of the ones most familiar with Mahimi’s game and potential. Not only is it his job to know this, but he’s in a position to hire people and assign them to tasks like this. He has resources and information that tell him what kind of baller he is, a glut of it really.

    At least respect that before you say, “just slot in Ian and Hairston for Bogans and Bonner! it’s that easy!”. At least acknowledge the qualified nature of his opinion that these guys are not as good or as ready as the NBA guys on NBA lookin’ contracts.

  • H.man

    Hay Trade TP. Yeah taking on Bibby might be too expensive but he could be servicable at times with shooting & bench PG production(esp with TP’s loss) and it is only for 2 yrs after this summer so not too bad and Atlanta would love to unload him to free cap space to get sombody along with TP & RJ to add to Horford and Josh Smith. Spurs may have to just accept that and you don’t get something good unless you give up some cash and assessts but Hill, JJ and Marvin williams will be a solid base for many yrs even after TD retires and add Blair with Splitter in the frontcourt and this is not too bad at all for the future either. Ahhh…..my dream but actually realistic trade- don’t see a bosh/wade or LJ coming to SA!!!!

    One other point to all spurs fans, I am a die hard fan even if we are loosing.. Also Manu should retire a Spurs..he is my hero….

    GO SPURS GO.

  • H.man

    And you what the line up i put above does not have Blair(..missed that) so we don’t even need Bonner if we have TD, Camby, Dice, Blair and Splitter. that is about 2 million less and closer to the luxuary tax line I know the spurs FO would like to stay under.

  • Sarge

    Just out of curiosity, what pick do the Spurs have in this year’s draft? I’m not sure where he’s projected to go at, but I’d love to see the Spurs pick up Jarvis Varnado. It’s not entirely clear how well he’ll hold up in the NBA (he’s pretty slight), but dude can swat some shots. He’d certainly fill the “athletic power forward” role, and wouldn’t eat up a lot of shots given that he doesn’t have a whole lot of offensive game.

    Also, none of this is contingent on me being a Mississippi State alum. Not at all…

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  • Jim Henderson

    td4life

    February 26th, 2010 at 5:15 am

    My post was mainly about acquiring players at this years trading deadline that would help us as a team compete in the playoffs. I was proposing getting TWO solid players for one exceptional one, one that is injury prone, and though still very productive, is in fact now on the downside of his career. He also happens to possess by far our largest EXPIRING contract. Haywood’s numbers not only compared favorably with second tier centers in the league when with the Wiz, particularly defensively in the paint (exactly where we’ll have MAJOR problems come playoff time), but they’ve actually improved now that he’s on a good team. Plus, he’s young enough and not a STAR so that we’d have a decent chance at re-signing him to help with another title shot during the Duncan window (best case, 3-4 years). In my view, you’re underestimating the potential value of Haywood in the Spurs roster, and you’re completely underestimating Foye. He’s young, athletic, has a pretty good shot, can defend, can penetrate & dish, and at 26 yrs. has not yet reached his full potential (would have a great opportunity to blossom under Pop). Check out his stats; they’re respectable. And the fact is, Ginobli may get so much hype down the stretch this year that he might be un-signable by us. Then what?

    At mid-season, this year, at the trade deadline, this was our best deal. And the Wiz probably would have done it (it wouyld be an attractive deal to them) unless they really needed to get rid of Butler in the same deal instead of shopping him separately. And the two star question?: When Parker is healthy he is a STAR. He’s an all-star, remember. Plus we have up and coming stars in Hill & Blair. Those guys are very good, young, & developing rapidly.

    And let’s be realistic: RJ & Tony were not “before the deadline deals!” For one thing, at the trade deadline, you’d have to PAY teams to take RJ! I think this will change, but that’s how it was at the trade deadline. And Parker has a chronic injury issue that’s been going on for two years. Now, chances are his health issues will resolve at some point to get him back into all-star production (that’s what we of course all hope & expect), but if you’re a new team looking to acquire him you’re going to be cautious, and he’s NOT CHEAP as well.

    And as I said with Camby: I love his game, he’d be a good fit with the Spurs, BUT he’s fragile and injury prone, and while his production at this stage of his career has been surprisingly good, the fact is he’s OLD, and could begin substantial decline any year now. Thomas has talent, but as you know, the Spurs look for consistency & character, things that remain a question mark for Thomas. As a result, neither of these pick-ups would allow the Spurs to have enough confidence that either would be around for long, and the Spurs don’t like to make a move JUST for a band-aid this year (in fact, they hardly ever make deals at the deadline for this very concern), but something they might be able to build on for the next 3-5 yrs. This is something that, at least on the surface (as Bushka points out, we don’t have all the inside information on the financial particulars), Haywood & Foye “COULD” have provided.

    Anyways, that’s all water under the bridge. Now, if Jefferson finishes out the season better, and Parker gives every indication that he’s turned the corner on his injuries, both would provide much better trade bait in the off season. And I think you saw the trade I proposed on a previous post, sending Parker, Bogans, & Mason to NY for Lee, Duhon, & House. And, sending RJ, McDyess, & Hill to the Hornets for Collison, Stojokovic, & Wright. This assumes we can re-sign Ginobli. If not we’d probably have to sign/trade for a SG/SF scorer, or go more for defense and pick up someone like Brewer (FA – Griz) and a center (FA – T-Wolves – Milicic?).

  • Jim Henderson

    Going in to tonight’s game in Houston, a few comments about our effort in the win against OKC.

    Pro’s against OKC that we’d like to see repeated tonight:

    opposing team FG % – OKC – 40% – GOOD.

    important contributions from key players, particularly when it mattered – finished off quarters better – outscored opponent in the 4th quarter (27-20). ENCOURAGING.

    Ginobli – OKC performance caps off solid two-week run – He’s BAAAAAACK! – VERY HOPEFUL SIGN.

    Jefferson – While he didn’t have a great game, one thing stood out for me: HE GOT NINE REBOUNDS. I don’t expect 9 per night from him, but his previous average of 3 is ridiculous for someone with his size and athleticism. Rebounds are a sign of aggressive play, exactly what we need from Jefferson. Let’s hope this effort was not an aberration, but the start of a trend.

    Hill – His determination to get those offensive rebounds at the end of the game were under-appreciated. Nice overall performance – he’s a “gamer”.

    Duncan – What can I say – prototypical Duncan performance – He’s our rock, obviously.

    Con’s we’d like to see improved upon tonight:

    Blair – Needs to stay out of foul trouble, particularly early in the game. He had 2 fouls in his first 7 minute on the court, forcing Pop to essentially save him for the second half. Needs to stay focused on his strength, REBOUNDING. Had only one rebound in his first 10 minutes on the floor. We ended up being out-rebounded by OKC – not good.

    McDyess – O.K., I’ll just say it – an AWFUL game. Missed all 6 shots – I think all 15+ft. jumpers – had TWO rebounds in 17 mins. – none on the offensive glass. He needs to get more aggressive inside, on both ends.

    Finley – Awful game – missed all five shots, four of them 3-pointers – 1 assist, 1 rebound in 21 minutes. He’s been out a lot with injuries, but he needs to find a rhythm soon or we can’t afford to keep playing him, certainly not 20 minutes.

    Parker – Can’t continue to play him that many minutes with that kind of production – if he’s still injured, sit him.

    The good news is that they played well as a team in the clutch – showed some confidence – we must continue to build on this – NOW.

    Good luck against Rockets, Spurs! Remember to play ALL 48 minutes., because despite the Rockets recent struggles, they’re a gritty bunch indeed!

  • Jim Henderson

    Nice first half, Spurs! What a joke!

    gave up 58% shooting

    shot it at just 35% ourselves

    including just 1 of 8 from “3″

    out rebounded 23-20

    only ones playing inspiring ball is Duncan & Ginobli, and Ginobli’s just 1 of 6 thus far.

    3 starters have NO points

    Blair has played just 6 minutes – it’d be nice to know why.

    This team better wake up pretty quick – they have a long haul to still try to get a “W” tonight.

    Could not have been a worse start after an inspiring win against OKC.

  • td4life

    @Jim Henderson–
    We’ll have to agree to disagree, I guess. As much as I like what haywood could bring, I certainly am not sold (at all) that your proposal would have made us contenders this year, or even in the next two. I also don’t believe David Lee (especially if we hold onto Blair) provides us with the interior we need, and I am sure you can guess why, so I won’t be explaining my logic in any future posts.

    Tonight’s game shows, however, that we agree on the unfortunate mess this club is in at this point…
    Still, I always root for our guys until the end, and would like to see the Spurs make the playoffs, but not if it means getting humiliated by the lakers in the first round. Sigh.

    As one fan to another, all I can say is “Go Spurs.”

  • TradeTP

    Jim- Glad to see that Ian and Hairston, both of whom POP knows cannot contribute more than any other player on the bench outplayed basically everyone….

    Glad to see the young guys actually get minutes. They made the most of it. Unfortunately they will still be deemed unfit to play and our superstars Antonio, Bonner, and Finley will continue to be our bread and butter.

  • Jim Henderson

    td4life

    I understand your point on Lee. It’s not the best fit with Blair. Obviously I think Haywood’s the best fit if we could possibly get him in the off-season. Of the available FA’s at years end, any suggestions (other than those already mentioned) for a tall, big guy, and/or athlete that can defend the paint? Do you think a guy like Milicic of the T-wolves would be good enough to fill a need at center? Also, I really think a guy like FA Ronnie Brewer (former Jazz), now with Griz could give us a boost in perimeter “D”. Have you seen him play much?

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