The Spurs, the Suns, three point shooting, Richard Jefferson, and Bruce Bowen


It’s not a new story, just one that matters. The San Antonio Spurs are a very different offensive team this season. In their Game 3 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs didn’t make a single three pointer. Not one. The Spurs were 4-19 on three point attempts in Game 1 against the Suns. Coming into the series, LJ Ellis noted

Since the beginning of the Tim Duncan Era, the front office has made it a point to surround Duncan with three-point shooters. Currently, however, outside shooting isn’t something the Spurs can rely on going into the playoffs. Hill is probably the team’s best three-point shooter right now … but he’s hurting. Ginobili is a good three-point shooter but he is classified more as “streaky” than “dead-eye”. Matt Bonner and Roger Mason, Jr. can shoot but they both monumentally struggled last year against the Mavs in the playoffs (and they just finished going a combined 0-for-8 from three-point range against Dallas on Wednesday). Richard Jefferson shot 22.8% on three-pointers after the All-Star break and Keith Bogans is Keith Bogans. To win this series, the Spurs need at least two or three shooters to step up and knock down shots from deep. We’ll see if that is too much to ask.

During Monday night’s Spurs-Suns telecast, Doug Collins attempted to describe this shift in identity in terms of floor spacing, not just shooting efficiency.

Imagine this familiar, if faded, scenario: Tim Duncan gets the ball on the low block, and the opposing defense is stretched in all directions because they have to stay at home on the Spurs’ shooters. You know, guys like Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Steve Kerr, and Bruce Bowen. Tim Duncan has his choice of options, because he has his choice of space. If the defense decides to collapse, Duncan simply sends the ball to an open shooter, who, at a minimum, gets a clean look at the basket.  In previous years, this might describe every third Spurs possession.

In previous years.

Bruce Bowen was a terrific with his corner threes.  He was a career .393 3 pt. shooter, with most of his makes coming from the corners.

A quick comparison (via NBA Hotspots) gives a clear indication of the Spurs’ offensive shift:

San Antonio’s 2009-10 Shooting

San Antonio Spurs Shooting Chart, 2009-10
The Spurs are increasingly less effective from deep.

San Antonio Spurs 2008-9 Shooting

San Antonio Spurs 2008-9 Shooting Chart
The overall team was worse, but the Spurs had better snipers last season.

To my mind, this is where the Suns pose the most difficult challenge to the Spurs. The Spurs must counter the Suns’ tremendous accuracy from range almost entirely with lock down defense. San Antonio does not have the shooters to exchange three point baskets with Phoenix. In the past, the Spurs could go 1 in, 4 out and keep pace with Phoenix (in this respect).

Of course, there are other options for the Spurs. San Antonio should be able to exploit the Suns’ interior defense, and the Spurs ought to get to the line early and often in this series. But this is not unrelated to the point of this post, and it brings us back to Doug Collins’ concerns about San Antonio’s spacing.

Richard Jefferson is okay from the corners, and not very accurate from anywhere else beyond the arc. But he’s a good option on baseline jumpers, the kind of jumpers that are, I don’t know, three feet closer to the hoop than Bruce Bowen’s old favorite spot in the corner.

Richard Jefferson’s Shot Chart

Richard Jefferson and the Spurs' spacing
Jefferson is a better player than Bruce Bowen, but not better for San Antonio’s spacing.

The drawback, of course, is that this puts Richard Jefferson’s defender a few feet closer to Tim Duncan, which helps opposing doubles and, sometimes, eliminates Duncan’s ability to pass the ball into the corner. This change in how the Spurs space the floor can also effect the driving lanes of perimeter players. Lane clogging help defenders don’t have the same ground to cover.

This is not to say the Spurs have made a change in their offensive theory,  just that there is often a disconnect between thought and expression. The Spurs lack the same quality of three point shooter they’ve enjoyed in past years. And the shooters they do have are not as helpful at spacing the floor.

  • Kevin

    Damn you Roger Mason!!! Why can’t you make shots anymore!?!

  • lvmainman

    The problem is playing known poor shooters like Roger Mason when other options are available. For example, when Hairston gets the ball at the 3pt line he penetrates and shoots a layup. Jefferson needs to close the open space and shoot a layup or penetrate for an assist like the reverse dunk he got McDyess.

    Roger Mason should never play another minute for Spurs. Popovich ran Popovich’s favorite play to get an open corner 3 and for the 150th time this year Roger Mason missed it.

    Roger Mason doesn’t fit with the Spurs because he is not a catch and shoot 3 pt shooter. Mason needs a rhythm dribble to make a 3pt shot. Last year’s game winning shots, 3 out of 4 came with a dribble. At Celtics, at Clippers, vs Lakers those shots came with a rhythm dribble and the only set shot 3 Mason has made is the Suns game.

    Roger Mason went 0 for 9 at Cleveland, 0 for 9! He got the game winning shot designed for him and bricked it.

    Roger Mason should never play for the Spurs again. DNP-CD.

    Free agency will have to address set shot 3 pt shooting. Raja Bell, Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow, J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver, and Steve Blake are available. Redick and Morrow are restricted free agents.

  • VP of Common Sense

    My thoughts exactly Kev.

    Roger Mason reminds me of Austin Powers… “I’ve lost my Mojo!”

    I just can’t believe he’s shooting .083% for the playoffs.

  • idahospur

    Put RJ on the corner. If defense collapses on Duncan, he can take a quick step in to make the higher % 2. Let’s win tonight, I’m running out of things to throw in my house.

  • jacob

    I’d like to see Hairston activated and no more mins for RMJ.

  • Bob

    @lvmainman. Exactly what I am thinking. If there’s less spacing you penetrate, for a layup dunk, and/or foul. I don’t think smallball is going to work so well especially with the lack of shooters. Spurs might consider trying to play actual defense. McDyess was playing pretty good defense on Amare. He was effective against Nowitzki. The help defense has to be better. The Spurs were able to hold the Mavs to less than 90 a game and the Mavs have a potent offense.

  • VP of Common Sense

    BTW, Roger Mason’s PER is -7.06.


  • VP of Common Sense

    That’s negative 7.

  • BigWhit

    Hopefully Hill can get back in the grove from three land like he did against Dallas, when he gets a chance to play.

  • SpurredOn

    This has been an obvious issue since post-ASB. It’s why Pop wouldn’t give up on RMj. We win more like we did in the early part of last decade, with defense and execution on offense. That execution now comes more from guard points in the paint instead of Duncan/Robinson but we are more likely to make only four 3s per game instead of eight. The counter to that is more drives (where RJ is better than Bowen and Hill better than Barry) and post-muscle (Blair better in the post than Horry). This racks up team fouls and gives a better chance at offensive rebounding. In other words, making our FTs is more important now than in seasons past since we should get more attempts and they are countering the lack of 3s.

    It also wouldn’t hurt if Bonner would make a couple for every twelve minutes he’s on the floor.

  • BlaseE

    Looking at our roster and our offseason options, I think this trend will further continue next year unless RJ develops a corner 3 in the offseason like Hill did or RJ gets traded for a 3 point shooting upgrade among other pieces.

    Finley and Bowen are gone. Mason, Bogans, and Bonner are expiring. We might resign Bonner, but even Bonner has seen an increase in 2 point attempts recently as teams aren’t willing to give him the 3. Bogans doesn’t take enough attempts for me to really count him whether he stays or not.

    Hairston has the range but they aren’t the shots I really want him taking.

    Splitter obviously doesn’t help. He could even worsen the situation compared to Dice who’s helped us greatly with his jumper. Some good looks didn’t fall in game 1 sadly.

    Our #20 draft pick needs to go to a SF/wing to help strengthen the position behind RJ, but even this player would likely see short playoff minutes.

  • BlaseE

    Also, I wonder if McClinton, billed as a defender with an amazing shot with range to spare, could have worked his way into the rotation if his offseason wasn’t so bad. It seems like the FO saw this coming and drafted one of the best shooters in last year’s draft, but he just didn’t pan out.

  • Dingo

    If I remember correctly, Jefferson came to the Spurs known as a corner 3 pt shooter, hitting 40% from there his last season with the Bucks.

    So unless I’m wrong, not sure what happened to his ability to make corner 3’s..

  • guillem

    Do you guys think that Spurs may draft Gordon Hayward if he is available at 20??

    He plays SF, in Butler he also used to play PF (he is 6’8″) and made a good job defending taller players on the low post or in the high post. He has great shooting mechanics and great vision, but lacks athleticism. I think that this would not be a huge problem as RJ would still be the starting SF, and GH would compliment him.

    Anyway, this was the first year I watched March Madness and I got really impressed with this guy, he seemed to me like he had some “magic”, and great leadership too.

  • Joe

    RMJ’s shooting is troubling, but I’m wondering whether too much is being made of Bonner’s post-season struggles with his 3s. Most of his career playoff 3-pt shots came this season or last season against Dallas. In one of the discussions with Wayne Winston on this site (couldn’t find the link in a quick look-up), Winston talked about how he specifically warned Dallas about Bonner’s +/- and advised that limit his good looks from 3. Given that it shouldn’t be that hard to knock a role-player off their game compared to rattling an All-Star, it’s no surprise that Bonner has struggled if Dallas was targeting him.

    Clearly, he needs to step up his shooting, but I’m wondering if we shouldn’t write him off as a potential factor in this series.

  • doggydogworld

    Is Hayward coming out?

  • Jim Henderson

    May 5th, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Yes, from what I heard, Haywood is coming out.

    He is an intriguing prospect, expected to be drafted around when the Spurs pick, and in some ways does seem like “a Spurs type of player”. Does he have the ability to effectively defend at the SF in the NBA? That’s the big question I don’t have an answer to.

  • stephen

    Yes we need RMJ to show up, but we also need everybody else, outside of the Big 3, to show up. Bonner is capable of shooting the 3 too. Hopefully tonight we can run them off the line, get aggressive with Nash, and do better transition d for the win.

  • Jim Henderson

    Good points made in the main post. Spacing issues are without a doubt important in today’s game. And obviously our deterioration in hitting threes, as a team, could end up hurting us. Don’t remind me!

  • Jim Henderson

    May 5th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    “Yes we need RMJ to show up…….”

    Actually, I’d prefer he didn’t even show up at the AT&T Center……

  • Dr. Who

    Ur right on… Dyess again had a solid game but the help defensive rotations were either slow or non-existent. I think if we get some help from our defenders Dyess will have yet another solid game. His jumper was missing early and often in the 1st though and I didn’t like that one bit. Less jumpers… penetrate and let Dyess hit his jumper later in the game once we’ve established ourselves in the paint.

    Well kinda, Jeff was never konwn as a corner 3 guy or even a 3 pt man more of a slasher and someone who gets out on the break. Last year though, he shot a career high from 3pt land. It was a big reason why the Spurs went out and got him. But they tried to turn him into Finley and Jeff is not a long range corner 3 kinda guy. He plays much better with Manu (everyone does). He needs a distributor to get him the ball.

    I agree with every single person here about Mason. I had a rather long rant in a previous post about how terrible he his. It’s time for Hairston/Temple if available. I’m saying it now… Bogans needs to be big for us this series. Play him instead of Mase. At least you get a bigger body that knows how to spell “D” at least. He played well and anything is better than Mase right now. He’s doing everything he can to play himself out of the league.

  • ike MNM

    Hey you guys, watch the insults on Mason he is not our worst defensive player. And secondly remember what he did for the Spurs last season? He was a hero in perspective. If you think about it last year he took way more shots. If i am correct about …. 9 shots a game and now he is averaging a little under 2. also, try shooting with a broken knuckle. I would not want anybody else at that 8/9 spot in the rotation. I like what Pop has been doing putting him in with about 4/5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, if he makes his 1/2 shots leave him in, but if he misses take him out and say it’s just not your night. But when he shows up he has been great for us. So I say we keep him on the roster but just don’t give him as many minutes until he reaches the 2009/2010 Roger Mason Jr. we all knew and loved

  • Jimmy Dean

    he doesn’t care if he plays himself out of the league, he’s a music producer or manager now. lol. buy his girlfriend cece’s cd and maybe he can make enough money on his outside venture to quit basketball…amen! thank god the spurs will be done with him next year either way can’t wait until i dont have to see those bricks

  • OliverJ

    @VP of Common Sense,

    “I just can’t believe he’s shooting .083% for the playoffs.”

    Man that just hurts my head. That’s Mason’s job, that’s his only job. Flat out can’t defend, shaky handle so he can’t run point, can’t get boards. It seems to me he hasn’t hit a shot since the rumoured trade request earlier in the season.

    Thinking about RJ, I remember some years ago when he was part of the Olympic team , I watched him brick a whole bunch of corner shots. I don’t think he’s the guy to place at the Bowen spot… I have however seen George Hill knock down a bunch from there.

    Anyway fellas big game today! Take them down!

  • Jonathan

    Roger Mason’s only real skill is shooting, so yes he basically sucks when he can’t make shots. But the guy is injured–a torn ligament in his pinkie–and is wearing a giant brace on his shooting hand. It’s not like he mysteriously lost his stroke!

  • Daniel

    Please dear God don’t let the Spurs draft Gordan Heyward.

    It would be so great if the Spurs could finally draft a 3 with an NBA-ready body.

    How about Quincy Pondexter? Smart player, unbelievable defender, best athlete in the draft– singlehandedly dragged a subpar Washington team to the Sweet-16. With a little more work on his handle looks like he could be the player Jefferson was over the first 5 years of his career, except he’d cost $2m instead of $15m.

  • BlaseE

    Can Duncan shoot threes and space the floor for himself or possibly Blair? His shot looked better than Bonner’s……

  • rice

    Agree with Joe. Teams are more focused on Bonner’s 3 precisely because he is one-dimensional. Teams are doing to us what we did to Jason Kidd – run our specialist 3pt shooter out of the 3 without the need to defend well on the ensuing drive. It allows them to run at him harder and take his shot away.

    Problem is, we don’t have that many 3pt shooters. I think this is why Pop kept on playing Mason (and Finley, before he got traded), because he realized his system is going to get screwed eventually without more 3pt options. He was clutching at straws, but he new more than all the bloggers combined.

  • doggydogworld

    Duncan also won the 3 point shooting contest in the Spurs pre-season intra-squad game.

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