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 â€¦ 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.Â In previous years, this might describe every third Spurs possession.
In previous years.
Bruce Bowen was a terrific with his corner threes.Â 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 2008-9 Shooting
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
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,Â 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.