Advanced Scouting: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks – A playoff preview?


San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks 7:30 CST March 18, 2011

According to basketball-reference, the Spurs have a 98.5% chance at making the playoffs and a 99.8% chance at beating out the Mavericks for the division title, but this game could be more than just sealing up playoff positioning.

Common wisdom suggests that the Spurs match up poorly against dominant bigs. Duncan’s been great defensively this year, but he derives most of his value as a help defender, often leaving Blair, McDyess and Bonner to match up against the opponent’s best scoring power forward or center. I was a little skeptical that this would be a significant factor, but to this point in the season, the Spurs have shown signs of struggling against elite teams with a prominent inside presence (albeit in a very very small sample size).

DateOppResultTmOppSignificant Injuries
Dirk/KG not injured3-39598.7

The Spurs used the same lineup for the first 53 games of the season. Their success was often credited in part to this consistency. Finally, the Spurs switched things up and McDyess has started for the Spurs each of the last four games. The results haven’t been great so far, but the move might be predominantly to help the Spurs better match up with the aforementioned teams. McDyess figures to be the primary defender of Dirk Nowitzki tonight. My advanced scouting report on the Mavericks details strategy for defending Dirk.

How big of a deal is the Miami loss and the Spurs’ recent struggles

The Spurs’ 30 point loss to the Heat in Miami on Monday caused some to panic. There was growing sentiment that the Spurs are trending down. So should the Spurs be worried? Although there are some reasons for concern over the Spurs’ recent games, many causes of the Spurs recent struggles are cosmetic in nature.

We know that one game isn’t all that meaningful as a predictor. After all, the Spurs just beat the Heat by 30 just 10 days before their 30 point loss.

The Spurs have won 8 of their last 12, but have barely outscored their opposition in doing so. Over shorter periods of time, margin of victory is a much more useful predictor than record. There are some signs that the Spurs have struggled defensively as of late. Basically, the Spurs’ Defensive Rating is about 4 points worse than normal over their last 12 games. However, a couple factors that contribute to these poor defensive results are unlikely to continue.

First of all, opponents made free throws at an unmaintainable 84% rate. If we assume they had merely connected on these shots at a league average rate, the Spurs defensive rating over this span improves by close to 2 points.

Additionally, viewing these select 12 games is not an unbiased sample. Purposely starting with a poor game will make recent trends look artificially worse. The Spurs’ Defensive Rating over the last 11 games improves by more than a full point after removing the first game (against the Bulls). Of course, the poor performance against the Heat may have sparked concern about the Spurs defense, so including it in the data should be viewed skeptically. Once again, removing that game improves the Spurs defensive rating by more than a point.

Of course, we can’t really ignore those games, especially the game against Miami. However, both matchups against Miami might not have been the mismatches the scoreboard indicates. In both games, good or bad outside shooting accounted for most of the difference. (Good shooting is highly inconsistent over a short period of time.)

The Spurs made 17 of 28 three point attempts in the first game. If they had made “only” made these shots at their season average of 40%, the Spurs would have scored nearly 18 points fewer. On Monday, the Spurs made only 6 of 22 three point attempts, while Miami connected on 23 of 24 free throw attempts and 15 of 26 jumpers from the 16-23 foot range. If both teams were successful from these three ranges at a rate similar to their season percentages, the Spurs would have scored 12 points more and the Heat 11 points fewer. Given the circumstances, I suppose a 7 point game would be much easier to swallow… but these shooting streaks are obviously a part of basketball.

The Spurs not only want to test their potential playoff lineup combinations, but I’m sure they will be looking for redemption.

A couple quotes

If you don’t believe this is an important game, check out some quotes I found:

Jason Terry
“Everybody is going to talk about how this is just another game, (but) not for this team. Not for us. We struggled since the (All-Star) Break against teams that are right there in contention for a championship, so it’s a measuring stick for us — how far have we come?”

Antonio McDyess after the “longest practice day for the Spurs since training camp”
“A lot of the mistakes we made (on Monday), (Coach) wanted us to clean up going into the Dallas game. We feel this is a big game, so we wanted to clean up a lot of stuff.”

Key Statistics

SRS ranks:

Dallas: 3.95 (8th)
San Antonio: 6.15 (4th)

Player summary statistics from and

Dallas Mavericks Player Ratings 3-17

PlayerGMPGUSG%OrtgDRtgWS/482 Yr APM
Dirk Nowitzki5934.228.21201060.22310.41
Jason Kidd6833.514.51101050.1192.6
Jason Terry6831.925.11071090.0990.21
Caron Butler2929.925.31001070.061-1.31
Tyson Chandler622814.51311020.2162.14
Shawn Marion6727.921.31061050.108-2.04
Peja Stojakovic1321.318.91061070.0851.1
Jose Barea6720.123.61061100.084-3.51
Brendan Haywood6118.412.81061040.0961.52
Rodrigue Beaubois1418.4271041060.1-2.8
DeShawn Stevenson6017.415.91081100.075-4.05
Brian Cardinal44129.91231070.119N/A
Corey Brewer68.517.51131060.1292.12
Ian Mahinmi448.316.31241050.179N/A

San Antonio Spurs Player Ratings 3-17

PlayerGMPGUSG%OrtgDRtgWS/482 Yr APM
Tony Parker6532.225.21141070.165-0.86
Manu Ginobili6730.926.31161040.1995.28
Richard Jefferson6630.815.51151080.117-0.82
Tim Duncan6728.722.91091000.1656.47
George Hill6128.217.71151070.136-1.74
DeJuan Blair6721.920.3106990.14-0.45
Matt Bonner5121.512.81311070.1623.62
Gary Neal6520.520.51091080.1-1.22
Antonio McDyess6118.1151051030.1062.18
James Anderson1812.415.11101090.084N/A
Tiago Splitter471117.51111030.139N/A
Steve Novak136.714.61391090.189N/A
Chris Quinn396.616.3961090.027N/A

Player trends, based on Efficiency per 48 minutes:

Dallas Mavericks Player Trends 3-17

PlayerSeasonLast 10Increase
Dirk Nowitzki33.5406.5
Jason Terry20.725.75
Shawn Marion2528.83.8
Brendan Haywood19.322.63.3
Rodrigue Beaubois23.725.41.7
Jose Barea21.222.31.1
Corey Brewer18.818.80
Ian Mahinmi24.213.9-10.3
Peja Stojakovic18.411.2-7.2
DeShawn Stevenson14.39.1-5.2
Tyson Chandler30.228-2.2
Brian Cardinal14.912.7-2.2
Jason Kidd2322.6-0.4

San Antonio Spurs Player Trends 3-17

PlayerSeasonLast 10Increase
DeJuan Blair28.332.23.9
Matt Bonner20.323.33
Tiago Splitter22.225.12.9
Manu Ginobili28.3312.7
Gary Neal18.720.21.5
Steve Novak19.819.5-0.3
Antonio McDyess23.322.7-0.6
Tony Parker27.125.1-2
Tim Duncan32.430.4-2
James Anderson13.69.9-3.7
George Hill22.218.1-4.1
Richard Jefferson17.811.8-6
Chris Quinn12.33.3-9

Lineup data

Most valuable/utilized lineups:

Barea, Terry, Marion, Nowitzki, Haywood +62 in 341 minutes (+12.0 per 100 possessions)
Kidd, Stevenson, Butler, Nowitzki, Chandler +111 in 257 minutes (+24.1 per 100)
Kidd, Terry, Marion, Nowitzki, Chandler +54 in 143 minutes (+16.1 per 100)
Barea, Terry, Marion, Nowitzki, Mahinmi +52 in 99 minutes (+23.5 per 100)

Obviously, Caron Butler is out for the year. Peja Stojakovic is listed as doubtful and Brendan Haywood is questionable for tonight’s matchup.

Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, Blair, Duncan +147 in 669 minutes (+10.4 per 100)
Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, McDyess, Duncan +29 in 147 minutes (+10.2 per 100)
Hill, Neal, Ginobili, Bonner, McDyess +65 in 101 minutes (+35.3 per 100)

The Pick

Mavericks, barely

After picking the Spurs for a ton of consecutive games, I’m leaning towards going against them for the second consecutive time. The Spurs seem to be gearing for the playoffs already, but it might be a temporary setback. Once again, this should be a good test to see if McDyess is a better matchup against the bigger teams.

  • Mark B

    The points/$ metric is probably not useful. You could maximize that by hiring a team full of minimum salary castoffs who lost almost every game by a large margin. These guys are bould to score enough points in garbage time to make the pts/$ ratio a lot higher than it would be for a winning team.

    Which is not to say that pay shouldn’t be partly be based on statistical productivity, but in practice, you might pay 20% more for a player who is 5% more effective. Why? Because that 5% might be the difference between winning and losing. The salary cap makes all of this math much more complicated to administer.

    The Heat went the route of blowing the entire payroll on 3 superstars, and hiring a bunch of minimum salary role players to fill the rest of the roster (along with a few other exceptions). It remains to be seen if this works.

    The Spurs have a big 3, but they also have excellent role players. I think it’s proven to be a winning strategy. I’m not sure why Mahinmi didn’t stick with the Spurs, since he’s got length and seems to be pretty athletic. But he didn’t and I’m not going to second guess Pop. He got a long look and Pop decided he wasn’t the best option.

    After tonight, I feel pretty good about the Spurs winning #5. I don’t think they are going to be favored over the Lakers, but they have an excellent shot, especially with HCA.

    I’m still mad about the Lakers getting Gasol for basically nothing. And Bynum, who I always thought was a chump, is turning out to be finally pretty good. Maybe it always was just the knee. I think if they meet in the playoffs, it’s going to be a 7 game series. With the 7th game in San Antonio, I feel good about the chances.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Who’s dwelling. Just want this crew to step it up a notch tonight. And they did thanks to Tony, Manu, and Timmy. A combined 80 points of their 97. Nice. The crew of old.

  • Daniel T

    Mark B:

    My point actually has to do more with the idea that once a team has paid big money for a player that has a reputation, they will usually stick with that player even if a player that they are paying a lot less money with no reputation might be more productive. When Ian signed with Dallas it seemed like he might get a chance to play, until the next day or two when they made a trade for both Chandler and Ajinca.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Daniel T

    It does not matter how you spin it -on any of your three points: 1) $ per production on miniscue time on the floor; 2) player production prorated base on cameos /garbage minutes; 3) potential production of lesser known player /no reputation.

    Ian Mahinmi gets paid ” pro low basketball ” $$$, gets little court time, and has no league reputation because he can’t play.

    2005 1st round pick (28th overall) in 2005.
    With Spurs 2007-8 in 6 games only/most of time was in the Dleague /2008-9 in Dleague
    2009-10 – 26 games with Spurs

    201o-11 -69 games with Mavs: 45 games “played”–ZERO starts; 8 min/pg; 3pts, 2rebs, 0blks avg.-the
    player is a bust. Stop with the speculating, dude.

  • Mark B

    I don’t think Mahinmi is a ‘bust’. Truth is, a lot of late first rounders never become good NBA players, and some take a long time to develop. Mahinmi was a project to begin with, and he’s better this year with the Mavs than he was last year with the Spurs. I think he’s either going to be a decent NBA backup center or an end of the bench space filler. Both of those are better than 99.9% of the people who play the game in college. But I don’t think he’s got the talent to be a starter.

    I think people are spoiled by the Spurs getting so many great players late in the first round (Manu, Tony, etc.) But Mahinmi is more close to the norm. Decent bench player. Probably could have stuck with the Spurs, but Pop felt he wanted to let some different guys have a chance to develop, and after several years of seeing minimal improvement from Mahinmi, he let him go.

  • betsyduncan


    “Bonner has the third best +/- ratio on the team, behind only Manu and Tim. Why he gets so much criticism remains a mystery to me. Pop plays him for one reason, Pop likes to win.”

  • Daniel T


    My speculation is mainly regarding whether or not when a team is playing one center $12M/yr, a second center $6M, whether they would actually give much consideration to playing a third center instead of them when the third one makes less than $1M. Dallas picked up Haywood last year in the trade with Washington and he was going to be the replacement for Dampier (another overpaid center). They apparently changed their minds that Haywood could handle it, and brought in Chandler.

    A definite advantage that Haywood and Chandler have had over Ian is breaking into the league with bad teams where they were sure to get decent playing time. Ian has been with winning teams that weren’t about to play him over the players they had. He should look into getting on a team that isn’t expected to be a championship contender and doesn’t already have two or three well-paid centers, perhaps Golden State.

  • Mark B

    If I were Mahinmi’s agent, I’d be looking to place him in Europe next year, where he can make more money and get more playing time. He’s had lots of time on the court in the D-League, and he just didn’t develop into a NBA caliber player. He’ll be fine in Europe. Or he could continue as a bench player in the NBA and bounce around from team to team. Chances are, he can stick around in the league for a long time, since athletic 7 footers are a rarity.