Advanced Scouting: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs – Falling apart?


Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs 12:00 CST April 3, 2011

6 straight losses. The Spurs appear to be sucked into a whirlpool, unaware of which way is up. They still own the top record in the NBA and still have a good chance of finishing with that honor, but panic is beginning to rear its ugly head. What do these losses mean? Can this be corrected?

The first 4 losses can be largely explained away by difficult matchups and injuries/rest. The 5th (Boston)…well that’s still only one loss at “100%”, again against a tough opponent. Friday’s loss to the Rockets is just piling on something that initially seemed to be “not a big deal”. Sure, I can give a number of excuses for this stretch (and I will), but many are starting to take a step back and consider where it all went wrong.

It is important to remember that overreacting is often worse than underreacting, especially when you have the best record in the NBA. None of the losses could really be categorized as blowouts and many could easily have ended differently in one or two trivial things have changed. (Again, my concern is with future wins in favor of prior wins.)

Additionally, the Spurs shot 5% worse than opponents on 3’s 4% worse on free throws and 13% worse on long twos. Over the course of a short period of time, these figures are all very unreliable (although Splitter’s playing time could be responsible for the decrease in FT%). With that said, there are a couple of problems that this losing streak helps shed light on.

The struggles related to injury could remind us how fortunate the Spurs have been to be so healthy thus far in the season. The Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Bulls and Mavericks all suffered injuries that were possibly enough to drag them below the Spurs. Despite the gaudy record, this is a valid reason for concern about the playoffs.

Additionally, all the close wins are finally “catching up” to the Spurs. Even with their close losses as of late, the Spurs are estimated at 5 wins above their expected record based on score differential. The law of averages doesn’t mean that you are more likely to lose close games after winning them, but it does mean you should be grateful for the close wins and aware that lady luck can turn on you at any time.

Oh, right… there is actually a game today and I only mentioned the opponent’s name in the title. Well, the good news is that this should be the most winnable game in some time. The bad news is that even a victory might not be enough proof of a turnaround.

The Phoenix Suns stand practically eliminated from the playoffs at 37-38 and their best player, Steve Nash, will not be playing today, according to Nash has experienced a substantial dip in scoring and efficiency as of late. (This could be due to what has been referred to as “pelvic instability”). Despite this drop in performance, the Suns have been dismal without him. The following splits are the Suns’ plus/minus figures as they relate to Nash’s presence and absence.

Nash in +282 in 2350 minutes (+4.9 per 100 possessions)
Nash out -332 in 1262 minutes (-11.0 per 100)

The Suns haven’t done much better with Brooks at point guard to this point in the season.

For what it’s worth, Coach Pop seems to be taking this game very seriously:

“We’re going to see what we are made out of, if we can dig down deeper,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ll see if we are worth the way we played this season or not.”

Key Statistics
SRS ranks:

Phoenix: -0.22 (16th)
San Antonio: 5.65 (4th)

Player summary statistics from and

Phoenix Suns Player Ratings 4-1

PlayerGMPGUSG%OrtgDRtgWS/482 Yr APM
Steve Nash7033.621.81181130.15911.63
Channing Frye703316.91091090.0910.38
Jason Richardson2531.825.61121110.120.92
Grant Hill7330.319.91101110.091-4.03
Marcin Gortat4829.517.81181060.156-1.87
Vince Carter4527.823.21041110.0622.87
Jared Dudley7525.616.71181100.1223.8
Hedo Turkoglu2525.217.21101100.094-0.33
Mickael Pietrus3818.119.51011110.041-3.75
Hakim Warrick7317.820.91141100.119-6.6
Goran Dragic4817.82493111-0.01-2.97
Aaron Brooks1817.726.41101140.102-4.34
Josh Childress4716.214.71091100.077N/A
Robin Lopez6115.420.51051090.077-4.79
Zabian Dowdell1912.124.892109-0.008N/A

San Antonio Spurs Player Ratings 4-1

PlayerGMPGUSG%OrtgDRtgWS/482 Yr APM
Tony Parker7332.625.51131080.157-0.21
Manu Ginobili7530.826.21161050.1935.54
Richard Jefferson7530.615.41151090.111-0.08
Tim Duncan7128.523.11101000.1645.76
George Hill7028.217.81151080.13-1.89
Matt Bonner6021.813.11251080.1414.02
DeJuan Blair7521.5201061000.132-1.28
Gary Neal7420.820.71091090.096-3.56
Antonio McDyess6918.814.81051030.12.72
Tiago Splitter5512.117.51121030.144N/A
James Anderson2410.315.21141100.098N/A
Steve Novak188.4161451090.225N/A
Chris Quinn406.816.8981100.029N/A

Player trends, based on Efficiency per 48 minutes:

Phoenix Suns Player Trends 4-1

PlayerSeasonLast 10Increase
Jared Dudley20.425.45
Aaron Brooks24.227.23
Josh Childress19.3200.7
Channing Frye21.622.10.5
Robin Lopez22.9230.1
Marcin Gortat30.630.60
Zabian Dowdell19.419.2-0.2
Hakim Warrick23.622.2-1.4
Goran Dragic25.323.4-1.9
Mickael Pietrus15.812.8-3
Grant Hill21.718.4-3.3
Jason Richardson17.713.8-3.9
Steve Nash30.525.1-5.4

San Antonio Spurs Player Trends 4-1

PlayerSeasonLast 10Increase
Steve Novak25.5326.5
Tiago Splitter23.628.95.3
Tim Duncan32.937.44.5
Manu Ginobili28.226.8-1.4
Tony Parker27.125.6-1.5
Antonio McDyess22.820.5-2.3
Gary Neal18.515.8-2.7
Richard Jefferson17.414.1-3.3
George Hill21.718.4-3.3
DeJuan Blair27.823-4.8
Matt Bonner19.414-5.4

Lineup data
Most valuable/utilized lineups:

Nash, Carter, Hill, Frye, Lopez +38 in 363 minutes (+5.2 per 100 possessions)
Nash, Carter, Hill, Frye, Gortat +53 in 188 minutes (+14.6 per 100)
Dowdell, Pietrus, Dudley, Warrick, Gortat -10 in 78 minutes (-6.8 per 100)
Brooks, Pietrus, Dudley, Warrick, Gortat +12 in 72 minutes (+9.4 per 100)

Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, Blair, Duncan +148 in 676 minutes (+10.5 per 100)
Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, McDyess, Duncan +42 in 183 minutes (+11.8 per 100)
Hill, Neal, Ginobili, Bonner, McDyess +63 in 108 minutes (+33.0 per 100)
Hill, Neal, Ginobili, Bonner, Splitter +27 in 39 minutes (+34.6 per 100)

The Pick


Keep in mind many teams have struggled going into the playoffs and enjoyed successful postseason runs (including the Lakers and Celtics last season). That said, a loss to the Suns without Nash would be bad.

  • MSteele

    This is nothing we can take from this game really, except hopefully a W

  • Blofeld

    Dear Coach Pop,
    Please play Tiago Splitter. He’s tall, plays solid defense and can rebound. He’d be great paired up with one Timothy Duncan. Also, McDyess plays much better coming off the bench.
    Warmest regards,
    Spurs fans.

  • Jeremiah

    Agreed with Blofeld. Also, bench Bonner if he’s shooting less than 40% from 3. And if he does shoot more than that, remember it’s against the Suns.

  • DorieStreet

    Unexpected loss by Mavs drops them 1 game back for #2 spot if the ‘situation’does not get turned around. Rare, early start @ noon for Spurs but that is no excuse because to the Suns it will be 10am their local time–come out focused; don’t let Frye and Dudley shoot uncontested 3s.
    This is the start of a 6-game winning streak.

  • spurholic in Mumbai

    Insired @ Blofeld, my version

    Dear Coach,

    As a fan from India, have may be no basketball “sense” to comment, hence a few observations – as any intelligent observer of Spurs having a league pass and watched over 90% of the season games so far –

    i) thou shall take a time out in the last 45 seconds after the opposition is forced a turnover by the Spurs (sometimes visible defense)

    ii) Thou shall practice the x and o for set plays. Please do not wait till the playoffs to implement. They (rather lack of them) have costed us two games in the last six.

    ii) Thou shall ensure than manu does not play more than 6 minutes at a stretch. Thou shall not start the fourth quarter with Manu, please bring him on for the last five minutes.

    iii) Thou shall re-start your conversations with RJ, which you had during the off season. Does any one remember how RJ actually scored 28 points in a game during the early season. Please / Command RJ to attack the basket at least twice every quarter. A the end of the Ist half if RJ has attempted less than 3 shots, fire someone on your coaching staff on the spot.

    iv) Sit down and write the reasons for not pairing Splitter with TD, then may be spell it out in pre / post match conference to scribes.

    Sir, given your awe inspiring backgound, this humble analyst has had the temerity to write this only because the Indian cricket team just won the World Cup yesterday. As soon as the shine of this victory (after 28 yrs rubs off), shal revert to my humble invisible self.

  • Hobson13

    Spurs have a breakout game. I have foreseen it.

  • DorieStreet

    National TV–show the audience it’s not over yet.

  • Kintaro

    I suppose people on this blog won’t be satisfied unless the Spurs absolutely obliterate the Suns. I will be satisfied with better defensive rotations, more passion, and oh yea a win would be great.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Spurs play bad in daytime. OOOH NOOO! Hope this changes.

  • Peter

    Hey Scott, nice breakdown, but I’ve been wondering if the Spurs point diff is little misleading this season, which would make the expected record look worse than it should.

    I know the Spurs have done well in close games, but according to the standings they also led the league in 10+ wins (until this last week).

    When a victory is in hand, Pop gets his stars out quicker than anyone else. My hunch is that it leads to just “comfortable” wins, whereas Miami and Chicago play their guys 36 mins and get huge blowouts.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good much needed win but again as Jeremiah said its the Suns. I’ll take this win any day. Actually Bonner played like he was playing for his job. Props to Bonner now do it again next game. Splitter wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either today. But I did notice his big presence took away the big man covering him on offense and allowed Bonner a clear lane to go crazy in the paint in the first half when they stretched the lead. Also saw a few times where Splitter boxed out Gortat or Warrick from getting to the rim only to see Bonner get rebounds. Nice one guys. Hill good again, Neal is back , but Bonner was the difference in being the 3rd shooter they desperately needed for the last few weeks. Bonner is off the hook for now. Blair got 8 rebounds but only scored 2 pts. He missed a lot under the rim and literally was schooled by Gortat and Warrick when he was defending. Stands the reason…they’re way taller. They pretty much had their way with Blair. But what’s more important is the win. The bad luck is gone I see a streak heading in to the playoffs. Good job guys.

  • Bonnie

    After watching the Spurs since the All-Star break, I can only concede the top seed to the Lakers. If you look further back, the Spurs have had problems beating playoff contenders since two weeks before the break. Example: they lost to Philly with the 76ers only putting up 77 points and then Chicago. During this slide, the only non-playoff team they have faced has been Houston, and the Rockets are on the cusp. The Spurs have only managed to beat Dallas, which is playing really badly now. My point is the Spurs seem to be reverting to what they were most of last season: a mediocre team that can beat so-so and poor teams, but can’t take on the contenders. If S.A. beats the Hawks, who are playing really good right, perhaps I’ll change my mind. The good news is the Spurs can finish no lower than third in the playoff picture in the West. Even if they lose out, the Spurs will still finish with a better record than Oklahoma City, plus S.A. owns the tie-breaker with OKC.

  • Scott Sereday


    Excellent thought. I haven’t looked into that too much, but it’s certainly possibly.

    From what I’ve seen, the tendency to rest players earlier seems like a better reason for teams consistently winning more (or less) than score differential implies. (Better than teams playing better or worse under pressure.)

  • betsyduncan

    Excellent contributions from everyone! Now on to shoot down the Hawks!

  • Alix Babaie

    I am still in shock that the Spurs were even in a 6 game losing streak to begin with…..what the hell happened to cause this? Surely they know that they are a better team than that but I tend to agree with Scott, there were a ton of games that were won during the 1st half of the season that should have been lost, so I am hopeful that it was simply the law of averages.

    Please let it be so.