What’s wrong with the Spurs’ offense? Tim Duncan

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The San Antonio Spurs continued three trends in their 104-93 win over the Boston Celtics: They won, they didn’t look great in the process and Tim Duncan still can’t hit a shot to save his life.

So here we go again with the nightly Duncan update. He’s now played nine games this season and his average has dipped to 37.5 percent from the field. On Wednesday he hit his first two in close — including a dunk to start the scoring — but he connected on just one of his next 11 attempts.

And the mid-range woes continued as well. Not one of his three field goals came from beyond two feet — though he did go 7-of-8 from the line — and as the game wound down he was visibly frustrated, holding and squeezing his head in his hands as if searching for the answer to a problem he couldn’t solve. He’s now shooting just 22.4 percent from mid-range (outside the paint and inside the 3-point line) on the season, but he MUST keep shooting. The system depends on the threat that he’ll hit from there.

Just look at the space he’s being given. Jared Sullinger (outlined by yellow box) is Duncan’s primary defender on this play. Prior to this screen shot, Kawhi Leonard ran a pick-and-pop with Timmy near the top of the circle. And Sullinger didn’t just hedge on Leonard, he flat out double-teamed him. Kawhi makes the easy, correct decision to pass the ball back to Duncan, and Sully is roughly 47 feet away at this point. And Jordan Crawford (outlined by red box) is just bluffing, as he doesn’t want to leave Manu Ginobili in the corner. Duncan probably doesn’t even notice him.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 1.17.44 PM

Our friends at Pounding the Rock have a nice reaction piece this morning on what the Spurs should do about the fact that Duncan can’t hit a shot right now. The statistical data backs up the fact that the starting lineup, in particular the combination of Duncan and Tiago Splitter, isn’t doing so well right now. If Duncan isn’t hitting that mid-range jumper, that sticks San Antonio with the issue of two bigs in the starting lineup who can’t shoot. That’s a big problem for this offense.

On the flip side, whenever Boris Diaw enters the game — or Matt Bonner, as was the case last night — things open up dramatically. Spacing is so important to this system, and that becomes evident when either one of these players enters the game, typically in place of Splitter. Duncan then assumes his role on the block, and the shooting of Diaw and/or Bonner puts the Spurs’ offense back on track.

But the premise of the aforementioned J.R. Wilco piece was to ask whether or not the Spurs should make adjustments to the starting lineup while Duncan finds his shot. I don’t think you make those adjustments now. If the team was struggling to find ways to win, then maybe you pull the ripcord and deploy the parachute to prevent a free-fall. But San Antonio is 10-1 and is beating teams by 11.3 points per 100 possessions. That LEADS THE NBA. Yes, the offense is struggling, but luckily the defense is great.

Think about that. Duncan is basically playing the worst offensive basketball of his career and the team is still winning games convincingly. Watching the Spurs had become a sort of weird science experiment. It’s difficult to figure out what’s wrong with a team that’s winning by double digits on a nightly basis, but something is just off.

If the standings start to reflect the Spurs’ offensive struggles, then by all means, make a move to start Diaw and bring Splitter off the bench. The writing is already on the wall a bit, anyway. Last night, Gregg Popovich pulled Tiago in favor of Bonner less than a minute and a half into the third quarter as the offense once again looked bogged down after halftime (not because of anything Splitter did wrong). From that point on, San Antonio finished the quarter on a 31-20 run, and the team shot 52.6 percent in that corner alone.

Eureka!

But if the team is winning, don’t mess with it. You have to trust that Duncan is going to find his rhythm at some point, because if he doesn’t then it’s unlikely the Spurs will contend for a title anyway. So it’s really your only choice. But given the Spurs record at this point and the way they’re playing defense, it’s like working through temporary financial issues if you’ve got $1 million in the bank (relatively speaking, of course). Dealing with adversity in the NBA is a lot easier when you’re playing with the league’s best record.

And when you look at the grand scheme of things, you can at least point at the most glaring issue. When Duncan is on the court, the Spurs are scoring 99.8 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 20th in the NBA. When he’s on the bench, San Antonio boasts a 106.2 offensive-efficiency rating. That would be good for sixth best in the league.

The problem is Duncan, and that’s the issue most of us never hoped to encounter.

They say Father Time is undefeated, but I’m not ready to attribute Duncan’s struggles to that evil arbiter of the aging process. Yes, he’s 37 years old, but Timmy still looks great physically. This mid-range game has been an evolution of sorts over the last few years, and he’s never been known for his perfect form. The rhythm will come. It’s got to.

Until then, just give him time. He’s earned it.


Stats and screen shot courtesy of NBA.com and mySynergySports.com.

  • Betsy Duncan

    Not worried in the least. Timmy defends like a beast and is our anchor.

  • The Calvinator

    I’m not worried about Duncan, hes in a bit of a shooting slump but he will find it. Beyond that hes looked great in every other aspect of his game. If he was looking bad on D or having issues getting boards i would be much more worried, but he looks good in both those aspects. The shot will fall eventually.

  • Spurholic Mumbai

    His current form reminds one of the struggles during the 10-11 and 11-12 seasons, especially in he playoffs, when TD’s jumper deserted him. A key difference during the last season was his willingness to attack he rim rather than settle for the 18 footer. Maybe the great one needs to watch a few videos of the last season and focus on the quick first step towards the rim as the antidote to practicing a. Few hundred 18 foot jumpers!!

  • BigBadBruce

    Not worried. This is Tim Duncan we’re talking about here. He’ll figure it out.

  • sdedalus83

    His TS% on jump shots has been 25.7, for everything else – 53.6. He’s doing fine when attacking the basket so there’s no point in specifically working on that unless the team needs him to do it to win the game. They will need him to hit his jump shots at least 40% of the time to win a title, so getting over the slump is imperative. And no, his current issues don’t look anything like 3 years ago, when he struggled to score from anywhere on the floor and was essentially an average defender. This year he’s been very effective in the paint and is defending at an elite level.

  • Spurs4ever

    The issue is not just on the offensive end, his rebounding and defense also took a hit…

    He’s getting pushed around in the post by the likes of Plumlee and Derrick Favors…

    You can say that we have one millions in the bank but I don’t agree, we faced : the 4 tanking teams (dragic-less suns, boston, jazz, philly) and didn’t make it look easy at all, at home, away, rested or not… And then we lost to the best team we faced, won against the Curry-less Warriors… I mean the 10 wins are good but it means very little, same with the stats…

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