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