Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Real Reason Spurs Players Are Underrated

In the next two weeks, we’re going to hear all the explanations for why the Spurs get so little publicity. The most popular reasons – they’re businesslike, they feature an unselfish balanced attack, and they play in a small market – are somewhat accurate. However, the main reason Spurs players get so little publicity is simple – they don’t play a lot.

San Antonio did not have a single player average 30 minutes per game during the regular season. Every other NBA team had at least two, and most clubs had three or four. What does this have to do with publicity? Most of the media still uses meaningless per game stats for evaluation, and it is hard to shine in these categories while getting so few minutes per game.

Only one Spurs player, Tony Parker, ranked among the league’s top 50 in points per game (minimum: 1,000 minutes played), and he placed 45th. Points per 40 minutes, which evaluates scoring far better, tells a completely different story. San Antonio placed four players in the top 50 in points per 40 minutes – Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Patty Mills) – which tied the Suns for most in the league.

The Spurs had five players among the top 50 in John Hollinger’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating), with Kawhi Leonard joining the aforementioned group. That led all NBA teams. Their NBA Finals opponent is the only other team with four. PER also does not get impacted by playing time.

Parker ranked just 15th among point guards with 16.7 points per game. However, he placed seventh with 22.7 points per 40 minutes. He doesn’t play nearly as much as other elite point guards, and that’s the main reason he gets less attention.

Given the rapid growth of the San Antonio market – combined with the soaring population of Austin just an hour and a half to the north – it’s not exactly remote. The Spurs also do not possess a balanced attack. Four San Antonio players attempted 15 or more field goals per 40 minutes. Only the Pistons (five) had more. The Spurs scoring appears balanced because Gregg Popovich distributes playing time so evenly, but Parker, Duncan and Ginobili all have high usage rates.

Like so many topics in sports that get overanalyzed, the truth is in the numbers.

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