Examining The Spurs De-Evolution From A Team Game To A One Man Show

This is graph heavy, so be advised. It’s important to remember I’m not actually doing predictive analysis or presenting hypothesis. I’m mostly taking a look at what comes up and seeing if there’s anything noticeable to explore further.

Additionally, we’re using points per game. I’d much rather do per 36, but with the minute distribution in this series and the small sample size, I don’t feel like it’s a good comparison.

So let’s take a look at how Tony Parker’s usage numbers looked during the season.

This give us a good idea of the impact Ginobili has. Not only does he make a significant impact in the buckets department, but he’s got a high usage rate, and provides another conduit for the offense. It also provides us with a general flow of the offensive distribution. Here we see a spatial representation of usage and points during the regular season.

One point of interest is that Drew Gooden really absorbs a lot of possessions. More so than I thought. But even with the significant emphasis on the big 3, you have a kind of a wide “backside” if you will. The butt of this team is thick. They’ve got junk in the trunk. What does the same visualization look like for points?

Okay. So. Not so hot. These are per game, which can be deceptive, but given the usages, we can expect something similar for per 36, you’d think. Notice the even distribution on a sliding scale, though. The Spurs have been proclaimed as the ultimate team since Popovich took over. They rely on contributions across the board. This year has definitely been a trend more towards the Big Three carrying the load, but the fundamental concepts still hold true. Now let’s see what this series looks like.

On this chart, you hope for your bench to provide scales that go in an upwards flow. So, low minutes with high usage rates, that lead to moderate scoring. Even though you’re almost never going to have points above minutes and usage, it gives us an idea of what you want from potent contributers. The biggest drops here are Mason and Thomas. Parker’s obviously trying to absorb Ginobil’s possessions and points, and you have to say he’s doing pretty freaking well. So how does this look in the radar format?

So yeah, not so much with other people using the possessions. Drew Gooden isn’t afraid to get up in there and take some possessions, but man alive, Mason and Finley aren’t using much, even with Finley’s rather productive minutes. You also see that Parker is absolutely swallowing possessions whole. So how is this translating to points?

Aw. Now that’s just sad. Mason’s is skewed by his Game 4 performance (0 points), and Game 3 has a pretty big impact all over, but you see the uneven distribution. There’s asking Parker to carry a team on his back, and then there’s relying on him to handle the majority of possessions, score the most points, and do so in a way where there is no other option. He did those things in Game 4, but wore down to the end where you knew he was completely out of gas. Let’s compare the season to the series in this radar format.For the pursposes of this, we’re going to act like Gregg Popovich says to act and completely forget about Manu Ginobili.

Yikes. Matt Bonner and Roger Mason Jr. have shrunk considerably. If they don’t get those guys involved, they’re not going to be able to cover. What’s interesting is it’s not an even distribution leading to the point inequity between Parker and the rest. Here’s the usage breakdown for series versus season.

Take a look at Duncan. Not only is he scoring less than his season average, his usage rate is down as well, while Parker’s is through the roof. Don’t get me wrong, Parker’s been brilliant. But as we’ve seen,the Mavs are essentially running Kobe rules on Parker. Throw different looks at him, let him get his, and shut down the rest of the squad. If the usage rates were more evenly distributed, you could at least make the case that the rest of the Spurs are trying, they’re just not falling. However, the Spurs got to where they are by playing a team game. Here’s a breakdown of points for Duncan and Parker versus the rest of the team in wins.

And here’s that same breakdown in this series.

I’m not trying to make the argument that Spurs need to have Parker score fewer points. Because that would be like saying I should dig my way out of a hole by throwing my shovel out of the hole. But what’s happening is the Spurs aren’t forcing the issue with their other components, the Mavs are playing better defense than the Mavs were adapted to, and the Spurs are turning to their two superstars to bail them out. If the Spurs want to get back in this series, they need to force the issue with the rest of their roster. Unfortunately, as has been the concern all year, it doesn’t look like the talent is there for them to produce like that.

Maybe believing in a team concept is only effective if you have productive members of the complete effort. Otherwise you find all your emphasis pointing in one direction, and down in a hole 3-1.

Stats thanks to: Yahoo! Sports, and Basketball-Reference.com.

NOTE: If you’re not familiar with Usage, check out Basketball-Reference.com’s glossary or the APBR Metrics board.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.