Blazers vs Spurs: A statistical comparison

I was getting ready to write a nice piece on how the addition of GO and Rudy in addition to the other player's off-season improvements would increase our points per game by as many as +15. I even did a complete "what-if" spreadsheet to guage the incrimental changes and the effects they would have. I tossed it because we already have a real-life model (with historical data) to look at...the San Antonio Spurs.


Did you know the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers each scored 7,820 points during the 2007-2008 regular season? The Spurs ended the season 56-26, while the Blazers finished at 41-41. What’s the difference?


Things that stand out to me:

  1. The Spurs are very efficient shooting the 2pt shot at 48.69%. Comparatively, the Blazers shot just 46.82%. That’s a difference of 1.87%, which equates to 2.33 points per game.
  2. The Spurs take a lot more 3pt shots and aggressively defend against it. Even though they shot a poorer percentage than the Blazers(36.89-37.73), they shot it well enough. More importantly, their opponents took 383 fewer attempts and converted only 34.23% of the time. The Spurs margin over their opponents in 3PT shots was +6.37 points per game. To put that into perspective, the Blazer’s margin against their opponents was +0.18 points per game. DAAAAANG!
  3. The Spurs get back on defense rather than fight for the offensive rebound, and they aggressively fight for the defensive rebound. Although SAS and PTB both end with similar total rebound numbers, their philosophies seem opposite. This may have to do with Portland’s use of the Zone Defense making it difficult to get the defensive rebound since the players are out of position to properly box-out, but it could also be that SA values getting back into their defensive posture more than the chance at getting the rebound and the risk of letting a fast break opportunity score against them. This would seem the ideal defensive decision to negate the uptempo offense.
  4. The Spurs make their opponents play 1 on 5. Looking at the assist numbers, the disparity is marked (1718-1490). That’s a difference of 2.78 assists per game! Comparing that to the Blazers, we have a +0.23 assist per game margin. This is likely due to better man-to-man defense, where there is an emphasis on denying the pass, and forcing the ball handler onto an island.
  5. The types of turnovers versus the quantity of turnovers. Looking at the numbers, both teams had about the same total number (PTB1056-SAS1035). I found the offensive foul number eye opening. We committed 153 while SA committed 117. But, we drew 178, while they drew 153. That tells me that with more experience, our PGs will know not to use the picks until the pick is set (Looking at you Sergio). It also tells me that we were at least mildly aggressive attacking the basket. Are the Spurs really floppers? It sure looks that way when you watch them on TV, but we drew more offensive fouls than they did.  In that case, it was tactical skill and gamesmanship. A little tightening on the ball handling would really improve us (ie Jack and stepping out of bounds).
  6. The Spurs never foul anyone, just ask them (88 fewer fouls per season). The Blazers OTOH always seem to foul when the shot is going up. On the plus side, they’ve learned to get a shot off when the whistle blows in their favor. The net effect is that we take almost as many as we give. The Spurs are similar, but they’re on the positive side of the statistic, while we’re slightly negative.
    So, where do we go from here? There are several areas where I expect to see changes due to personnel moves and strategy changes. With the addition of GO to the starting line-up and Joel fortifying the second unit, we’ll have true centers in both units which should increase our rebounding both offensively and defensively. Greg’s presence in the post should allow for higher percentage shots from point blank range (points in the paint), and create more wide open 3pt opportunities for James, Roy, Steve, Martell, Travis, Rudy, etc. With the improved rebounding and the addition of Rudy, I expect the see us push the tempo a bit more and try to get more transition buckets before defenses are set. Although the zone defense and its variants were one of the things that helped us through that winning streak last season, I expect (or at least hope) that we’ll have improved enough individually to play more man-to-man defense.


It won’t take much to improve from an average team to an elite team. A few more possessions, one more block, one more steal, a few more rebounds, a couple more open 3s, one percent more shooting percentage, and running the opposition off the 3pt line. That’s the difference between 41 wins and 56 wins.


What do the numbers tell you? What areas will we see improvement at, and how will that translate to our number of wins?




*I've gathered the statistical data from the team's home pages as well as Where there were discrepancies, I defered to the team's data.


**I've created the 2 point columns to better illustrate the differences in shots and efficiency.

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