One of the more intriguing stories of this young season has been the San Antonio Spurs, who after years of grinding out games and wearing down opponents, had suddenly begun to race through games in breakneck fashion. Tony Parker (and to a lesser extent, George Hill and Manu Ginobili) bumped the pace of the San Antonio offense, and the influx of transition points and opportunities was widely credited with the rejuvenation of the Spurs’ offense. San Antonio sprinted to the top of the league, and their offense was understandably the talk of the town.
The two definitely seemed to line up. The Spurs scored, and they ran. But did they score because they ran?
Even if that were the case originally, San Antonio has found ways to keep their incredible offense up to snuff while gradually reducing the tempo of their games. From Jeff Fogle of HoopData:
Here are the per-game possession numbers out of the gate: 103-97-96-101-110-93-93-101-104
League average is about 95. You can see the Spurs topped that in six of their first nine outings. The median performance was 101. To say this was out of character for a Greg Popovich coached team is an understatement…It was something to behold. But, it was also something that didn’t hold up for very long.
Here are the Spurs possession totals the last nine games: 91-90-101-89-97-90-94-93-85
The 101 came against Golden State, one of the fastest teams in the league (and a rematch landed only on 94). Just one other game was higher than league average. The median was 91, which is well below league average.
This return to normalcy has reduced San Antonio’s pace factor to 95.7 for the season, which ranks 12th in the league. And, fittingly for a team with a coyote for a mascot, that’s 12th win an anvil. The Spurs are falling quickly down the pace rankings because they’re slowing back to past norms.
There’s no use arguing what is established fact: the Spurs’ pace has been slowly regressing toward expectation over the last nine games. What’s notable is that in spite of their more traditional style, the San Antonio offense is has still been incredibly effective. In that same nine-game stretch, the Spurs have averaged 112.7 points per 100 possessions, a few notches higher than their season average of 110.7 points per 100 possessions and almost 10 points higher than the league average.
San Antonio’s stylistic shift was impressive, but the resiliency of their offense is even more so. Regardless of tempo, the Spurs are one of the league’s premier offensive outfits, and while that throws a wrench into the works of stock stories covering SanAn’s boosted pace, it makes for an interesting case study in pacing versatility. They can run the floor or walk the ball up, attack from inside and out, run structured sets or fly off the cuff. So, do tell: how exactly does anyone plan to stop the Spurs?